**Foreign Minister of Mali and two new studies report recruits from Polisario-run camps in Algeria joined al-Qaeda-linked groups in northern Mali**
MACP, News Reports (Washington, March 18, 2013) – Le Figaro and France24 have reported that a fighter from the Polisario Front — a separatist group based in desert camps near Tindouf, Algeria — was among seven militants taken prisoner after a fierce battle between French/Chadian forces and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The battle in the mountains of northern Mali earlier this month reportedly killed key al-Qaeda leader Abou Zeid and 42 other jihadists.
Last Friday at the United Nations in New York, the Foreign Minister of Mali, Tieman Coulibaly, confirmed that Polisario fighters were among the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in his country. “Polisario elements from the Tindouf camps have been identified with MUJAO fighters operating in northern Mali,” Coulibaly said, adding that Polisario militia members had been recruited to fight as mercenaries and paid monthly “salaries ranging from 200 to 600 Euros.” The MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) is an offshoot of AQIM, also based in northern Mali.
In an interview last month with French news website “AtlasInfo,” Coulibaly said, “In the beginning, they were only 500 insurgents,” but “now there are between 5,500 to 7,000 terrorists in northern Mali who were joined by lost youths, including young Sahrawis from the (Tindouf) camps.” The Malian Foreign Minister said the actions of the extremist networks they have joined “not only threatens Mali, but the entire region.”
Earlier this month, a new study was released, “Terrorism in North Africa & the Sahel in 2012: Global Reach & Implications,” authored by Yonah Alexander, Director of the Inter-University Center on Terrorism Studies (IUCTS).
The study said intelligence reports have confirmed that al-Qaeda “has established links with Latin cartels for ‘drugs-for-arms’ smuggling through terrorist-trafficking networks that include members of the Polisario Front” in Algeria.
The IUCTS study says that al-Qaeda linked groups “have expanded their reach and recruiting to other militants and groups across the Maghreb and Sahel,” emboldened by the “increased flow” of Libyan arms in the region, and contributing to an “Arc of Instability” and new regional hub for al-Qaeda in Africa’s Sahel.
Among the study’s recommendations: improving control of national borders to reduce the flow of arms and jihadists in the region, and finding long-term solutions to reduce the potential for criminal and terrorist recruiting in the Polisario-run refugee camps near Tindouf in Algeria.
Another recent study, “Morocco and the Africa Union: Prospects for Re-engagement and Progress on Western Sahara,” by the Atlantic Council’s J. Peter Pham and the Brenturst Foundation, argues that “the specter of transnational conflict in Africa’s Sahel region — punctuated by France’s intervention in Mali — has cast a fresh light on the stalemate over the Western Sahara.”
The paper cites the “wretched conditions” for Sahrawi refugees in the Polisario-run camps in southern Algeria and reports that”French intelligence sources confirm some 300 Sahrawi youth may have been recruited to militant training camps in northern Mali in late 2012.” This figure of 300 fighters from the Polisario-run camps, recruited to Mali to join the MUJAO, was also reported by Al Arabiya.
The “Morocco and the African Union” paper says the need for regional cooperation and reforms to counter extremists and traffickers in the Sahel region makes a strong case for resolving the Western Sahara dispute and enabling Morocco’s return to the African Union.
* For the full IUCTS report, go to Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies, “Terrorism: An Electronic Journal and Knowledge Base” at: http://www.terrorismelectronicjournal.org/knowledge-base/selected-special-reports/.