Global Security Headlines

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

AQIM - Just Pesky or Rising Danger?

From out of the Maghreb, a shadowy Al Qaeda junior group has emerged to terrorize Western interests in West Africa - Al-Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Latest Threat in Sahel

The Sahel is a lawless strip of plains and scrub along the Sahara’s southern frontier and increasingly becoming security threat to the region where terrorists, drug traffickers, and assorted bandits thrive.

After murdering a Briton and American in July after a string of attacks beginning in 2007 following a calming of internal tension in Algeria, AQIM now threatens three Spanish relief workers and a French citizen after their kidnapping in Mauritania. The latest threat to Westerners came after a US warning of such activity.

El Pais on Sunday features an article ("En manos del juez del desierto") about the so-called desert judge:

...Abú Hannas, el denominado juez del desierto, un dirigente religioso del que sólo existe una fotografía, la que aparece en los vídeos, oculto bajo su turbante mientras lanza soflamas incendiarias sobre la necesidad de crear un nuevo califato y un Gobierno islámico en el Magreb. Discursos que siempre terminan con la coletilla: "Pido a Alá morir por la yihad".

...Abú Hannas, the so-called desert judge, a religious leader of whom there is only one photograph, appears in videos hidden by his turban giving fiery speeches about the need to create a new caliphate and Islamic rule in the Maghreb. He always ends his speeches with "I ask Allah to die for the jihad."

Indeed, the Spanish link with AQIM is not new. In June 2008, security forces cracked a cell of 18 in Spain pivotal in the financing and logistical support of AQIM. It is apparent President Zapatero's precipitous withdrawal from Iraq upon winning his election after Al-Qaeda's Madrid 2004 bombing did not appease the terrorist group at all.

Transnational Threat: Drugs

Beyond terrorism, the way to fund it worries global security experts. Kidnapping for ransom is an obvious choice for these groups.

However, AQIM seems to show a propensity to dominate the lucrative drug trade in the Sahel, a subject of a hearing in the US Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing earlier in November.

West Africa is a transhipment point for 40-50 tons of cocaine a year, probably more. Curiously, this week three alleged Al-Qaeda operatives were apprehended in Ghana working with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Colombia's leftist narco-terrorist group waging civil war against Bogotá.

Indeed, the discovery of a burned-out Venezuelan Boeing in the Malian desert provides greater evidence of the South American connection narco-bandits to Islamic militants. AQIM's success in the Sahel could lead to a firmer terrorist organization in the Sahel even to the point of linking up with the Touareg insurgents in Niger and Mali.

Wider Implications

A diminution in strength is not expected. Regional terrorist analysts see a greater swath of territory dominated by AQIM giving rise to a danger and near-safe haven in yet another ungoverned part of the world.
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