Jeune Afrique, by Francois Soudan (Paris, France, Nov. 8, 2012) – See the full feature story, “Mali: Polisario Connection,” now available online in French to all viewers at the website of Paris-based magazine Jeune Afrique, Oct. 28 issue: http://www.jeuneafrique.com/Article/JA2703p010-013.xml0/
Summary of key points in English:
In “Mali: Polisario Connection,” Jeune Afrique reports that as Jihadists in Northern Mali – AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine – feverishly organize in Timbuktu, Gao, and elsewhere for an international military intervention, new recruits have joined them from the Polisario-run Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria and elsewhere across Africa’s Sahel.
The article reports that surveillance aircraft have observed preparations including buried caches of weapons, munitions, and fuel, as well as six training camps recently established to welcome new recruits from every corner of “Sahelistan,” extending from the Atlantic to Darfur, adding that recruits may be attracted more by the money offered — as much as 3,000 Euros per person — than by the mirage of a holy war.
Jeune Afrique cites French intelligence reports that groups of 40-60 men, up to 300 volunteers, arrived in Timbuktu and Gao during October, many of whom express themselves in Hassaniya, the Arabic dialect used by Moors and Sahrawis.
The Jeune Afrique article cites the October 21 press reports by AFP and others that members of the Polisario Front joined the Jihadists in Northern Mali, which the separatist group immediately denied. Jeune Afrique notes, however, that the presence of Salafi Jihadism in the camps “is not a recent phenomenon.” An investigation into radical Islam in the camps shows a presence as early as the late 1990s, and links between radicalism Islam in the camps and terrorism appear as early as 2003, when a former Polisario soldier was arrested for stealing explosives in Mauritania and later joined the GSPC, which became al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Jeune Afrique says Sahrawis who had received military training in the Polisario camps have been implicated in other terrorist incidents in the region. It points to drug trafficking, violent attacks against the army, and kidnappings by GSPC/AQIM cells largely composed of Sahrawis in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010, as well as attempted terrorist attacks in 2007 and 2008, culminating in the October 2011 abduction of aid workers from the Polisario’s Rabouni camps, only tens of meters from the residences of the separatist group’s leaders.
Jeune Afrique says neither the Polisario Front nor Algerians have been able to stop the “Salafist virus” among young people in the Tindouf camps, and have been even less able to prevent these “desperados” from leaving the camps to join jihadist movements. While Algerian and Polisario security forces now police the Tindouf camps together, the extremist appeal remains strong for young Sahrawis, and “no roadblock, no patrol, no minefield will prevent [them] from taking the path to Timbuktu.”