For a long time countries like Mauritania, Mali and Algeria have used three main strategies in their fight against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): military confrontation, intelligence work aimed at disrupting cells, and negotiations. Now they are adding a fourth pillar by going after AQIM’s funding.
Sahara states trying to contain al Qaeda plan to recruit money-laundering experts to track down the millions of dollars the militants earn through kidnapping and smuggling, security sources have told Reuters.
Governments in the region have so far focused on conventional methods to catch or kill the militants, but now want to target the revenues al Qaeda uses to buy arms and finance a support network of informers and corrupt officials.
In a first step, officials from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger will meet in the Algerian capital on Wednesday to examine ways they can co-operate to crack down on money-laundering and contraband, the sources said.
This is a potential game-changer. In Sahelian hostage situations, as I’ve said here ad nauseum, the two choices are often attack or negotiate (i.e., swap hostages or pay ransoms), both of which have drawbacks. Disrupting AQIM’s financial operations could circumvent that dilemma by removing the resources that allow the group to operate in the first place. In a pinch, the ability to follow money trails could also ease negotiators’ consciences, because they can hope that the money they pay for hostages will one day turn back up. I know that the US tracks terrorist financing very carefully, but I think it is good for African governments to play a part in that theater as well. And this kind of intergovernmental cooperation, beyond the specifics of the discussion, also strikes me as a good thing in and of itself. Last spring’s meetings appear to be bearing fruit.