Early Perspectives on the Mali Crisis from a Jihadist Forum (I)

SUMMARY: The following is an excerpt from a longer write up from summer 2012; it comes from the same write up as the post ‘Creative Responses to the Rebellion in Mali: A Look at the Forum Poetry‘ (06 July 2012). This post is one of two; a second excerpt will be posted in the future. The longer paper surveys posts dealing with the Mali criss on the Ansar al-Mujahideen Arabic forum, a top tier jihadist Internet forum. The focus is mostly on user-produced content — essays, columns and debates, as opposed to content posted by the Islamist groups in northern Mali (AQIM, Ansar Ed-Dine, MUJWA, etc.) or their media groups. It describes posts on the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum from January through early August 2012 by summarising and analysing three general categories of user/member-generated content (essays, articles, discussion threads, etc.):

  • News and Analysis of Northern Mali and Its Jihadis
  • Northern Mali and Jihadi Strategy in Africa
  • Creative Responses

This post addresses several threads representative of key narratives emerging among jihadist forum users regarding the conflict there. Generally, forum members view events in northern Mali as reinforcement for their existing political and religious views. Posters appear to percieve events in the region — from the arrival of Islamist armed groups in Timbuktu and Gao to corporal punishment for violations of shari’ah – as evidence of an unbridled ‘awakening’ to jihadism in west Africa in an international context. Some debate over the origins and legitimacy of the Islamist groups in northern Mali does take place, largely due to a lack of propaganda material released through conventional jihadist Internet media outlets; late in the summer of 2012 this began to change, as both MUJWA and Ansar Ed-Dine began posting more content to the jihadist forums in the form of videos and newsletters.

Introduction

Northern Mali has received increasing through sporadic attention on the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum since the beginning of the rebellion there. In general, discussion is realtively limited compared to other ‘hot topics’ – Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and even Nigeria — and posters who initiate threads featuring original analysis about the situation in northern Mali or the jihadist groups active there dominate discussion. This content shows that members Ansar al-Mujahideen forum these active members of the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum view northern Mali as a nearly unqualified victory for the global Salafi-jihadi movement and an area from which jihadistsought to seek to expand their activities in Africa. Comments by on these threads indicate that active members have limited knowledge of events in northern Mali and the Sahel and look to a small number of members perceived as well informed about the jihadist movement in the Sahel and the region in general for credible information and analysis on events there. Members show a strong desire to learn more about the Islamist movements in northern Mali and how they relate to more well known and established jihadist groups elsewhere in north and west Africa.

Posters appear to hold various, related views about the posture of the international community and thus the fate of the jihadi trend in Mali. Most posters seem to believe that the international community will be drawn into the conflict in Mali but there do have achieved a consensus on which international actors will be involved militarily or how these actors will perform in armed confrontations with Ansar Ed-Dine, AQIM and MUJWA. Posters habitually identify Algeria, France, NATO, the United States, Mauritania and ECOWAS as likely to intervene in the conflict. Posters tend to agree on predications that regional actors will be the main contributors to any force in Mali, and substantial attention is paid to Algeria. Some posters, however, seem to believe that external intervention is unlikely or likely to fail due to the military weakness of the Sahel states, war wariness on the part of western powers and disagreements between Algeria and Morocco and that jihadists in northern Mali will be able to establish a lasting foothold in the area as a result.

Recycled Reporting: Placing Mali into Salafi-jihadi narratives

Articles and videos about events in northern Mali are drawn primarily from accounts in the Arabic-language press published by Algerian, Mauritanian and pan-Arab newspapers and al-Jazeera. These articles emphasize the rise of Ansar al-Din following the fall of Kidal and the appearance of AQIM and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) at Gao and Timbuktu while describing the weakness of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The articles are presented as backgrounders for users unfamiliar with the region. Posters frame these articles as evidence of the credibility of Salafi and jihadi users’ perceptions of the progress of mujahideen in Africa and the Islamic world more generally by providing third-party analysis of the situation. Articles about the Tuaregs, their historic fights with the Malian central government and other regional governments serve to introduce readers to the region and its conflict dynamics. News videos showing AQIM, MUJWA and Ansar al-Din fighters in Mali are also presented as proof of the advance of mujadhideen in Africa. Articles from the Arabic-language Mauritanian press describing the application of shariʿah in northern Mali featuring pictures appear to have particular value for forum users as they confirm perceptions of the righteousness of mujahideen and provide ‘proof’ of jihadists in control in a new part of Africa.[1]

