More than half of Westerners abducted in Africa now held in northern Mali — New haven for Afghan, Pakistani terrorists
Moroccan American Center for Policy, AFP, Fund for Peace (Washington, DC, June 25, 2012) — This week marks eight months in captivity for Western aid-workers Rossella Urru of Italy and Ainhoa Fernández de Rincón and Enric Gonyacons of Spain, kidnapped October 23 in a Polisario-run refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria, reportedly with help from camp-insiders. The three are believed held in northern Mali by an al-Qaeda offshoot, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), that threatens to kill one of them if its demands aren’t met.
More than three-quarters of the nearly two dozen Western kidnap victims in Africa are reported to be held in the Arc of Instability that stretches across Africa’s Sahara/Sahel—from Mali and Mauritania to Somalia—where analysts worry al-Qaeda-linked militants are exploiting local problems to spread terrorist activity. Twelve are being held in northern Mali, which was overrun in April by separatists, Islamist extremists, and al-Qaeda-linked forces.
Earlier this month, an experts panel from the Carnegie Endowment and Atlantic Council warned that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is consolidating its position in northern Mali—buoyed by kidnapping ransoms, drug-trafficking, Libyan arms, and an extremist influx. Government sources confirm that “jihadi fighters” from Afghanistan and Pakistan have entered to train recruits and establish a safe haven for militants in the Sahara.
“Terrorists are consolidating their position by the day and the international community just talks,” said Maman Sidikou, Niger’s Ambassador to the US. “Al-Qaeda has the resources, arms, and ideology to turn young people’s minds.” Why would international leaders “wait while this turns into another Afghanistan?”
“The last thing Africa needs right now is another Failed State,” said Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director, Atlantic Council Ansari Africa Center. Last week, the 2012 “Failed State Index” by the Fund for Peace/Foreign Policy reported that almost every country in Africa’s Arc of Instability was among the top 50 “most fragile” states. The Index, which reports 2011 data, noted Mali appears headed in that downward direction.
Al-Qaeda’s consolidation in northern Mali underscores the volatility in Africa’s Sahara/Sahel. Multiple reports link the instability to other militants and groups in the Maghreb and Sahel, including members from the Polisario-run camps where Urru, Rincón, and Gonyalons were seized. Last week, MUJAO repeated its demand for $40 million ransom and release of two Sahrawis arrested for involvement in the kidnapping, or Gonyalons would be killed.