29 March 2012

North Africa: Holy Wars and Hostages - Aqim in the Maghreb

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analysis

Tuareg leaders, not least from the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la liberation de l'Azawad, or National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), which is fighting to carve out an independent state in the north, have consistently called for the expulsion of AQIM from Malian territory, and accuse the authorities of giving free rein to criminal elements.

Alliances have shifted constantly in the north over the past 20 years, but a recurring figure is veteran Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghali, founder of the MPLA (Mouvement Populaire pour la Libération de l'Azawad, or Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) in 1988. He has been used by the government as a mediator and could win over hardliners.

Sent as a diplomat to Saudi Arabia, Iyad famously converted to the Pakistan-based Tablighi Jam'at faith while in Jeddah. He now heads the Ansar dine movement, which has a nominally pacifist orientation. Iyad is thought to have been involved in hostage releases in the past, giving him a wide range of contacts and the opportunity to interact with key individuals in AQMI. In recent statements, MNLA has distanced itself from Iyad, suggesting that Ansar dine is more of an irritant than an ally.

Arguments over Aguelhoc

The government's contention that there is an MNLA-AQIM link grew stronger after a Commission of Enquiry confirmed reports of a massacre of over 70 government soldiers at Aguelhoc (in Kidal) when it was overrun by rebels in late January, and said this was the work of "Salafist extremists" in cahoots with the MNLA.

The MNLA accused Malian intelligence services of staging an elaborately fake by rearranging the corpses to make it look as if they had been slaughtered using AQIM methods. An MNLA communiqué warned: "There is no relationship between us and any kind of Islamic movement. Our mission is clear and we don't intend to be distracted."

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations

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