RE: Canard Enchaîné, Qatar in northern Mali and Algeria

SUMMARY: This post considers reports from the French press that Qatar has been funding armed groups in northern Mali in light of Algerian press coverage of the story and uncertainties in the region and strong claims.

Last week the satirical French paper Canard Enchaîné reported that Qatar has allegedly been funding armed groups in northern Mali made their way into Algerian and west African outlets. Suspicions that Ansar Ed-Dine, the main pro-shari’ah armed group in the region, has been receiving funding from Qatar has circulated in Mali for several months. Reports (as yet unconfirmed) that a ‘Qatari’ aircraft landed at Gao, full of weapons, money and drugs, for example, emerged near the beginning of the conflict. The original report cites a French military intelligence report as indicating that Qatar has provided financial support to all three of the main armed groups in northern Mali: Iyad Ag Ghali’s Ansar Ed-Dine, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). The amount of funding given to each of the groups is not mentioned but it mentions repeated reports from the French DGSE to the Defense Ministry have mentioned Qatar’s support for ‘terrorism’ in northern Mali.

Jeune Afrique mentions that the report is likely to increase tensions between Algiers and Doha, pointing to possible contention over hydrocarbons in northern Mali and disagreements over Qatar’s aggressive support for Arab uprisings, which has irritated Algiers. (The original report mentions discussions between Total and Qatar on energy in Mali.) The first question to ask about a story like this is what and where is the source for the French source on this? While knowledgeable sources in west Africa have alleged Qatar has been ‘supporting’ at least one armed group in Mali their reports tend to mention Ansar Ed-Dine specifically and not the secular MNLA, the well known al-Qa’ida affiliate AQIM or its splinter, MUJWA. That Qatar is backing all of these groups is new and unique to the Canard Enchaîné report. One wonders if Algerian reporting (the French had to have gotten this information from someplace) has to do with this particular accusation going beyond Ansar Ed-Dine. Even if this is not the case the Canard Enchaîné report is worth thinking about in the wider political context.

The aggressive coverage this report has gotten in the Algerian press fits strongly within a narrative that emerged chiefly in the context of the Libyan uprising, in which Qatar is presented as recklessly seeking to destabilise the broader region by financing and armed Islamist rebel groups. The Qatari objective in this narrative has something to do with so spreading fanatical Wahabi ideology and destablising oil and gas rich states as a means of gaining access to their resources. This is part of a larger narrative about the Arab risings, which presents Algeria as a bastion of stability being encircled by Islamist forces. This was evident, for example, in a significant part of the press coverage around the appointment of Gen. Bachir Tartag. Elsewhere, Qatar is presented as seeking to force an uprising in Algeria through foul means. El WatanLa TribuneDNA, and a number of other outlets covered the Canard Enchaîné story as evidence of a large Qatari conspiracy against Algeria. El Watan’s 07 June report links the charges in the Canard Enchaîné report to Qatar’s supposed efforts to a wider ‘campaign to fund Islamist terrorism in the Muslim world,’ while noting that Doha’s supposed funding of the MNLA, AQIM, Ansar Ed-Dine and MUJWA ‘is not accidental. It is aimed primarily at destablising Algeria, which has resisted until now the tide of the green peril.’ La Tribune‘s report includes the following lines:

Qatar wants to destabilize the entire region from North Africa to the Mashreq without worrying about the political and security consequences that result. Today, Libya has been delivered to itself, Egypt will not know stability any time soon, and Tunisia tries hard to silence its demons. As in Mali, it [Qatar] risks the implosion and the threat of civil war as well as in Syria.

DNA writes, ‘in short, the emirs of Qatar fund armed Islamists, who spread terror in Algeria and the Sahel, holding Algerian hostages and proclaiming an Islamic Caliphate on Algeria’s frontiers.’ The report repeats a mantra heard among many leaders in the Sahel that northern Mali is at risk of becoming ‘another Afghanistan’ (this is a common refrain in western circles too). DNA’s report also mentions Qatar’s supposed interest in ‘the oil of the Sahel’.

