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

Since the beginning of France’s intervention in northern Mali (Operation SERVAL), users of the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum have posted continuous news updates on the situation in northern Mali. During much of 2012, forum users have seen Mali as an unqualified success for Salafi-jihadism in Africa, posting long essays and poems praising and theorising the potentials that an Islamist emirate in Azawad would offer their cause. Mali’s jihadist groups allayed suspicions over their legitimacy and authenticity by posting increasingly voluminous threads featuring videos, photographs and newsletters with news from the region showing the implementation of shari’ah in Timbuktu and Gao, and documenting the Islamist coalition’s battles against the MNLA and the Malian Army at various points. Previous analysis of jihadi posts on Mali on this blog focused on user produced content – poems, essays and so on. This post focused on the same in light of Operational SERVAL. Generally speaking, these user contributions focus on depicting France within the narrative of a ‘Crusader’ state seeking to oppress Muslims and stunt the practice of Islam in a Muslim country. the proliferation of posts by a number of different users points to a general expansion of interest since the onset of the French intervention; previously there was limited interest compared to Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia; threads discussing Mali have dominated the front three pages of the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum since last week. Some posts feature links to articles or essays or announcements from groups based in Mali (AQIM, Ansar Ed-Dine especially)[1] or jihadist clerics (for example, Abu Mundhir al-Shinqiti’s new essay on Mali – interestingly titled ‘The Battle for Shari’ah in Mali’[2]). These occasionally produce interesting discussions but are beyond the interest of this post.

An essay by Redouane18, who has written long essays on jihad in the North African countries as well as the Sahel, lays out ‘preliminary results of the French Crusader campaign on Mali’.[3] Redouane18 compares the reactions of world governments to France’s offensive in Mali. The ‘Crusader countries’ have banded together to commit ‘blatant aggression against civilians in their homes only because they wanted to live free under the shade of their religion’. He then goes on to argue that by attacking northern Mali, and rallying other western countries to its side, France has ‘supplied [. . .] the Mujahideen ghuraba (strangers, foreigners) with patience to wait for their fellow Muslims who have devoted themselves to defending their religion and their land’. Nonetheless he predicts that even as the French intervention adds Mali to a list of grievances in the Muslim world (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia), ‘traitor governments’ will keep most Muslims from resisting the intervention. Redouane18 describes regional countries of dropping any pretense of not collaborating with western powers by allowing France to use their territory and airspace to launch Operation SERVAL.

Redouane18 observes that ‘the positions of Arab governments towards the blatant French invasion of Mali’ are distinctive in the countries ‘that have not been reached by the winds of the Arab revolutions, such as Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania, where they have supported it fully’ and countries like Libya and Tunisia ‘where the proud winds are blowing on our Muslims there which prompts us to invite the Muslim peoples’ in Algeria and Morocco ‘and the wise scholars in the land of Shinqiti to rise up against ‘their treacherous governments and prevent their children form becoming involved in killing their brothers in Mali’. He then lists several jihadist preachers and leaders from Algeria (Ali Belhadj), Morocco (Omar al-Hiddouchi), Mauritania (Mohamed Lamine ibn Ziad), and Tunisia (Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi) as voices who can assist in such efforts. He argues that Muslims in Libya and Tunisia and Egypt ought to push to support the jihadi cause in Mali and encourage Algerians and others to do the same.

User Sa’id al-Muhajar asks fellow jihadists ‘the French Crusaders have started this war….so why are you not [doing] jihad?!!!!!’ he lays out the various reasons Muslims are obligated to resist the French operation in Mali; a second post criticizes Muslim media outlets for letting ‘the television to continue showing Stary Academy’ while France kills Muslims in Mali. This framing is common in other posts.[4]

Another post by user Fida’ al-Islami al-Qutrah, describes the evolution of the ‘alliance’ between the ‘Tuareg and al-Qa’idat al-Jihad’.[5] The article describes the general history and population centres of the Tuaregs and provides readers a very general background on France’s energy interesting Niger. ‘The Tuareg-al-Qa’ida Alliance has foiled the plots of the tyrants in the Sahel and Sahara’ is the title of the next section where the lays out efforts by France, the secular MNLA and others to try and use local Tuareg factions as proxies. The section frames Ansar Ed-Dine as having ‘corrected the path’ of Tuareg rebels by bringing them into the Islamist framework, comparing the group to the Taliban and describing it as the lynchpin for the growth of Salafi-jihadism in the region. The essay describes the ‘alliance’ as ‘natural [. . . ] as the enemy has united the ranks in the war against Islam’ and because of the mistreatment of Tuaregs by the governments of the region. Again, the comparison between the alliance of the Taliban and al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan is invoked as a favourable comparison. It then goes on to narrate the moves of the January 2012; the move from ethnic separatism (in the form of the MNLA) to Islamism (Ansar Ed-Dine) is depicted as resulting from the likelihood that Tuareg separatism would ‘ignite  ethnic and tribal wars devastating the region,’ pointing to looting and vandalism against Tuaregs and Arab and their property in parts of southern Mali since the beginning of the rebellion last year. It describes separatism as futile given northern Mali’s ethnic and tribal diversity. The author then compares how members of the MNLA ‘handed over control to the Mujahideen involuntarily or voluntarily’ and local ‘tribal forces joining with the Mujahideen after understanding that their goals are not driven by factors of race or skin color’. It repeats claims from locals and international human rights groups about abuses committed by MNLA members (looting, rape, etc.); it does not mention similar offenses leveled at Islamist forces in control of the key northern towns. The comparison between the ‘Tuareg al-Qa’ida’ alliance is a common theme in forum essays on the situation in Mali.

The piece goes on to outline potential rivals and threats to the jihadist cause in northern Mali. The author identifies internal risks (ethnic and tribal divisions, Sufis, whom he accuses of collaboration with colonialism and of collaboration with western countries in Somalia), ‘paganism and the Christian minority’, drug dealers) and external risks (military invasion by regional or western powers). Similar outlines appear in posts from earlier the conflict.

A separate set of posts feature pictures of ‘good places to target in France’ – including the Eifel Tower, nuclear plants, the French parliament and La Defence.[6] Users thank Abu Waqar al-Gharib (the original poster) for the ideas. Another post by user ‘Mukhabarat al-Qa’ida’ (‘al-Qa’ida Intelligence’) provides a link to a website called Flight Radar 24 (which shows live air traffic), suggesting users follow it to follow ‘Crusader aircraft heading toward Mali’.[7] The original poster follow up, urging readers to ‘focus on the links between: France to Algeria; France to Morocco; America to Mauritania’. Another post advises users how easy it is to scroll over flights to see their flight numbers and instructs them to ‘look out for:

* ctm

* faf

* raf

* saf

* baf

* sam

[. . .]


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