A recent report on AQIM (Roussellier, 2011) examines the “the real and imagined influence of AQIM in North Africa and the Sahel”. The report is brief and contains a reference to the Sinjar data which is not relevant to AQIM. The data has been misleadlingly used to demonstrate an AQI / GSPC (AQIM) nexus. (for example see here, the section on AQIM in Iraq). Nonetheless the document does have an interesting conclusion stating that, “Fighting criminality and corruption…will disrupt AQIM’s underground financial and logistic support” (Rousellier, 2011; p.10). Given that Mokhtar Belmokhtar is often referred to as “Mr Marlboro” and that Abid Hammadou aka Abu Zeid was previously a smuggler (Mokkadem, 2010), a re-reading of Hobsbawns’ Bandits offers some interesting insights;
“Nevertheless, it [Bandits] cannot opt out of society. It needs activities, its very existence bring it into relations with the ordinary economic and political system.” (p.72)
“All this means bandits need middlemen, who link them not only to the rest of the local economy but to larger networks of commerce.” (p.73)
“Everbody has to come to terms with large and well established bandits. This means that to some extent they are integrated into established society…Whether such arrangements are formalised or not, the inhabitants of bandit-ridden areas often have no other option. Local officials who want to carry out their jobs quietly and without fuss – as which of them do not? – will keep in touch and on reasonable terms with them, or else risk those painful local incidents…” (pp.78-79)
While these three quotes do not explain fully why AQIM has survived and grown in the Sahel, they and Hobsbawns’ thesis offer lines of further research to understand how a AQIM commanders have been able to embed themselves in the region.
Hobsbawn, E.J. (1969). Bandits. Wiedenfield and Nicolson:. London
Mokkadem, M. (2010). Al-Qaïda au Maghreb Islamique: Contrebande au Nom de L’Islam. Paris: L’Harmattan.
Roussellier, J. (2011). Terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel: Al-Qa’ida’s Franchise or Freelance? Policy Brief, The Middle East Institute:. Washington