Relatively few threads have generated long discussions on the situation in Mali or how it might be further exploited by jihadis, with the majority of posters reacting positively to ‘news’ about the institution of shariʿah at Timbuktu and Gao by posting brief comments such as ‘Allahu akbar, God has enabled the Mujahideen everywhere, the Lord of the Worlds has set the path […]’[2] In response to international wire service reports that Mali’s military junta rejected the establishment of an Islamic state in northern Mali, posters expressed a desire to see Tuaregs establish an independent stated based on shariʿah, but extended commentary or debate was mostly absent.[3] Other posters, as discussed below, argued that Mali’s Islamists would save the country from ethnic disintegration by ralling the country under the banner of Islam.

News Analysis: Suspicion of MUJWA

Relatively few forum members are based in the Sahel countries and members display a relatively limited knowledge of the region, though a small number appear to follow events there closely and post essays and initiate discussion on events in the region. These users attempt to contextualize the conflict in northern Mali in terms of the global jihad through analytical posts about which factions deserve support and those that should be regarded with caution. This brings users into debates over the character and background of armed groups in northern Mali that resemble those seen among western observers.[4]

In January 2012, Ansar al-Mujahideen forum member ʿAla’a al-Shinqiti[5] opened a thread on the newly formed Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), often referred to in Arabic sources as Tawhid wal-Jihad (from its Arabic name: Jamaʿat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad fi Gharbi Ifriqiyya), asking ‘Who is behind the Tawhid wal-Jihad Group?’[6] Early press reporting suggested the group was a ‘splinter’ group or ‘dissident’ faction from AQIM; more recent reporting and analysis suggests the group operates closely with AQIM and is composed and led mainly by Malian Arabs from the Gao region. Al-Shinqiti is initially skeptical given MUJWA’s opaque origins and the history of North African intelligence services infiltrating and causing divisions within jihadist groups. His initial post provoked discussion about the sincerity group’s membership and possible motivations.

Al-Shinqiti’s post considers various possibilities around MUJWA’s origin, including plots by regional spy services and a genuine desire to wage jihad among west Africans. Al-Shinqiti notes that MUJWA’s first operation, the Tindouf kidnapping, took place in refugee camps controlled by the Algerian-supported Polisario Front where ‘the intelligence services of Algeria, Morocco, Polisario and the mafias of the Sahara and Sahel’ are rampant. He notes that in recent months and years these organizations have ‘sought to strengthen their grips security in the camps, and the Polisario has restructured its security there due to a succession of incidents in which youth from the camps have joined the ranks of AQIM, which increases due to boredom and stagnation on the part of the Polisario due to the lack of a political horizon’. He writes that the Moroccan security services have previously ‘fabricated’ militant cells in the Western Sahara, to justify their warnings of risks of radicalization in the camps and of the Polisario’s weapons falling into al-Qaʿida’s hands. He then points out that the Rabouni camp where MUJWA’s operatives abducted their hostages is relatively close to a gendarmerie post and a military outpost. He postulates that the ‘sudden appearance of MUJWA’ in this area ‘increases the complexity of this case’ and supports a view that group might be a front created by regional intelligence services, noting that ‘for several years the intelligence services of the Generals of Disbelief in Algeria to use newspapers to promote splits and even fighting among the mujahideen’. Al-Shinqiti uses the fact that MUJWA’s creation was announced by AFP, whose report on a supposed dissident group ‘gave no criticisms’ of MUJWA’s parent organization, AQIM, as supporting evidence for this point of view – the desire of regional governments to ‘divide then mujahideen and penetrate their ranks’. Al-Shinqiti also considers arguments supporting the view that MUJWA is a legitimate jihadist group, writing that its focus on expanding jihad into west Africa may point to ‘local Islamist groups having benefited from the new situation in the region created by the repercussions of the Libyan revolution which came as a result of an awakening to jihad which is overwhelming the whole region, and its goals are actually an extension of the resistance against Muslim leaders and the invaders and settlers over the last century.’ Al-Shinqiti closes his first post by soliciting the views of other forum members on MUJWA’s origins, however al-Shinqiti’s follow up posts dominate discussion, as most forum members posting responses state their desire to see the ‘black flag of al-Qaʿida’ raising in west Africa and see jihad victorious through out the world, while one respondent notes that he is ‘unfamiliar with the merits of jihadists in the Islamic Maghreb…’

