Shortly on the kidnappings

Having been largely quiet on the kidnappings of two Spaniards and the killing of three Mauritanians in Trarza last week, here are some vague and general thoughts. The kidnapping and the murders would appear to fit the general AQIM pattern of banditry and criminality one observes from its activities in Mauritania over the last two years. The kidnappers have demanded monies, not concrete political demands. This is to say that the act itself is political enough, coming from whom it does, and that the object of the operation is accomplished by the image it presents to outsiders (and local governments) and, more importantly, by success in securing a ransom from western governments — or failure in that pursuit and then setting off with the hostages’ heads. The primary objective is to make a statement of strength and, flowing from that, to procure the necessary funds to continue and enhance the group’s activities. Questions as to whether there is government involvement are warranted, though one might be considered a conspiracy theorist for linking central governments to directly to the kidnapping. It more likely that local government officials were complicit either by negligence or conspiracy in allowing (rather than making) the event happen. At the same time, one must also put the fact that in the last several months so many terroristic events have taken place in Mauritania in context of those who rule that country, and additionally with how few resources they do so.

There is the issue of incompetence, negligence and an eagerness to use the terrorist problem, which is in general marginal — though still important — as a political tool to demonstrate the supposed indispensability of those in power. These are all interrelated and could be seen in the character of the Ould Abdel Aziz government from a few months after it seized power. One now sees that there are more attacks since a man who claimed his right to rule partly on the basis that he was prepared to fight terrorism. If he has not calculated some element of this for his own advantage, the procurement of western aid especially, Mauritania is headed for more minor disturbances because its leaders have not the faculties to address the problem. Corruption on the frontiers, where much militant activity is organized, enables terrorism. Ould Abdel Aziz has himself as an enemy of corruption, but one sees only symbolic measures in that field. Indeed, symbolism without actual reform or enduring solutions is his style of rule, as per the dismissal of the chief of police last week. This was not unlike the highly symbolic but generally meaningly Ould Nagi case (which will have its own post soon enough) — it makes a statement but resolves very little. So there are many statements being made and many monetary prizes being sought. What about ideology?

AQIM’s theology and political ideology surely what animates its cause, but that ideology is enabled by poverty and by an existing infrastructure of corruption broadening its appeal beyond men whose first interest is the affirmation of stringent religious philosophy and its establishment in government. This makes it quite possible for the organization to draw on perfectly secular criminal networks, new and old. The downed 727 two weeks was involved in  what some see as an intersection of the drug trade and the AQIM network. Whatever the validity of that view, the organization continues to operate like a gang, recruiting fellow travelers and riffraff. This has been observed on this blog before, and by others too. More extensive and (hopefully) more insightful comments will follow.


19 thoughts on “Shortly on the kidnappings

  1. Why doesn’t the government just pull a Hama and call it a day? The State should declare the miscreants of AQIM kharajites and wipe them off the face of the earth. An excessive use of force will rid Mauritania of any AQIM presence and send a message to any would be criminals in jihadist garb.

    I am not saying that such measures will address the root causes of radical Islamism but they will put a band aid on the issue until a more durable solution can be devised.

  2. The French will pay the ransom; as will the Spanish. AQIM’s pockets will be full – then they will buy more guns and continue their quest.

    Funny how these same European governments often criticise countries like Mauritania, Niger and Mali for not doing enough to fight terrorism. The irony!

    En plus, the whole Ould Nagi Pandora box is just a way for Aziz to distract people from the real issue– his total incompetence vis a vis security (among other things) in Mauritania. Of course his scapegoats are Sidioca and Taya! Someone should make him a little sign for his presidential desk: “The buck (ouguiya) stops here”.

    Looking forward to your post on the Smasside witch hunt and its political and economic significance. Great blog! Keep up the good work!

  3. Why doesn’t the government just pull a Hama and call it a day? The State should declare the miscreants of AQIM kharajites and wipe them off the face of the earth. An excessive use of force will rid Mauritania of any AQIM presence and send a message to any would be criminals in jihadist garb.

    Even if that was a good idea, and I think it’s a very bad idea (esp. given the amount of blood feuding it would cause in a place like Mauritania), that wouldn’t be possible unless AQIM pulled a Hama first — took over a city and gathered its forces. And if they’re smart, they don’t, even if they could, which they can’t.

    • I’m not convinced that either AQIM or the Mauritanian military are capable of pulling off either end of a Hama in such a way for it to have remotely similar results as in Syria.

  4. I was unaware that French people had been kidnapped. But if there are really AQIM people involved, I doubt very much that the French will pay a ransom. Last time they did (in Somalia), they sent commandos after the guys who had been paid and killed some of them. They didn’t recover all of it (due to poor planning, apparently), but they had no real wish to pay anything. In Mauritania, where it is a lot easier for them to operate, I don’t think they will do anything else.

  5. Howdy,

    Me I want to stick with the conspiracy theorists. There is no AQMI: there is a bunch of people paid to raid here and there. They are all known and there was nothing on that plane burnt in Northern Mali. Someone wants to make us believe that the land is AQMI’s and we need military bases to protect us. I have no problem with manipoulating the mind of people, but not at the cost of killing. More as debate on this evolves.

