By Raby Ould Idoumou
While West African countries weigh a military solution to the Mali crisis, Islamist group Ansar al-Din has turned to the internet to muster support.
The group’s media official, Sanda Ould Bouamama, recently held a series of discussions on global jihadist forums, including the “Ansar Al-Mujahideen Network”.
The Touareg Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) called on “brothers and members” of the network to submit questions about the organisation’s ideology and the situation in the Azawad region.
Bouamama stressed the group’s salafist background and intent to implement Sharia.
Analysts say that the move has to do with the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was responsible for recruiting fighters using modern technologies. His demise caused the organisation to look for alternatives to preserve its narrowing support base, observers say.
Most questions revolved around the organisation’s ideology, its relationship to AQIM, its response to possible military strikes by West African states and the conditions of applying Islamic law, in addition to ways for volunteers to join the group’s camps in northern Mali.
Forum participant Zubeir al-Maqhour wondered about Ansar al-Din’s declaration of an Islamic state in Azawad and the extent to which the population espoused what he described as the jihadist line.
For his part, forum visitor Abou al-Ghadiya al-Baghdadi broached Ansar al-Din’s relationship with al-Qaeda splinter group “Tawhid wal Jihad” as well as their control over the cities of Timbuktu and Gao and respect for the neighbouring “secular” countries’ borders.
“Young people today in the Sahel region have become more aware,” commented journalist Mohamed Ould Sid al-Mokhtar. “These questions are putting the movement in a tight spot, especially since young people spoke of the neighbouring countries, secularists and the plans in the face of war.
“Even if Bouamama is prepared to justify heinous acts through religious texts, it is difficult to be able to convince more young people and drag them into the quagmire,” he added.
Many wondered what the group’s response would be in case of a military action.
“Will the organisation preserve its gains if these forces decide to conduct military strikes, or will the leadership of the organisation resort to the mountains and hole up there in the face of the Sahel countries?” wondered forum-goer “Abi Ikrima”.
“The weak spot of al-Qaeda today is that it is trying to draw young people toward violence, into a besieged swamp that will soon be attacked, so the public awareness and fear of breaking the law, helping groups seeking to apply Islamic law from its point of view develops from al-Qaeda’s inability to convince the people,” said Moulay Ould Bahida, a journalist from the Mauretanid Foundation.
“The experience is frustrating for young people who al-Qaeda deceived into committing acts of violence present today in the mind of the Maghreb and African young people. People are asking realistic questions about the future of the terrorists after the war intended by the neighbouring countries to liberate Malian territory,” he added.
Safwan Najdi wondered why Ansar al-Din would publish news through “the agent media”, since there is no website or even a Facebook page about the organisation’s activities.
“[For] Sanda Bouamama, who does not have the ability to discuss and persuade, it is difficult to get significant results from discussions on online forums,” opined analyst Zine al-Abidine. “But while Ansar al-Din feels allied with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, it is obliged to conduct a propaganda campaign to get sympathy from more young people, a task that may not be successful in light of the difficult situation experienced by al-Qaeda, which found itself in trouble after its infiltration of Malian territory and its attempt to declare an extremist Islamic emirate.”