Threat Matrix: Pakistani jihadists reported in northern Mali
From The Long War Journal:
May 16, 2012
Over the past two months, Tuareg rebels, backed by Islamist terror groups such as Ansar al Dine, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, have seized control of northern Mali, including the cities of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao. During that same period there have been several reports that al Qaeda has moved to establish safe havens in the region. Yesterday, Magharebia published a must-read piece on how foreign jihadists have entered northern Mali to train and advise al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb fighters in Timbuktu. The mayor of Timbuktu is quoted as saying Pakistanis have indeed infiltrated his city. From Magharebia:
Timbuktu mayor Hallé Ousman confirmed the news during an exclusive telephone interview with Magharebia.
"There are actually many Pakistani nationals in Timbuktu, as well as others from many other nationalities, the mayor said. "I personally saw them today going around streets, neighbourhoods and markets. However, they haven't yet started actual communication and direct conversation with residents."
"As to their mission, it became clear to residents several weeks ago," Ousman added. "It is represented in training the new recruits who al-Qaeda and other armed groups in town are enlisting."
"The situation has become very dangerous," he concluded. "In Timbuktu, we refuse that our city be turned into a scene for the terrorist acts that foreign groups are engaged in, given that they threaten our stability and make our sons susceptible to deviation."
In addition to al Qaeda elements from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Boko Haram fighters from Nigeria are also said to have moved into northern Mali, which one analyst compared to Afghanistan and Pakistan:
Analyst Sid Ahmed Ould Tfeil explained that "the spread of foreign nationals and elements from several identities in areas controlled by al-Qaeda is one of the priorities for the terrorist group which considers itself to be above all ethnic and national considerations."
"It believes that wherever the necessary conditions and circumstances of jihad are available, it becomes a duty for jihadists to move to that place to provide support," he said.
"The condition of Timbuktu today is largely similar to that of Afghanistan and Pakistan which in the early 1990s were centres for attracting jihadists from around the world to raise al-Qaeda flag," Ould Tfeil added. "Northern Mali today is the next alternative for Afghanistan where the terrorists have suffered heavy losses before and after the killing of Bin Laden because of the role played by drones and international forces in countering terrorism there."
"A few days after the fall of northern Mali, Boko Haram elements came from Nigeria," he said.
"Now elements from Pakistan and Afghanistan are coming, and elements from Somalia's Shabaab al-Mujahideen may come within the next days," he predicted. "This is in addition to the Maghreb elements who are originally in the region."
Speigel noted days ago that a vast area in the Sahel has now fallen under terrorist control:
Overnight, the withdrawal of government authority in Mali has rendered ungovernable an area four times the size of France, spread across the Sahara Desert and the Sahel zone. Islamist groups now move nearly unchallenged across a territory that stretches from Tindouf in western Algeria to the border between Libya and Chad in the east, and into the northern part of Nigeria to the south. These groups move weapons and drugs, take hostages and plan attacks.
Northern Mali is but the latest al Qaeda haven to emerge over the past several years. It joins Yemen, Somali, the Egyptian Sinai, and Syria as the new fronts in The Long War.