Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Mauritanian media sortie has been well-covered by others. Transcripts are available at jihadology and analysis at al-Wasat. Despite his attention hogging – are they Rayban wayfarer sunglasses in some of the photos; is this ‘old old skool jihadi cool’ – and headline grabbing antics, other things have been happening in Mauritania and elsewhere.
On 22/11/2011, ANI, wrote that the wife of an al-Qa’ida cadre, Mahfoudh Ould Waled (Abu Hafs) had traveled from Iran to Nouakchott, with her seven children and was being taken care of by her husband’s family. They also reported that the Mauritanian authorities were engaging with the Iranians to obtain the extradition of Ould Waled from Iran.
The next day (23/11/2011) both ANI and Tahalil Hebdo reported that the Mauritanian anti-terrorist police had arrested 19 persons, including Mohamed Salem Ould Mohamed Lemine (AKA al-Majlissi). For more on the importance of Lemine see The Moor Next Door here. Also targeted was the house of a preacher, Hamahoullah Ould Hannena, where an unknown number of Moroccans were detained. Tahalil wrote that the reasons for the arrests were unclear with some speaking of an imminent attack, others a preventative disruption prior to a large public event and the more cynical stating that following raids on other parts of the criminal underworld in Nouakchott it was the turn of the “barbus”. ANI also reported that three of those arrested were related; two brothers and a cousin.
On the 24/11/2011, press began to report that two French nationals had been taken from a hotel in Hombori, Mali. Initial reports suggested that it was likely an AQIM-linked kidnapping. The Malian newspaper, Le Republican has an account here. Finally, given that AQIM now has 6 French nationals as well as the Spanish nationals in the custody of its various “katiba” in the Sahel, Le Figaro has a longer analytic piece on the rise and rise of the group down south. An older piece by them is also of interest. For an overview with very good graphics see the reports of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service; in French here (pages 24-26) and here (pages 21-23) and in English here (pages 24-26) and here (pages 21 to 23).
Update: On 25/11/2011, press reported that in another incident two Dutch nationals were taken hostage and an individual identified as a US citizen were killed in the Timbuktu region on Mali. The BBC reports that, “The hostages are said to come from the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, while a German man was shot dead trying to resist the gang.” As always early reports appear to be incomplete and the coming days will bring further details.
Given all the activity, a recent essay by Hugh Roberts gives some (much needed) perspective on AQIM, ‘Logics of Jihadi Violence in North Africa’, in which he concludes in relation to AQIM,“what we are really looking at might well be called…a post-jihadi movement…It is an organisation which is no longer seriously fighting a jihad; yet it has clearly found a way to survive and it would appear that organisational survival is in fact its priority, the overriding objective…what they are now committed to is not a sacred cause so much as an adventurous, violent, lucrative and of course criminal way of life which employs the vocabulary of jihad for the purposes of self-justification, self-advertisement and recruitment while failing seriously to vindicate its jihadi pretensions in any way” (Roberts 2011:43).
Roberts, H. (2011). ‘Logics of Jihadi Violence in North Africa’ in Coolstaet, R. (ed), “Jihadi Terrorism and the Radicalisation Challenge: European and American Experiences”, 2ed, Ashgate.