Al-Shinqiti’s subsequent posts on this thread expand on his theory that MUJWA is potentially a front group for some North African intelligence service. He notes that MUJWA has yet to release any statements on the forums and that ‘Ansar al-Islam fi al-Sahara al-Muslima came into existence in the year 2007’ as a jihadist group claiming to operate in the Western Sahara, but was eventually exposed as a creation of the Moroccan intelligence service, leading al-Shinqiti ‘…back to our subject…’ He begins to focus his analysis on Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheiry[7] who has been strongly associated with MUJWA in the regional and international press. He makes two posts, one which quotes an Arabic news article summarizing comments by Kheiry in connection to MUJWA and another in which he traces Kheiry’s connections with AQIM and other jihadist outfits in the region. He dismisses Mauritanian news stories saying that Kheiry was prominent in AQIM as ‘fairy tales’ promoted by ‘malicious sources’, pasting excerpts of articles describing MUJWA’s formation. His fourth post deals with the kidnapping of seven Algerian diplomats after the sacking of the Algerian consulate in Gao, which was claimed by MUJWA in April 2012. Al-Shinqiti writes:

This is an important point: the Algerian Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia was once the Algerian Ambassador to Mali, and this consulate claims that it manages and cares for about 200 people of the Algerian community, but in reality it is a box for intelligence [. . .] Algeria is ready for military intervention to liberate its consul and [. . .] to eliminate hotspots in its south where 80% of western economic interest lay [. . .] Algeria is ready for war, which could be smelt even by the recent developments in Mali. The question is if the MUJWA group has provided Algeria with information and a rationale to intervene militarily in Mali [. . .][8]

In response, forum member ‘Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Rahman’ responds: ‘I ask the Brothers not to judge our Brothers in MUJWA until more [about them] is clear, only God knows whether they are mujahideen or not’; member ‘ʿEzz ed-Dine Burhan’ writes that ‘there is no connection between MUJWA and Ansar Ed-Dine for MUJWA was involved in criminal activities,’ while linking to an IslamMemo.com article to support this claim.[9] Another member, ‘Khuttab al-Raʿad’ replies to this comment in the final post on the thread, arguing that Ansar Ed-Dine has not attacked or spoken against MUJWA and that the two groups took the city of Gao together and share a support base there, and argues that the press reports ‘lack credibility’. Based on the discussion in this thread and in subsequent postings by al-Shinqiti, it is unclear whether forum members have reached a consensus on MUJWA’s legitimacy as a jihadist group, however it appears that the group has gradually gained members’ trust over time.

Of the groups active in northern Mali, forum members appear most interested in Ansar Ed-Dine, and remain unsure of what to make of MUJWA. Forum members appear to have greater trust in Ansar Ed-Dine than MUJWA, due to its explicit cooperation with AQIM and multiple statements stating its objective as the implementation of shariʿah throughout Mali leading to greater familiarity. This can be understood from narratives about the conflict that focus on Ansar Ed-Dine and from the strong responses to threads dealing with the group. Ansar Ed-Dine and AQIM are seen as the leading actors in the conflict and the MNLA and ethnic actors are generally ignored or rolled into narratives about jihad and the rapid progress of the rebellion. However, certain members note that the Tuareg population in Mali is divided in political allegiances; member ‘Abdel Rahman ben Abdel Rahman,’ for example, noted in a response to a thread on the viability of an Islamic state in northern Mali by ‘ʿAla’a al-Shinqiti, ‘the majority of Tuaregs favor secession and many, if not a majority, have relations with western infidel countries.’[10] Posts featuring news stories about the application of shariʿah in Timbuktu and in Gao have strengthened posters’ confidence in MUJWA’s credibility as an Islamic group and its commitment to jihad.[11] Posts on violence between MUJWA and the MNLA in Gao during the week of 25 June 2012 suggest appreciation for the group’s role in pushing the secular MNLA out of the city. MUJWA and Ansar Ed-Dine members in Gao are described as the ‘Malian mujahideen’.[12] However, members appear more interested in posts featuring reports of AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar leading forces during the fighting in Gao, based on his longstanding jihadist credentials and firm affiliation with AQIM and the global jihad.[13] Belmokhtar’s communiqué laying out his version of events during the Battle of Gao was posted to the English-language version of the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum on 01 July 2012.[14] (The statement was posted to the Arabic forum several hours later; the first commenter inquired whether a French translation was available yet.) Because Ansar Ed-Dine communiqués were not consistently released through the standard top-tier jihadist forums ntil relatively late in 2012 and, like many AQIM videos, were released directly to regional media services,[15] forum administrators have tended to post key announcements from Ansar Ed-Dine and similar groups retroactively. For example, on 29 June 2012 administrators on the ‘Events and Issues of the Islamic Ummah’ section of the forum posted a video message (in French) from Ansar Ed-Dine commander Omar Hamaha threatening France, the United States and other western powers nearly a week after it was released to the media and on YouTube during the week of 24 June 2012. The video itself is provided via a YouTube link, not through varied file sharing websites as jihadist releases often are.[16] The thread was posted a ‘sticky’ topic at the same time that threads about Mali began to increase in number (from one to three) over the week of the Gao confrontations; reflecting administrators’ and probably also members’ desire to learn more about the situation in Mali as Salafi-jihadis move to take the historic seat of the Songhai Empire and the largest city in northern Mali.

