While France was overjoyed, Mali’s neighbors are not. Mauritania recalled its ambassador from Mali on Tuesday in protest at the release of the AQIM members. Algeria has now done the same; two of the released men are Algerians.
The four [militants] had been apprehended by Mali’s army in April 2009, in possession of weapons including machine guns and a rocket launcher, according to the prosecution. They were convicted on weapons charges – not on terror-related charges, which would have brought a minimum five-year sentence.
Algeria’s Foreign Ministry said it “forcefully condemned and denounced the decision,” which it described as “unfriendly.” A ministry statement said Algeria was recalling its ambassador for consultations.
Algeria, which had asked for the extradition of its citizens, said the Malian decision treated the nations’ bilateral judicial treaty with “disdain.” It also said the decision to release the men after such a short time behind bars was “a dangerous development for security and stability” in the region.
Commenter Tidinit argues that Mali followed the right course in freeing the men to save Camatte’s life. I am glad Camatte was freed too. Clearly, though, Mali’s decision has produced a regional backlash, potentially harming the chances for multinational counterterrorism cooperation in the Sahel. I will be keen to see how long this backlash lasts, and what the consequences of this release will be. Will an “emboldened” AQIM commit more kidnappings and attacks? What fate will befall the Spanish aid workers who are still being held? And how will France, Mali, and the other nations involved craft new strategies for dealing with these problems, whether together or in isolation?