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Mali: Can Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Be Stopped?

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

A solution to the Mali crisis seems to be vanishing as time goes by. It has been five months now that the country has been divided into two parts: the South is ruled by a fragile [fr] government while the North, which includes the historic cities of Timbuktu and Gao, is the theater of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb‘s (AQIM) expansion in the Sahel.

North Mali indirectly in the hands of AQIM

In April 2012, after the cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal had fallen, the Tuareg rebellion group National Movement for Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) unilaterally proclaimed the secession of the northern part of the country.

Mali begins Touareg dialogue. Image by Flickr user Magharebia (CC BY 2.0).

Mali begins Touareg dialogue. Image by Flickr user Magharebia (CC BY 2.0).

Currently, the region is under the influence of four [fr] different groups: the MNLA, Ansar Dine, which defines itself as Salafist, the Movement for the Unity of Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), and AQIM.

However, a report [fr] by AFP, suggests that it is actually AQIM that coordinates and funds the three other organisations; this suspicion is reinforced by the alleged presence in Mali of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a founding member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (SGPC), which became the AQIM.

In March 2012, israeldefense.com wrote about Belmokhtar's visits to Libya, and already reported fears of a possible AQIM expansion in the Southern Sahara:

According to Mali’s security sources, the leader of al-Qaeda's North African branch, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has been in Libya for several weeks with the goal of procuring arms. (…) Malian security sources claim that Belmokhtar's activities in Libya confirm the premise that AQIM intends to extend its sphere of influence and that “terrorists will do anything to create a sweeping network in the Sahel and the Sahara.”

Political and diplomatic deadlock

It appears that AQIM is consolidating its grip on Northern Mali.  On August 9, Koaci.com reported that members of the Mujao cut the hand [fr] off of an alleged thief in the city of Ansogo. This followed the July 30 stoning of an unwed couple in the region of Kidal.

To date, regional response  to the crisis have been muted. While West African leaders appointed Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso, as a mediator [fr] in this crisis after the March 22 Mali coup, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has yet to send military forces to restore the territorial unity of Mali.

And while Afrik.com [fr] reports that the de facto Malian government and ECOWAS have reached an agreement aimed at resolving the crisis, military intervention remains the preferred option of many netizens. Thierno A. Diallo from neighboring Guinea writes on his blog [fr]:

Ce qui se passe au Mali est grave. Notre pays, frontalier au sud et pas tellement éloigné de cette zone de non-droit a tout à perdre d'une victoire des fanatiques à nos portes. Le landernau politique guinéen, la tête dans le guidon des interminables législatives voulues par Alpha Condé, risque d'avoir un réveil en sursaut très douloureux. La zone la plus proche géographiquement et donc  la plus menacée étant la Haute-Guinée.

What happens in Mali is serious. Our country, bordering the south and not so far from this zone of lawlessness has everything to lose in the case of the victory of these fanatics at our doors. Guinean politicians with their heads in the sand due the endless parliamentary elections wanted by Alpha Condé [President of Guinea], may have a sudden and very painful awakening. The area closest geographically and therefore being increasingly threatened is Upper Guinea.
ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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