Forum members’ posts on the failed negotiations between Ansar Ed-Dine and the MNLA to form a unified front in northern Mali indicate that forum members have confidence in Ansar Ed-Dine and view the MNLA, which they describe as ‘secularist’ as a threat to the Islamist project there. Ansar Ed-Dine is portrayed as the leading force in the rebellion and the MNLA’s unilateral declaration of independence for a State of Azawad an opportunity to establish an Islamic emirate in Mali, from which jihad can spread across west Africa. Forum members also speculate that Ansar Ed-Dine’s Islamic appeal could potentially weaken the MNLA, which al-Shinqiti sees as ‘a coalition of movements, not a single movement’ and that men who share the ‘views of the mujahideen’ are likely to defect to Ansar Ed-Dine and that tribes in northern Mali are unlikely to resist the Islamist and jihadist groups there. Al-Shinqiti believes that Asnar Ed-dine will succeed in isolating secularist elements within the MNLA and become the single, dominant movement in northern Mali in short time.[17]

Most indicative of forum members’ strong interest in and favorable views of Ansar Ed-Dine is that when forum administrators announced on 20 June 2012 that group’s spokesman, Sanda Ould Boumana would answer questions from members posted over 10 days, forum members posted seven pages of questions nine days.[18] Members posting questions appear to be predominantly North African – Libyan, Tunisian and Algerian – and focused on Ansar Ed-Dine’s relationships with other jihadist groups in the Maghreb and in the Sahel. Questioners asked questions about the group’s relationships with Libyan jihadists, the exact nature of its relationship with MUJWA, whether the group will ‘open its doors for brothers’ from North Africa to join its ranks, how the group plans on combating regional alliances against it, and similar strategic questions of relevance for jihadists.[19] One member describing himself as Tunisian asks Ould Boumana to respond to rumors reportedly being circulated in Tunisia that Ansar Ed-Dine is an agent of western powers seeking to dominate the region. Other members inquire as to why Ansar Ed-Dine has not established ‘a media organization to publish its news, especially in light of the malignant work of the media which is distorting the movement’s image among the common folk,’ as one Algerian member put it. The questions were a mixture of general inquiries about the group’s ideological orientation and illustrations of members’ desire to see their perceptions of the conflict in Mali confirmed by a person on the ground. Comments and questions suggest an eagerness to fit Ansar Ed-Dine into the broader jihadist fold and flesh out its program and ideology.[20]

Forum Members Strategize Mali & the Sahel 

Generally, forum posters view political, geographic and cultural conditions in Azawad as highly favorable to an Islamic emirate. Ansar forum users have posted at least three or essays on the situation in Mali. These have been written by users who appear to be North Africans, most likely Mauritanians and Algerians, and tend to present the conflict in Mali as evidence of tides turning in favor of the global jihad movement and as evidence of the inability of regional and western governments to stop this trend. Prominent voices in this field include users who are also commonly found on other top-tier jihadist forums such as the Shmukh al-Islam forum, such as ‘ʿAla’a al-Shinqiti’ and ‘Redouane18’. Comments focus on building an Islamic state in northern Mali and using it as a base for expanding jihadist activity in Africa.

