Almost two years ago CSIS ran a conference entitled, “The Dynamics of North African Terror”, which examined terrorism and political violence in the region. The conference conclusions suggested a comprehensive strategy was necessary. A report can be found here and audio of the conference is here.
In a similar vein, a National Defense University report from July 2011 sought to give an assessment of primarily US options in the Sahel to mitigate against AQIM activities. It argues for a more robust response, over and above existing initiatives (Le Sage, 2011).
Reports over the past couple of days generated by meetings in Morocco and Mauritania again examine the Sahel region and its various security challenges (AFP 2012, Reuters 2012). The articles have concentrated on “a connection” between AQIM and Boko Haram, and strategies to combat the groups. The articles, particularly the Reuters one hint at the complexity of finding solutions given the varying interests and agendas of those concerned – directly and indirectly – by the security issues.
An outcome of the Mauritania meeting, was Mali’s Foreign Minister stating, “We will … conduct joint patrols along our borders, prosecute criminals, control travel documents” (AFP, 2012). It is unlikely that this will be enough to deal with AQIM activities.
All of this seems to be someway from a comprehensive strategy advocated nearly 2 years ago. If terrorism studies research and more than a decade of investigating and interdicting terrorist entities has demonstrated anything, it is that local knowledge and context is important. In the Sahel there is precious little of the type of research that has been conducted in Europe or North America by scholars like Atran, Horgan, Sageman and Silke.
On a slightly tangential but nonetheless AQIM note, various “tweeters” using #aqim have noted that the Algerian authorities announced the disruption of an AQIM plot against shipping in the Mediterranean (Echourouk 2012, ABC, 2012). The reports are somewhat light on details, although the article notes that a boat had been purchased. An interesting question, not asked, is how does a relatively rural insurgency go from roadside bombings and roadblocks to planning and executing an attack against shipping? A significant problem of much reporting and analysis on terrorism is its use of threat paradigms without defining how to assess threat (capacity, knowledge, intent etc). So while the intent or more likely aspiration may have been present; surfing the internet is somewhat different to sailing the high seas in an explosive-laden boat.
Finally, Cridem carries an interview with the representative of the remaining “Salafist” prisoners in Mauritania, Mohamed El Béchir Kharachi Sall. The interview mentions the now two year old dialogue initiated by the Mauritanian authorities to “deradicalise” Mauritanian militants with links to AQIM. Sall uses the interview to deny connections to AQIM and to remind the government that there are still individuals in detention who remain willing to dialogue.
“The Evolving Threat of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb“, Andre Le Sage, Strategic Forum, National Defense University, July 2011
“Algeria foils Al Qaeda terrorist plot to attack foreign ships sailing in the Mediterranean“, Echorouk, 24 January 2012
“Al Qaeda Affiliate Targets US Ships: Report“, ABC, Lee Ferran and Pierre Thomas, 24 January 2012
ANALYSIS-Africa’s Sahel scrambles to avert slide “into hell”, William Maclean, Reuters, 23 January 2012,
“West African states to work together against terror“, AFP, 24 January 2012.