By Jemal Oumar
Reports indicate a new al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) plan that may be under way to turn northern Mali into a base for training terrorists.
AQIM is believed to have brought terrorist elements from Pakistan to provide training to new recruits in guerrilla warfare, use of various types of weapons, arms smuggling, and in laundering money collected from ransoms. This is in addition to providing advice to group leaders on how to deal with the world’s war against terror.
Groups of Pakistani jihadists entered into Timbuktu in northern Mali through Algeria’s southern border to take part in governing the Salafist entity growing out of Timbuktu, according to reports from Le Temps d’Algérie daily on Wednesday (May 9th) and testimonies from residents in northern Mali.
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.”
Imam Dawood Ag Mohamad of the Belferandi Mosque in central Timbuktu also spoke of the new developments.
“I’ve heard about the presence of elements from Pakistan in Timbuktu. I haven’t personally met anyone of them, but like other city residents, I’m very resentful of the presence of these elements because we know that they haven’t come here to engage in construction and building,” he said.
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.”
In his turn, journalist Zine El Abidine Ould Mohammed said: “al-Qaeda leaders in the region want to show that they were actually able to realise the most important condition for the establishment of a jihadist Islamist state which Osama Bin Laden promised in his messages which were published by the US Defence Department; the ability to declare the state after going beyond the stage of generating support for terrorism and defeating the enemy, namely the Malian government.”
Abu Bakr al-Sedik Ag Hami, a professor in Bamako University who hails from Timbuktu, explained al-Qaeda’s recruitment of new elements by exploiting young people’s need for a source of income after the disappearance of Mali’s central government.
Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Din realised this, and therefore, started distributing money and goods to poor citizens to win their hearts and minds, taking advantage of National Movement for the Liberation of Azaouad (MNLA)’s lack of financial resources and the fact that it has military force only outside cities, Ag Hami said.
“The world must realise this game,” he added. “Therefore, it has to support MNLA so that poor residents may find an alternative for al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Din, whose pattern of government is not wanted by local population.”