Mali as a Geostrategic Centre for African Jihad

Member ʿAla’a al-Shinqiti’ wrote several posts on a threat titled ‘The Tuareg Alliance and al-Qaʿidat al-Jihad: Brigades of Jihad Come from the Islamic State in Azawad’. Al-Shinqiti’s first post on this thread introduces users to the Tuareg communities in northern Mali, describes the genesis of Ansar Ed-Dine, defines ‘Azawad’ in terms of territory, mainly posting links to Arabic-language Algerian news articles on the Mali crisis. His second post on this thread appears to be an original analysis. This is possibly the single longest piece of writing on the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum assessing the strategic value of northern Mali (which he terms the ‘Islamic State of Azawad’) for the global Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa. He begins by appraising the internal and external difficulties facing the establishment and sustainment of such an entity.[21] Internal threats include tribal conflicts, Sufism, Christianity (‘between 5 and 10 percent of the total population of 14 million is Christian, and their associations are strongly backed by the West,’ according to the user), and drug cartels that cross through the region. External threats include ‘military invasion, whether local [referring to the Malian military], regional or western’. Here the writer refers explicitly to possible ECOWAS intervention, as well as the ‘American presence in the region in general (AFRICOM)’. Nonetheless, the poster moves on quickly to ‘several factors to our advantage that minimize these risks’. These include:

  • ‘The absence of any superpower in the vicinity of the Islamic State of Azawad’
  • ‘The weakness of most of the armies in the region’
  • ‘The preoccupation of the professional armies [in the region] with other issues’
  • ‘The power of the weapons and large missiles in the Islamic State of Azawad’
  • ‘The difficulty of fighting in these areas, due to its desert nature’
  • The inability of western countries to initiate an invasion of this vast territory’

The poster elaborates on each of these points. For example, he compares the Azawad to Afghanistan, writing that ‘our situation in Azawad is mostly comfortably the reverse of the Islamic State of Afghanistan which is surrounded by China, India, the State of the Persians’ and to the Caucuses ‘which are surrounded by Russia’. The author contrasts this with the Sahel region, which lacks strong, hegemonic states around it capable of directly interfering in the activities of jihadists. Al-Shinqiti also writes that the Malian army is fragmented and ‘lacks the physical, military and logistical potential’ to obstruct the creation of an Islamic state in northern Mali; he considers the Nigerien military’s disposition as ‘not much different from Mali’s in the event of a war with Tuareg factions’ and judges the Mauritanian army as mostly concerned with its guarding border with Mali and unlikely to intervene. He views the region’s powerful states such as Algeria and Morocco unlikely to cooperate with one another and the ECOWAS militaries weak and incompetent. Furthermore, he argues that jihadists in northern Mali have benefited from the flow of weapons out of Libya and are now as well armed as fighters in northern Algeria and better armed than the Malian military. Finally he argues that while western militaries will not invade northern Mali as they did Iraq or Afghanistan, ‘there will be small units of special forces in addition to air support’ and that ‘western countries will be obliged to intervene no matter what’.

Al-Shinqiti also argues that ‘the sudden thrust of al-Qaʿida in Mali can possibly be repeated in one form or another in three other countries, namely Niger, Mauritania and to some extent Chad, and I’m just talking about the countries where progress is important’. He views Niger as similar to Mali ‘in its crisis status economically, socially and politically’. Furthermore, a large portion of Niger’s territory is desert and al-Shinqiti sees the Tanere desert, where AQIM has operated before, as a ‘semi-independent’ area open to jihadis. ‘It is possible to see another coalition there [in Niger]’ as between AQIM and Tuareg fighters from Ansar al-Din in Mali. In Mauritania, he sees opportunities as a result of ‘a possible revolution’, referring to the various ongoing strikes and protests against the Mauritanian regime. The legacy of communal tension between blacks and Arabs there and protests mean ‘the disintegration of the current state and descent into armed conflict, on tribal and ethnic lines’ which would distract the Mauritanian military and allow AQIM to infiltrate parochial conflicts. He calls for the end of ‘French domination’ in Mauritania and says that ‘it is time to cut the hands of those who wage war on the various Islamic movements in this country,’ referring to the Mauritanian military. He then states that he hopes to see AQIM and Ansar al-Din call for the release of jihadist prisoners in Mauritania.

