Tag Archives: Ansar Dine Mali

Mali – France continues air attacks on Islamists

BBC

President Hollande: “This operation will last as long as necessary”

French forces have continued to launch air strikes against Islamist militants in Mali and sent troops to protect the capital, Bamako.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said army units had attacked a column of rebels heading towards the central town of Mopti.

He also revealed that a French pilot had been killed in fighting on Friday.

The French troops deployed on Friday after Mali’s army lost control of a strategically important town.

Mali’s government said its forces had recaptured the town, Konna, after the air strikes.

‘Terrorist state’

Armed groups, some linked to al-Qaeda, took control of the whole of northern Mali in April.

They have sought to enforce an extreme interpretation of Islamic law in the area.

Regional and Western governments have expressed growing concern about the security threat from extremists and organised crime.

Mr Le Drian said on Saturday that hundreds of French troops were involved in the military operation in Mali.

The minister said Paris had decided to act urgently to stop the Islamist offensive, which threatened to create “a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe”.

He also revealed that a French pilot was killed in Friday’s fighting – during an air raid to support Mali’s ground troops in the battle for Konna.

“During this intense combat, one of our pilots… was fatally wounded,” the minister said.

Speaking on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said the intervention complied with international law and had been agreed with Malian interim President Dioncounda Traore.

It would last “as long as necessary”, Mr Hollande said.

French officials gave few operational details.

Map showing Mali

Residents in Mopti, just south of Konna, told the BBC they had seen French troops helping Malian forces prepare for a counter-offensive against the Islamists.

Mr Traore declared a state of emergency across Mali, which he said would remain in place for an initial period of 10 days.

He used a televised address to call on Malians to unite and “free every inch” of the country.

‘Crusader intervention’

The west African bloc Ecowas said it was authorising the immediate deployment of troops to Mali “to help the Malian army defend its territorial integrity”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the situation in Mali is becoming increasingly volatile

The UN had previously approved plans to send some 3,000 African troops to Mali to recapture the north if no political solution could be found, but that intervention was not expected to happen until September.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the aim of the operation was to stop Islamist militants advancing any further.

It was not clear how far the French would go in helping Mali’s government retake territory in the north.

At least seven French hostages are currently being held in the region, and Mr Fabius said France would “do everything” to save them.

A spokesman for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said he considered the French operation a “Crusader intervention”, and told France it would be “would be digging the tombs of [its] sons” if the operation continued, according to the Mauritania-based Sahara Media website.

France ruled Mali as a colony until 1960.  bbc

Mali’s Islamists reportedly dig in ahead of Ecowas intervention

This is an interesting and detailed report quoting local sources – but maybe take with a pinch of salt the reported extent of the Al Qaeda role in Mali.  Ansar Dine, is not just a tool of others and it may or may not have some contacts with Al Qaeda.  Many in Mali and West Africa (not to mention Paris and Washington) would like events in Mali to be seen purely through the “war on terror” lens – just as they try to make Somalia an extension of that conflict.   AQIM and MUJOA are slightly different but even then there is more to what is happening in Mali than just the aims and intentions of Al Qaeda sympathisers. KS

AP

MOPTI, Mali (AP) — Deep inside caves, in remote desert bases, in the escarpments and cliff faces of northern Mali, Islamic fighters are burrowing into the earth, erecting a formidable set of defenses to protect what has essentially become al-Qaida’s new country.

They have used the bulldozers, earth movers and Caterpillar machines left behind by fleeing construction crews to dig what residents and local officials describe as an elaborate network of tunnels, trenches, shafts and ramparts. In just one case, inside a cave large enough to drive trucks into, they have stored up to 100 drums of gasoline, guaranteeing their fuel supply in the face of a foreign intervention, according to experts.

Northern Mali is now the biggest territory held by al-Qaida and its allies. And as the world hesitates, delaying a military intervention, the extremists who seized control of the area earlier this year are preparing for a war they boast will be worse than the decade-old struggle in Afghanistan.

“Al-Qaida never owned Afghanistan,” said former United Nations diplomat Robert Fowler, a Canadian kidnapped and held for 130 days by al-Qaida’s local chapter, whose fighters now control the main cities in the north. “They do own northern Mali.”

Al-Qaida’s affiliate in Africa has been a shadowy presence for years in the forests and deserts of Mali, a country hobbled by poverty and a relentless cycle of hunger. In recent months, the terror syndicate and its allies have taken advantage of political instability within the country to push out of their hiding place and into the towns, taking over an enormous territory which they are using to stock arms, train forces and prepare for global jihad.

The catalyst for the Islamic fighters was a military coup nine months ago that transformed Mali from a once-stable nation to the failed state it is today. On March 21, disgruntled soldiers invaded the presidential palace. The fall of the nation’s democratically elected government at the hands of junior officers destroyed the military’s command-and-control structure, creating the vacuum which allowed a mix of rebel groups to move in.

