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January 28, 2013

Mali and the kidnappings in Algeria - reason for concern

by: Jodi Westbrook Flowers

The recent terrorist kidnapping of Amenas gas facility workers in Algeria and the request of Mali’s transitional government for France (its former colonial power) to come to its military aid to prevent a takeover by northern rebels, should concern all global citizens—not because of France’s intervention but because of why the action was needed and what the kidnapping signaled.

After the Arab Spring, some of the fallout was good and some not. The welcome fall of Muammar Gadhafi, however, left the region awash in weapons that would eventually flow into northern Mali. Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 23, 2013, forcefully stated that weapons from Libya had flowed to Algeria, Syria and to the al-Qaeda among the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) rebels in Mali.

In January 2012, armed with part of that artillery, Tuareg rebels overthrew the region’s Mali government and declared it an independent state: Azawad. Led by the National Movement for the Liberation, the rebellion was quickly overtaken by AQIM—which immediately began implementing Sharia Law. There have been widely reported acts of Sharia Law being enforced involving whippings, amputations and even the stoning to death of one couple.

Worsening matters, soldiers disaffected with the Mali government’s tepid response to the rebellion engineered a coup d’etat in March 2012. This coup d’etat led to sanctions and an embargo by Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS), of which Mali is a member. ECOWAS did manage to broker a deal in which the coup leaders stepped down, and Dioncounda Traore, a respected Mali legislator, took over until free elections could be held. Free elections would have made global aid possible. The anticipated consequences of those upcoming elections, however, pushed the rebels to try to seize the entire country, and the elections failed to occur.

Why should the global citizenry be worried? Why must there be outside military support while ECOWAS assembles its African-led force? What should the UN do to implement UN Resolution 2085, which was adopted unanimously on Dec. 20, 2012, authorizing the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA)? Why? Because the world has seen this play before—it’s called Afghanistan and Sudan.

Afghanistan’s role as an al-Qaeda haven is well-known. However, Sudan has its own global terrorism story. Omar al-Bashir seized power of the Sudanese government in 1989 in a military coup. Afterwards, his regime invited Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to move to Sudan. In 1991, bin Laden relocated his terrorist operation from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Sudan.

Sudan soon began hosting various meetings/summits of Islamic extremists under the name of the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, through which the Sudanese regime helped bin Laden build his network. Later, bin Laden described his time in Sudan as “the most important and fruitful of his life.” He remained there until 1996.

After bin Laden’s departure, the Bashir regime allowed al-Qaeda to retain its organizational infrastructure in Sudan. The August 2010 release of the State Department’s 2009 Country Report on Terrorism indicated that al Qaeda- inspired terrorist elements were still present in Sudan at that time.

Mali must not be allowed to become the next al-Qaeda haven (like Afghanistan, Sudan or even northern Pakistan) or the banking equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle (where terrorist dollars flow in and disappear without a trace). Our vast experience involving the financial trail leading to events like 9/11 and our case involving Hamas suicide bombings tells us there is no global terror network without money, support and a safe haven.They are terrorism’s food, air and water.

The Aremas gas facility kidnapping was tragic in the loss of life, including three innocent Americans, and a reflection of North Africa’s precarious state. Algeria’s decision to lead a raid on the Amenas facility before any of the U.S.-offered assistance arrived leaves Algeria’s intentions in this area murky at best. Yes, global citizens should keep an eye on this region.