  6. To where the hostage takers will go? Mali? Don’t think so: too far and risky if there are true hostage takers. Check the map below. Another better version from Alle in Western Sahara Info.

  7. Tidinit — No, they won’t go to Western Sahara, that’s for sure. It’s packed with Moroccan army, POLISARIO, walls, landmines, surveillance equipment, patrols and other unpleasant things. Mali — different story. They stand no worse a chance of living off the smuggling trade there than do the Touareg rebels, some of whom have been waging war and banditry on-off for decades.

    As for “they are all known”: no, not really. But of those who ARE known, quite a few are known because they have long backgrounds in armed Islamist groups, having fought in Algeria. Some (incl. Belmokhtar) were even fighting in Afghanistan in the 80s. So either the DRS was planning way ahead, or you’ll have to admit they’re not simply products of the Algerian security, but an actual outgrowth of the GIA/GSPC complex. (Which doesn’t rule out that the DRS & others actors could manipulate them in other ways.)

  8. Thanks Alle. Agree with you that they can’t take that route (agree 200% on your first paragraphe). They will neither a direct route from Nouadhibou to somewhere in the very far Northern Mali, if they are not ” helped” to avoid them killing the poor hostages.

    Concerning if they are known or not, please refer to an article from the Globe and Mail of Canada (will look for its link and put it here later) where Ould Sheikh (the mayor of Tarkint where the drug cargo landed) has said that he was involved in all the ransom negotiations since the El Para’s saga. It is written in the article, even with his photo, that the journal took out to save Ould Sheikh. So, hostages are taken, they are found, ransom is paid and they disappear again in the thin air until next hostage taking.
    This is why I am saying that there is no chance security forces are not accomplice, either from Mauritania, Libya, Algeria, Mali, Niger, France, the US or even Morocco: someone should know and someone is manipulating something somewhere. It does not matter who, but I have the tendency to listen to what Keenan, Geze, Mellah and others say. Because, what our security guys are leaking everyday to the press does not hold. Read last night an article entitled ” Alors que les redditions et arrestations se multiplient, le GSPC derriere le bouclier des kidnappings” by Ikram GHIOUA (http// -13-12-09) and it is the same explanation we read since 2005. Or an article from something called pressafrik on the internet I guess and entitled ” Mali: sur les traces de l’ avion de la cocaine”. So many things where you see the state (s) presence, but with no end to all this game of banditry and islam.

    Another good question is: why everybody refused to attend the famous security conference proposed by ATT? He speaks about it in an interview and he is hit by AQMI or his Tuaregs 1 or 2 days after. Why not have that conference and cooperate together if these AQMI are real ..

    N.B: Just seen this in Tahalil Hebdo of Mauritania that seems to indicated that the spanish hostages are already in Northern Mali. If this is true, someone is taking all of us for a ride. Looking for the Gloe and Mail article on the go-between in all ransom demands and the guy is unique and known.

    Otages d’AQMI : Le Mali cherche à contacter les ravisseurs

    “Les autorités du Mali s’efforcent de prendre contact avec les ravisseurs de trois travailleurs humanitaires espagnols et d’un Français qu’elles croient détenus dans le nord du pays”, a déclaré le 16 décembre à Reuters, une “source proche du dossier”. “Nous cherchons à établir le contact avec eux afin de négocier…

    …les conditions de libération des otages” a ajouté cette source.

    L’engagement des autorités maliennes dans cette affaire est vraisemblablement intervenu après une sollicitation du gouvernement espagnol.

    Il constitue la preuve que les négociations Espagne-Mali-Ravisseurs sont entamées, lesquelles, doivent permettre de connaitre les exigences des preneurs d’otages et d’avoir un signe de vie palpable des otages, notamment une vidéo.

    Cette vidéo est généralement remise aux négociateurs ou mise en ligne sur les sites internet utilisés par Al Qaida au Maghreb Islamique (AQMI).
    Deux communiqués d’AQMI, l’un audio et le second écrit, diffusés il y a quelques jours sur internet assuraient que les quatre otages étaient “bien traités et en bonne santé” et que la France et l’Espagne “seraient informées ultérieurement des conditions de leur libération”.
    AQMI détient le Français Pierre Kamat enlevé le 26 novembre au Mali et trois Espagnols kidnappés le 29 novembre en Mauritanie.

    Toute reprise totale où partielle de cet article doit inclure la source :

  9. This is why I am saying that there is no chance security forces are not accomplice…

    I think it’s very likely that there are security personnel from one or several countries who collaborate in some way with AQIM units, whether because they’re bribed, or because of ideology, family ties, tribe, or whatever — or even for cynical political calculations. There could definitely also be some higher-level manipulation of such ties, from the states involved, or factions within their armies, etc. But that is *not* the same as to suggest that the group is created and remote-controlled from a foreign capital.

    (I suppose it COULD be that, of course, but it just seems much less likely and much more convoluted than most of the other possible explanations. I know Islamists are averse to shaving, but <a href=""Occam's Razor is a useful tool in these situations.)

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