It should be noted that public reports of Qatari ‘support’ for Ansar Ed-Dine and other armed groups in Mali are almost always vague, imprecise and generally accusatory rather than empirical. In this way they are similar to accusations often heard in pro-MNLA and French circles that Algeria is secretly backing Ansar Ed-Dine, based on its past relationship with Iyad Ag Ghali prior to his transformation into a Salafi-jihadi. While these reports tend to point toward anecdotal evidence or gut feelings, such claims are similarly light in sourcing and similarly politicised, constructing grand designs for Algiers in northern Mali based on energy or Algeria’s own internal politics, or based on Keenanite theories of Algeria’s perception of the Sahel and its activities there.

There is also something to be said on style here. In evaluating reports of ‘Algerian support’ and ‘Qatari support’ for this or that organisation or group, one should be careful to note previous, established patterns of behaviour in Mali and elsewhere. The Algerians do not deploy forces outside their own borders for the sake of foreign proxies unless they feel there is something vital at stake; the only such example of this in Algerian history is Algeria’s participation in the Western Sahara conflict. Its involvement in northern Mali has not followed this model, where it tends to bring specific individuals under its influence through various means who are then instrumentalised in implementing Algiers-led negotiations or accords — agents in place and agents of influence. Algiers sent advisors to Kidal in late 2011 and pulled them out at very beginning of the conflict; their role was likely to assess the atmospherics in the area, gather intelligence not to be involved in combat. If the Algerians have used cash or the other means to establish agents in place within Ansar Ed-Dine or other groups is this utterly different than ‘controlling’ or ‘supporting’ an organisation (‘control’ must almost always be qualified because ‘control’ in the process of politics or war is almost always relative control). The MNLA was aggressively public in seeking Algerian support early on in the conflict, making more or less empty promises about fighting AQIM from the very start of the rebellion. The Algerians, uninterested in the MNLA’s independence agenda and probably also reluctant to become deeply involved in the conflict — as a means of trying to preserve their role as a mediator — rebuffed these overtures over time. Predictably, pro-MNLA and other interested media outlets have accused Algiers of taking the other side or of deliberately remaining aloof from the conflict as a means of expanding a zone of ‘hegemony‘ in the region.

In a hazy situation as in northern Mali, reporting is negatively impacted by information fed by biased sources seeking to discredit their foes, provide answers to questions they may feel they cannot otherwise explain due to poor information using extrapolation, rumours, and so on. People who are otherwise reliable may not have access or knowledge of the current situation in the ways they used to under previous conditions. Everything is turned inside and everyone wants answers. Strong claims make explanations easier in a climate of uncertainty.

Claims of Qatari support for armed groups in Mali are not preposterous though as yet unconfirmed. If there are Qatari princes who are providing money to groups in northern Mali and the government of Qatari is turning the blind eye or is unaware this is one thing; if the government of Qatar, as policy, is sending money to any of these groups this is something else. Right now little is known in public that is concrete and verified. If there is indeed Qatari money moving to the rebel groups in northern Mali it is more likely to be along the lines of the first scenario, rather than the second, based on the example of Qatari involvement with al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, where individuals who were also involved in aid or religious activities became close to al-Qa’ida operatives and similar organisations. Limited Qatari interest in northern Mali and the Sahel can be traced back at least to the 1980s when Qataris, with other Gulf Arabs, were active in helping to establish Islamic charities and relief groups which also tended to help spread these groups’ religious agendas. Similar activities continue in the region today. At the end of the day, though, there is still this report adding new variables and new questions — and there are still more questions than answers.


40 thoughts on “RE: Canard Enchaîné, Qatar in northern Mali and Algeria

  1. There have been persistent rumours of Qatari involvement in salafist courses (Tunisia). The Economist gave Qatar the benefit of the doubt saying that they were buying up property and investments in many countries but that this was probably pragmatic. The French have a close relationship with Qatar also selling them arms. Carnard Echainé claims the DGSE as it’s source in the article. No evidence but possible. Qatar’s involvement with the Libyan revolt against Gaddafi very sustantial. Jeune Afrique has asked what Qatar is up to but has no clear answer. They are investing throughout the Maghreb including Algeria-the steel plant in Jijel.They’ve pretty much bought Tunisia.

