A map of the West African state of Mali illustrating Timbuktu, Bomako and Hombori. Mali has an ancient history of culture and civilization., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Published on Magharebia (http://www.magharebia.com)
Africa confronts new security threats
The same day that a military coup rocked Mali, Nigeria reported its first AQIM cell. The news may motivate more African states to join the security alliances begun in the Maghreb.
By Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 30/03/12
The military junta that seized power in Mali last week unleashed yet another security threat on a region already under siege. The situation "dangerously threatens not only the peace and security in Mali but also the peace, stability and development of [West African] states," ECOWAS commission head Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said Tuesday (March 27th) in Abidjan at an emergency meeting of the West African bloc.
The same day that coup captain Amadou Sanogo and his band of renegade soldiers toppled Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure, Nigerian police dismantled the country's first terror cell belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Five men, including a Mauritanian national, were arrested in Kano for alleged involvement in the January kidnapping of a German engineer by AQIM terrorists.
Nigerian security forces initially thought the suspects were tied to Boko Haram.
"The Sahel cannot stand the prospect of further tension," analyst al-Mokhtar al-Salem Ould Ahmed Salem told Magharebia.
"The region spent several years in a fierce war against al-Qaeda, in addition to the Touareg rebellion for months, the demands of eastern Libyan for autonomy, the escalating threat from militants in Tunisia, the Algerian-Libyan border tension and the status of the hostages seized in Niger and elsewhere," he said.
Just last month, Somalia's Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen officially joined the global al-Qaeda terror network, becoming part of the "triangle of terrorism" that includes Boko Haram and AQIM.
The links between the terror groups grow, but Sahel countries have a new strategic vision to fight back: a security cordon, based on concentric rings that begin in the Maghreb and stretch far afield to West and Central Africa.
"According to the leaked plan, Mauritania is going to work on co-ordinating Sahel power with African states on two axes: the field states and those behind them," international correspondent al-Mokhtar al-Salem Ould Ahmed Salem explains.
The states on the front lines – Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – will work with those further away: Morocco, Libya and Nigeria.
Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – already partners for the Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region, or CEMOC – have the experience to build a wider strategic area in the fight against terrorism.
Those states – Morocco, Libya and Nigeria – have already been invited to attend the security sessions.
Senegal and the Ivory Coast should also be part of any effort to co-ordinate security in the African region against terrorist groups associated with drug trafficking, especially AQIM.
The first security barrier consists of Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Nigeria. The second security barrier starts from the southern Mauritanian border with Senegal, up to the border with Niger, and then to Nigeria. This geographical area includes Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin.
These countries expand the geographical cordon and security barrier, providing a greater area to track down terrorist activities and prevent any type of contact between AQIM and its terror partners in Nigeria.
While it may seem that these African states are not directly concerned with terrorism, their struggling economies make them fertile ground for al-Qaeda recruiters. They have also acted as transit points for terrorists to and from their desert camps in the desert.
It is equally important to involve Libya and Tunisia, as this would help tighten the security cordon isolating AQIM and associated drug trafficking networks.
Just last month, Tunisia dismantled an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group planning to establish an Islamic emirate in the country.
As to Libya, co-ordination is more critical than ever. Libyan anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers and other heavy weapons have been smuggled through the Sahara. Al-Qaeda and Salafist extremists are also eager to capitalise on the country's fragile security.
AQIM precursor GSPC began decades ago in Algeria and attention has long focused on the organisation's reach across the Sahel. There is a substantial history, however, of terror ties that span the continent.
At the end of 2006, Mauritanian terrorist Khadim Ould Semane escaped prison in Nouakchott prison and ended up in Dakar. From there, he was able to attract recruits, rebuild his group and make connections that helped him attend al-Qaeda camps.
In 2007, the three Mauritanian terrorists that killed a French tourist family also fled to Senegal.
In 2009, Ghana authorities arrested three al-Qaeda suspects on drug trafficking charges, marking the first time that terrorists were themselves tied to drug operations.
The next year, Niger extradited Salafist Taqqi Ould Youssef to Mauritania. Niger's security agencies believe that Ould Youssef was appointed by AQIM to create a cell targeting western nationals in northern Niger.
Also in 2010, Senegal extradited several Mauritanian and Moroccan al-Qaeda suspects. Al-Qaeda now considers Senegal as an enemy "that must be punished".
Such events show that all these countries are in some way bound to the shared regional threat.
The problem for some African countries may not be the presence of active terrorist groups on their soil but the growing number of their young men who are deceived by al-Qaeda. These include Nigeria's Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was convicted of trying to set off a bomb in his pants while flying on over the US in 2009.
Given the parent al-Qaeda organisation's demonstrated reliance on al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb for new recruits, Sahel countries have an imperative to improve security co-ordination and raise awareness about jihadist groups.
The outermost security barrier consists of Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti. This is in addition to promoting special co-ordination with the government of Somalia, which has thus far proven its intention to tighten the noose on al-Shabab.
Although these countries do not attend the Sahel security meetings, it is still important to exchange information on terrorism and criminal organisations.
Under the new security proposal, states that lack counter-terrorism experience will be able to learn from their Sahel peers. Connections forged across North, Central and West Africa will cause irreversible damage to AQIM, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and any other violent organisations that may arise.
And the continent's security cordon will continue to tighten.
Raby Ould Idoumou is a Nouakchott-based writer and terrorism analyst. He also serves as a communications director for the Mauritanian Human Rights Association (AMDH).