Some worthwhile links:
A backgrounder on AQIM from Cross the Green Mountain.
Lyes Laribi’s history of the Algerian secret services, Du MALG au DRS (in French).
Marc Lynch on ‘The Big Think Behind the Arab Spring,’ where he argues ‘the Arab peoples’ have returned to regional politics and that the Arab uprisings:
generated a marvelous range of innovative tactics (uploading mobile-camera videos to social media like Facebook and Twitter, seizing and holding public squares), they did not introduce any particularly new ideas. The relentless critique of the status quo, the generational desire for political change, the yearning for democratic freedoms, the intense pan-Arab identification — these had all been in circulation for more than a decade. What changed with the fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia was the recognition that even the worst tyrants could be toppled. It shattered the wall of fear.
Emily Parker on ‘Tunisia’s Election Results and the Question of Minorities,’ focused on Christians and Jews there.
The minority question is important; both in terms of non-Muslim sects and atheists (who are often neglected in questions of minorities in both predominantly Muslim and Christian society, it should be noted) and non-Sunni Muslim sects — which do exist in North Africa, especially in Tunisia (at Djerba), Libya (in Jebel Nafusa) and in Algeria (in Ghardaia). Most of these are Ibadhites though there are smaller numbers of converts to Shi’ism. This sometimes overlaps with rights for ethnic minorities, as North African Ibadhites are usually also Berbers. It will be interesting to see how minority rights issues are resolved in the countries which have recently had uprisings, especially because religious minorities are generally smaler in the Maghreb than in Egypt and the Levant (where there are very large numbers of Christians of multiple denominations), especially as Islamist parties come to the fore in government (and how secular or other non-Islamist parties treat these questions, too).
Finally there is an El Khabar article from yesterday on recent kidnappings in Mali and the Sahel, citing Algerian security sources as it warns of immanent kidnappings and describes AQIM units responsible for kidnapping foreigners and some of the politics between and within them. Below is a short listing of some of the interesting points:
- Warnings. The El Khabarstory reports that the Algerians ‘dismantled’ a cell in southern Algeria which was responsible for taking the western hostages in the refugee camps at Tindouf. Two people were arrested, suspected of providing information and facilitating the movement of the kidnappers in the camp. One was captured north of Tindouf, the other near In Salah; these detainees gave ‘detailed information’ about the ‘activities of [AQIM] cells and their hostage-taking and working methods.’ The report also references a report from the Algerians services intelligence group responsible for investigating kidnappings who believe recent spike in kidnappings is the result of ‘competition’ between AQIM cells (described in the report); it says recent attacks were carried out by an AQIM cell led by an Algerian which could encourage competition from other cells for more kidnappings. It also mentions a ‘warning’ from the Algerian services of ‘imminent abductions which may take place in Mauritania, Burkina Faso or Nigeria’ and says the next kidnapping will probably be led by Mauritanians. The exact nature of the ‘competiton’ from these cells is not described,’ though it may be referencing ethnic or national competition (between Algerians and Mauritanians or others) as well as possibly monetary competition.
- Kidnapping Units/Cells. The article says Abu Zeid has formed units specifically for carrying out kidnapping and ‘entrusted the leadership of the most important group to a most experienced terrorist’ from eastern Algeria and two other units, one led by a Mauritanian and the other a group made up of mercenaries indirectly linked to Belmokhtar.
- It cites the Algerian services on the following outline of the three kidnapping cells:
- A cell for capturing hostages ‘in the Sahel and northern Mali’ led by Mohamed Jabar/Djabar[?] (Algerian);
- A ‘less important cell made up of Mauritanians, and believed to have implemented most of the operations in Mauritania, including the kidnappings of the Spaniards and is led by a Mauritanian called “Gharbi Abu Mahjar”’; and
- A cell of ‘mercenaries and elements associated with AQIM, who coordinate their activities but do not have direct ties with Emir Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Katiba al-Moulethemine’ and ‘this group participated in the kidnapping of UN envoy Robert Fowler, then brokered his release,’ and is ‘the most relevant cell in smuggling and includes mercenaries led by armed dissidents from the Malian Army’; this group is not directly linked to al-Qa’ida/AQIM.
- Intrigues and infighting. According to the report the kidnapping units ‘act to finance the organization and have committed a number of killings and purges in the ranks of the group because of disputes over ransom money and smuggling income.’
- Friends in the neighborhood. These units use ‘sleeper cells spread across a number of cities in the Sahara in Mali, Niger and Mauritania’ for scouting, information collection and logistical support.
- The Report’s Conclusion. ‘The Sahel countries cannot combat kidnappings unless they disrupt the cells that provide support and information about the movements of foreigners in the Sahel countries to the terrorists and who cater to them, carry messages to them and news to them over the Internet.’ (A rough, rough translation.) It should be mentioned that another report from El Khabar says France has ben putting ‘pressure’ on Algeria to be more assertive and to give more military assistance to its neighbors in the Sahel (especially Mali), through ‘joint military operations’ and notes that ‘it is known that the leadership of the National People’s Army has no intention of even discussing the idea’ of intervening ‘in the territory of neighboring country,’ and references constitutional ‘restrictions on the functioning of the Army’. The Algerians have been accused of bullying the Malians to ‘do’ more on AQIM and of engaging in conspiracies with AQIM in Malian and other regional newspapers while the Algerians have criticized Mali for not doing more on its own turf. For their own reasons Bamako and Algiers tend to be too cautious or unwilling to take more aggressive action in northern Mali in different ways, part of the reason for so much skepticism of the utility of existing regional counterterrorism agreements and fora.
- Names mentioned.
- ‘Mohamed Jaber/Djabar’[?]’, whose real identity believed to be ‘Ben Wahi al-Baqi (”بن واهي عبد الباقي), is an Algerian, aged 44, born in an eastern Algerian province and a veteran of the GIA. He was active in El Para (Abdelrazzaq el Bara/Amari Saifi)’s activities, and ‘escaped from captivity’ in the Tibesti Mountains in Chad (no date is given). Jabar is believed to have been ‘the mastermind of several kidnappings, is fluent in English and French (presumably in addition to Arabic) and holds a degree from the University of Annaba’. El Khabar writes that the Algerian security services have ‘only one picture of him, which is unclear, taken from the records of the University of Annaba and photographed 17 years ago’. Jabar’s group is responsible for kidnappings in the ‘Sahel and northern Mali.’
- ‘Gharbi Abu Mahjar’ (غربي أبو مهاجر), also also called ‘Imran,’ and his real name may be ‘Zoubir Meliani’ (زبير ملاني). A Mauritanian engineer, (age unknown/unmentioned) and ‘a graduate of one of the universities in Mauritania’ (this must be University of Nouakchott) and a master of several languages’; according to El Khabar he leads kidnapping operations in Mauritania, including the abduction of the Spaniards.