  2. The point yeh make about a plane landing is key evidence, but where are yeh getting that this was a qatari plane? If we had the tail number we could be sure otherwise we need better information, there is lots of speculation on the net just now.

    There were other reports concerning aircraft landing at Tessalit too, not sure what these planes are yet but it seems important.Another issue is Drug trafficking, Northern Mali is on the transit route for both Hashish and Cocaine; in 2009 a 727 was discovered landed in Northern Mali which had an estimated 8 tons on Cocaine, AQLIM had some links to that. Now that Islamists and their allies control airports we could see the drug trafficking expand dramatically to benefit Al Qaeda, Azawad may find itself a centre of trafficking, of course all this prevents recognition of Azawad . I just highlight this as a possibility. cheque the link:

    By the time of Algeria – Date: 3 hours ago 8 minutes
    The merchandise was recovered by Ansar Eddine and given to AQIM.

    The critical situation in northern Mali imposed by, inter alia, to terrorist organizations (AQIM, and Ansar Mujao Eddine) fear the worst, the short, medium and long term. The news that comes from this part of Mali merely reinforce this fear.

    One of them concerns the landing of a cargo plane at the airport of Gao, a city where our diplomats were abducted. The plane was carrying weapons and drugs. The packages were loaded onto a dozen pickup that would soon assumed leadership of Kidal. The information reported by the Malian newspaper The Independent in its issue of yesterday, has something to add to the concerns already installed since the capture of towns in northern Mali, AQIM,

    Ansar and Mujao Eddine (Movement for Unity and Jihad in North Africa). The Malian newspaper writing, however, ignore the origin of the freighter, which according to the same publication, landed at the airport of Gao Friday in the afternoon. The Independent adds, however, that “the packages were loaded onto a dozen pickup who immediately headed to Kidal, escorted by men of Iyad Ag Ghaly,” former Malian diplomat in Saudi Arabia and current emir of the terrorist organization Ansar Eddine.

    This case is disturbing not only remind one known as “Air Cocaine”, but also a similarity in ingredients and stabilizers causing chaos, Afghanistan, where opium cultivation is combined with the culture of speech terrorists having made this country a giant training camp for “jihadists” of all stripes and nationalities. Even the terrorist organization Boko Haram, rampant in Nigeria, is reported in the area.

    Replica of the case “Air Cocaine”?
    This case is, on the other hand, not the first of its kind nor the first evidence of close links between terrorists and drug traffickers of AQIM in the Sahel region. This case is reminiscent of so-called “Air Cocaine”, which hit the headlines, Mali. It consisted of the landing of a Boeing 727 in 2009, transporting drugs.

    Three people were charged with “international cocaine trafficking” by Malian justice in connection with the investigation of this matter. It was the first time Bamako recognized that the aircraft was carrying drugs.

    Attorney Malian Anticorruption Sombe Thera, had announced in June 2011, the indictment of three people (one Spanish, one French and one from Mali) for “international cocaine trafficking.”
    Meanwhile, Eric Denécé, director of the French Research on Intelligence (CF2R), announced in Algiers, at a meeting held on kidnapping the Algerian diplomats in Gao that “Latin American drug traffickers and Mexican flood Mauritania and Mali in drugs.