The author then lays out a strategy for using Mali as a staging ground to support the expansion of jihad throughout the Maghreb and Sahel.  Beginning with Algeria, he argues for using Azawad to expand confrontation with the Algerian military to the western part of the country through the Algerian Sahara and ‘exploiting broad discontent in the population of the Algerian Sahara, including among the Tuareg’ and that attacking the Algerian military in the south is more vulnerable in the north ‘where their barracks and bases are adjacent to the population’. He then argues for ‘increasing the volume of support for our brothers in Nigeria’ in two stages: Providing jihadists there with weapons and expanding into Niger from Azawad in order to ‘make it possible to start a paramilitary war using heavy weapons, forcing the Nigerian Crusaders to retreat to southern areas’. He then explores areas that ‘are in need of the rules of jihad but not all of which are available given the circumstances’ but which may be reached from Azawad. These areas include Sudan, ‘whose wealth in manpower, water and vast fertile lands make it ideal for the Mujahideen’ as well as Chad. Accompanying the essay is a map depicting Mali, colored black with the flag of al-Qaʿida and black arrows pointing toward the various neighboring countries of the Sahel and Maghreb.

Map posted by member ʿAla’a al-Shinqiti’s in his post ‘The Tuareg Alliance and al-Qaʿidat al-Jihad: Brigades of Jihad Come from the Islamic State in Azawad’

Addendum: Added 15 January 2012.

Mali’s Utility in the Jihadist Effort

Forum member Redouane18 penned multiple essays on northern Mali and its relevance to the global jihad up through June 2012. Two key threads stand out, the first titled ‘Features of the Great Battle in the Sahara and Sahel,’[1] posted during the week of 01 June 2012 and the second ‘A Message to Our People in the Sahel and Sahara’ posted during the week of 09 June 2012. Redouane18 is a well known and relatively prolific on top-tier forums, often writing provocative and lengthy posts on North Africa that receive enthusiastic responses from other members. Both essays place the conflict in northern Mali in terms of jihadist struggle with the ‘Crusader’ west (and its local allies), and are primarily forward-looking assessments of scenarios in which western governments and militaries become involved in the Mali problem. From there Redouane18 argues that Mali is a key battle front in the African jihad.

Redouane18’s begins the first essay on the situation in Mali by noting that ‘although the military aspect has received a bit of analysis and study [presumably by the media], the ethical aspect has been omitted, intentionally or unintentionally, because it represents humanitarianism in Islamic warfare’. Here he argues that the alliance of Islamist and jihadist elements in Mali with local tribal groups has led to the revival of Islam in the region and present the Mujahideen favourably: ‘proud tribes have championed the Mujahideen and the greatness of Islam, and have achieved their objectives, showing what a difference there is between Islam and the democracy of Guantanamo and Bagram’. Redouane18 further argues that the triumph of the Islamist groups in northern Mali represents a ‘narrowing and decrease in the capacity of the world of the mercenaries, Marines, Blackwater, Alpha 13 in Algeria’.

Nonetheless Redouane18 argues that advances on the part of the jihadists in the region, ‘there is still a war in the Sahel and Sahara [. . .] because of the global Jewish Crusade’. Because of this he urges readers to consider that ‘it is imperative for Muslims in general to think about how to meet the prospective campaign that has begun to appear in the statements of Crusader politicians, led by the French and Americans’. The author accuses France of seeking to use the United Nations Security Council (‘which decimated crops and cattle in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Chechnya and tore up Indonesia and Sudan in order to provide necessary cover for interventions [. . .] to plan an intervention in Mali and of attempting to use ‘local minesweepers from the local countries in the region, of which Algeria, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are at the forefront.’

Notably Redouanee18 asserts that France and America seek ‘to push the countries of the region to intervene in Mali seems clear in [efforts] to lure the Algerian Army into a battle in the heart of the desert on behalf of Crusader armies which are overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan’. Redouane18 assess such efforts as futile, describing the Algerian military as weary and weakened by ‘two decades of war’ and fearful of being drawn into a hard desert war in a foreign country. The Algerians, he writes, ‘evade the issue and its consequences’ in public statements, showing their fear of confronting the jihadists in northern Mali. ECOWAS too, Redouane18 writes, led by a ‘French pawn’ (referring to Ivory Coast) is reluctant to face the jihadists in Mali arguing that they look to non-ECOWAS countries for assistance, Algeria, Mauritania or others.

