Sahelian Concern Deepens over Libya, AQIM

Osama bin Laden is dead, but Al Qaeda’s affiliates remain.

On Friday, senior military officers from Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger met in Bamako to discuss counterterrorism cooperation against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM has carried out a number of kidnappings and attacks in North Africa and the Sahel in recent years, and Sahelian armies are increasingly working with Algeria to defeat the group.

The latest meeting reflected growing concerns about AQIM in the context of the Libyan civil war. Algeria and its southern neighbors are worried that Libya’s crisis is offering an opportunity to AQIM:

Speaking after a meeting Friday between the four army heads, a Malian officer who attended said: “The situation in Libya is of great concern. There is a risk of destabilising the entire region.”

The meeting was to reinforce the fight against insecurity in a region threatened by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“Moreover, because of the Libyan crisis, the security situation in the Sahel has deteriorated, so it is necessary to be careful. We are all on alert and we keep each other informed,” he added.

According to a document from one of the participating countries, seen by AFP, “there is now no doubt, several Al-Qaeda fighters are involved in the Libya fighting.”

Sahelian governments’ attention to Libya is not new:

In late March, Mali and Niger security sources said AQIM had taken advantage of the Libyan conflict to accumulate heavy weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles, described as “a real danger for the whole area.”

In April, Algerian officials also warned about an AQIM presence in Libya:

Abdelkader Messahel, Algerian Deputy Foreign Minister said he was worried “particularly through the increasingly noticeable presence of AQIM (al Qaeda’s north African wing) in Libya and the increasingly noticeable circulation of weapons which can be exploited by terrorist groups”.

Addressing a news conference after meeting Britain’s Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, Messahel said a prolonged conflict in Libya risked destabilising the Sahel region.

Friday’s meeting indicates that Sahelian and Algerian fears about Libya and AQIM are growing. In another sign of this concern, “Algeria’s foreign minister will visit Washington from Monday to discuss the continuing unrest across North Africa, in particular the conflict in Libya.” This trip continues ongoing exchanges between American and Algerian personnel who are seeking to enhance cooperation around, among other issues, AQIM. With Algeria playing the leading role in counterterrorism cooperation with its Sahelian neighbors, US-Algerian discussions are bound to affect counterterrorism efforts in the Sahara more broadly.

Time will tell how the Libyan civil war has affected AQIM’s fortunes, but clearly the governments of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger are taking the matter very seriously. Expect more discussions and actions on this issue. In the meantime, here is some further reading on Libya and AQIM from the BBC and al Wasat.

5 thoughts on “Sahelian Concern Deepens over Libya, AQIM

  1. With OBL’s body thrown in the sea and confirming Benazir’s story that the chap was killed end of 2001, I have some serious doubt about the Algerian story line, as told this week regarding a threat from a fabricated AQIM. I bet the document leaked to AFP concerning AQIM threat is from Mali’s Foreign Affairs Ministry ….

  2. I’m not sure that AQIM can take advantage of Libya’s unrest specifically, but any regional unrest affords a general advantage. Although Algeria has dodged the revolutionary wave – at least for the moment – its government remains a weakness rather than its perceived strength. Algeria possesses too much baggage to successfully lead the Western-funded campaign against AQIM. U.S. cables describe Algeria’s government as “paranoid.” Over the years its government, which is heavily influenced by the military and intelligence agency, has functioned more like Yemen’s Saleh: trading political protection and military funding for halfhearted operations against al-Qaeda.

    U.S. must spend more time promoting and funding a non-military agenda in North Africa.

  3. Pingback: More European Officials Visit the Sahel Amid Concerns About AQIM « Sahel Blog

  4. Pingback: Al-Qaeda has sleeper cells across west Africa: experts « Don’t Tread On Me

  5. Pingback: La Bosnie, le Kosovo et à présent la Libye : les coûts humains de la collusion perpétuelle entre Washington et les terroristes « MediaBeNews

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