  3. I am so pleased you wrote about this. When I saw this report, I read the paragraph that decribes the Qatari support to all the groups over and over – it just add up to me for a number of reasons…if I remember correctly, the article described all the groups as Islamist but the later on described MNLA as secular (Laique) or something like this, but basically being imprecise about the differences among the groups. I concluded that it was my rusty french or sloppy reporting….the only other thing that made sense to me would be that Qatar is trying to ignite a full-on civil war by funding all the factions? Thanks for the additional thoughts and possibilities…although I agree the whole thing makes a hazy situation no less so. Cheers

  4. tout peut être vendu , tout peut être acheté . c’est la règle des politiques en générale et plus claire chez nos amis occidentaux qui trompent leurs peuples et s’acharnent a détruire ceux qui les contrarient même des pays et massacrer les milliers de civiles . le Qatar ce petit pays riche qui a pu arracher le tournoi de la coupe du monde par le biais de son immense richesse est l’ami des américains et aussi des européens . alcaida est terroriste partout dans le monde mais ami lorsqu’on l’utilise contre des régime non ami pour ne pas dire ennemi . le Qatar financent avec l’Arabie saoudite, tous les criminels pour destabiliser les instables dans les pays arabes et africains . tout cela en tout bénédiction des remarquables dirigeants des gardiens de la pays internationale . quelle hypocrisie démocrate et quelle lois internationale . demande amicale aux politiciens prêtres chrétiens et aux barbus musulmans : vous vous êtes moques de l’humanité durant des décennies et vous avez transformés ce monde en enfer , assez de crimes , vous êtes les plus maudits .

  5. Qatar is definitely involved in the Azawad region and will become more active there according to a recent rueters report, “Qatar Red Crescent to send relief aid to Mali’s rebel-held north”

    My thoughts: The problem of course is that it isn’t rebels anymore that control the Azawad but AQ. AQ is masking itself by using Ansar Al Din as a proxy and its partnership with its AQ ally MUJWA but it is really behind the efforts to establish control and implement Sharia. While much of the activity Qatar plans below is probably legit and attempting to address humanitarian needs; the aid actually works to bolster AQ’s grip on the population and its control. I’m thinking that Qatar like other countries operates NGOs in conjunction with the government present in an area which happens to be AQ (its proxy Ansar Al Din and its ally MUJWA); we could see a situation like the food aid diversion and taxes on NGOs that Al Shabaab did in Somalia taking place in the Azawad in future.

    (Reuters) – Qatar said on Thursday it was launching relief efforts to help hundreds of thousands of people suffering from conflict and drought in northern Mali, where foreign aid groups had to abandon work when it fell under the control of Islamist groups.

    People uprooted or trapped by the conflict are going without enough food, aid groups say. That is being compounded by a wider crisis across the Sahel region of West Africa, where the U.N. says that 18 million people are facing hunger because of drought, failed crops, insect swarms and high food prices.

    Qatar’s Red Crescent (QRC) said it has signed an agreement with the Mali Red Cross to launch joint relief efforts in northern Mali.

    Most foreign aid groups were forced to abandon work in the desert area earlier this year when it fell under the control of a mix of Islamist groups, some of which are operating alongside al Qaeda’s North African faction, AQIM.

    “The Qatar Red Crescent is extremely concerned about the worsening food crisis in the Sahel region, and in Mali specifically. With rising food prices, severe water shortages and the ongoing conflict, the people of this region need help to survive,” QRC President Mohammed bin Ghanem al-Ali al-Maadheed told a news conference in the Qatari capital.

    The Gulf Arab country has allocated 6 million Qatari riyals ($1.7 million) for relief efforts in Mali, he said.A number of local aid efforts are being coordinated by Mali’s High Islamic Council. But Malian officials said the Mali Red Cross has been refused access by the Islamists.

    “It has been very difficult to access populations in the north, but with the intervention of the Qatar Red Crescent, we are able to do more,” said Mali Red Cross President Abdourahmane Cissé.

    QRC staff have already started working in Mali’s north, deploying a four-person emergency response team to the city of Gao which distributed food aid to 1,000 households in June.

    Fighting erupted in Mali in January when Tuareg separatists took up arms for independence but their movement was hijacked by the Islamists, who have taken over the northern zones of the West African nation once seen as a model of democracy in the otherwise turbulent region.

    The country is still reeling from a March coup in the capital that has rocked its institutions. Its interim president returned late last month after weeks convalescing abroad following an attack by a mob.

    ($1 = 3.6410 Qatar riyals)

    (Editing by Diana Abdallah)

    (Reporting By Regan Doherty, Editing by David Lewis)

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