Redouane18 goes on to suggest that the reason western governments have sought to formulate a military response to the crisis in Mali is ‘to preserve the interests of major corporations and employers beyond the Mediterranean and Atlantic’. At the behest of these interest, he writes, the Algerian government has attempted to place northern Mali under siege by closing its border, preventing food, medicine and contraband from flowing across the border ‘as a prelude to all out war’. He then compares Algeria’s treatment of northern Mali to the the 1990s sanctions on Iraq, stating that this will ‘remain a blot on the conscience of the Algerian Muslim people’, accusing the Algerian government of starving Malians, asking whether Algerians will accept this status quo ‘which besieges their Muslim brothers in northern Mali for choosing a life under shariʿah?’ and whether Tuaregs and Arab with relations in Mali would ‘be satisfied with this siege?’ Redouane18 foresees a situation in which western governments will use regional governments to try and drive out jihadists after weakening them through what he describes as Algeria’s ‘blockade’. Redouane18 urges ‘Muslim youth’ to beware of the coming battle: ‘Because today’s battle in Azawad is the battle of Islam, with America and its allies in the region together on one side and other the other one sees from Sinai to Algiers to Lagos’.

Redouane18’s second essay[2] is focused on framing the 2012 rebellion in Mali in terms of the triumph of Islam over secular ideologies and nationalism in the Sahel. Redouane18 congratulates ‘our people in the Sahara and Sahel, especially on their conquests under the banner of Islam’ and for ‘melting ethnic, cultural, social and geographic disparities into the crucible of immortal Islam discarding prejudices and ignorance’. In this narrative, Mali’s Islamists have saved the country from falling pray to separatist nationalism, which Redouane18 blames for exposing Muslims to external attacks, through ‘discordant liberalisation’ and economic weakness. Atheism and secularism condemned Muslims to economic failure and defeat in Palestine and East Timor, according to Redouane18. In Mali, he argues this trend is reversed.

NOTES [ADDENDUM]


[1] معالم المعركة الكبرى في الساحل والصحراء


[2] Ibid.

[4] Aside from posts on MUJWA on this blog, see also ‘Trying to Understand MUJWA ’ and ‘What to Make of Foreign Fighters in Mali.’

[5] The pseudonym ‘al-Shinqiti’ suggests the user may be Mauritanian or has spent time in Mauritania (Bilad al-Shinqit is the historical Arabic name for contemporary Mauritania); the attention spent on using northern Mali as a base to unsettle the political order in Mauritania also supports this assessment. A post in response to a another forum user’s favourable comments on one of al-Shinqiti’s posts argues that his writing is necessary to combat negative narratives in the mainstream (presumably international) press about Islamists in Africa. Al-Shinqiti replies that ‘the efforts of the Media Mujahideen here [on the Ansar forum] are mostly not from the real ground because people here do not even know what the Internet is and in many areas there are not satellite channels, only radio stations’ (see here: 2تحديث الصفحة تحالف الطوارق وقاعدة الجهاد-بشائر ألوية الجهاد تخرج من دولة الإسلام في ازواد )

[7] This refers to a Mauritanian jihadist previously who was affiliated with the GSPC and AQIM before becoming a leading spokesperson for MUJWA in 2012, also known as Hamada Ould Mohamed Ould Lamine Kheirou, and transliterated variously.

[9] Here ‘criminal activities’ likely refers to drug smuggling or other illicit activity. This accusation is commonly levelled at MUJWA, which reportedly receives significant support for trading and smuggling families in the Gao area.

[12] It worth noting that during this period, jihadist commenters and MUJWA’s own propaganda (presuming MUJWA in fact produced the video) refer to the group’s members as ‘mujahideen’ while referring the similarly Islamist Ansar Ed-Dine merely by its own name.

[14]  “Statement from AQIM commander Khalid Abu Al-Abbas about the events in Gao”

[15] Early on MUJWA released no videos or communiqués through the top-tier jihadist forums, relying on the foreign media and interviews to get its message out. Later on it began to release videos and statements through these outlets; Ansar Ed-Dine began issuing similar content through the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum, including interviews and a newsletter (the ‘Azawad News Agency’), around this time as well. Internet jihadists view the use of these online outlets as important legitimating signposts and these groups gained more credibility with this target audience by doing so.

[20] Bouamana’s responses were included in PDF document released through the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum. The document contains Boumana’s responses to the open question session in 64 pages in Arabic. With respect to potential outcomes from this process, see note 15 above.