With no clear instructions from their higher-ups, the humiliated soldiers left to defend those towns tore off their uniforms, piled into trucks and beat a retreat as far as Mopti, roughly in the center of Mali. They abandoned everything north of this town to the advancing rebels, handing them an area that stretches over more than 620,000 square kilometers (240,000 square miles). It’s a territory larger than Texas or France — and it’s almost exactly the size of Afghanistan.

Turbaned fighters now control all the major towns in the north, carrying out amputations in public squares like the Taliban did. Just as in Afghanistan, they are flogging women for not covering up. Since taking control of Timbuktu, they have destroyed seven of the 16 mausoleums listed as world heritage sites.

The area under their rule is mostly desert and sparsely populated, but analysts say that due to its size and the hostile nature of the terrain, rooting out the extremists here could prove even more difficult than it did in Afghanistan. Mali’s former president has acknowledged, diplomatic cables show, that the country cannot patrol a frontier twice the length of the border between the United States and Mexico.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM, operates not just in Mali, but in a corridor along much of the northern Sahel. This 7,000-kilometer (4,300-mile) long ribbon of land runs across the widest part of Africa, and includes sections of Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso and Chad.

“One could come up with a conceivable containment strategy for the Swat Valley,” said Africa expert Peter Pham, an adviser to the U.S. military’s African command center, referring to the region of Pakistan where the Pakistan Taliban have been based. “There’s no containment strategy for the Sahel, which runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.”

Earlier this year, the 15 nations in West Africa, including Mali, agreed on a proposal for the military to take back the north, and sought backing from the United Nations. Earlier this month, the Security Council authorized the intervention but imposed certain conditions, including training Mali’s military, which is accused of serious human rights abuses since the coup. Diplomats say the intervention will likely not happen before September of 2013.

In the meantime, the Islamists are getting ready, according to elected officials and residents in Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao, including a day laborer hired by al-Qaida’s local chapter to clear rocks and debris for one of their defenses. They spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety at the hands of the Islamists, who have previously accused those who speak to reporters of espionage.

The al-Qaida affiliate, which became part of the terror network in 2006, is one of three Islamist groups in northern Mali. The others are the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, based in Gao, and Ansar Dine, based in Kidal. Analysts agree that there is considerable overlap between the groups, and that all three can be considered sympathizers, even extensions, of al-Qaida.

The Islamic fighters have stolen equipment from construction companies, including more than $11 million worth from a French company called SOGEA-SATOM, according to Elie Arama, who works with the European Development Fund. The company had been contracted to build a European Union-financed highway in the north between Timbuktu and the village of Goma Coura. An employee of SOGEA-SATOM in Bamako declined to comment.

The official from Kidal said his constituents have reported seeing Islamic fighters with construction equipment riding in convoys behind 4-by-4 trucks draped with their signature black flag. His contacts among the fighters, including friends from secondary school, have told him they have created two bases, around 200 to 300 kilometers (120 and 180 miles) north of Kidal, in the austere, rocky desert.

The first base is occupied by al-Qaida’s local fighters in the hills of Teghergharte, a region the official compared to Afghanistan’s Tora Bora.

“The Islamists have dug tunnels, made roads, they’ve brought in generators, and solar panels in order to have electricity,” he said. “They live inside the rocks.”

Still further north, near Boghassa, is the second base, created by fighters from Ansar Dine. They too have used seized explosives, bulldozers and sledgehammers to make passages in the hills, he said.

In addition to creating defenses, the fighters are amassing supplies, experts said. A local who was taken by Islamists into a cave in the region of Kidal described an enormous room, where several cars were parked. Along the walls, he counted up to 100 barrels of gasoline, according to the man’s testimony to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In Timbuktu, the fighters are becoming more entrenched with each passing day, warned Mayor Ousmane Halle. Earlier in the year, he said, the Islamists left his city in a hurry after France called for an imminent military intervention. They returned when the U.N. released a report arguing for a more cautious approach.

“At first you could see that they were anxious,” said Halle by telephone. “The more the date is pushed back, the more reinforcements they are able to get, the more prepared they become.”

In the regional capital of Gao, a young man told The Associated Press that he and several others were offered 10,000 francs a day by al-Qaida’s local commanders (around $20), a rate several times the normal wage, to clear rocks and debris, and dig trenches. The youth said he saw Caterpillars and earth movers inside an Islamist camp at a former Malian military base 7 kilometers (4 miles) from Gao. Read more…

EU endorses training mission for Mali intervention force

BBC

Islamist fighters in Gao, Mali, 16 July

Foreign and defence ministers from five EU states have backed a proposed European mission to train Malian forces struggling against Islamist fighters.

Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and France issued a statement in Paris endorsing the plan for Mali.

West African states intend to send a force to recapture northern Mali from al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups.

Troops would be in Mali within weeks of UN approval, Nigeria’s army chief has told the BBC.

The proposal for the intervention is due to go before the UN Security Council for approval before the end of the year.

The African Union has already backed the plan to send 3,300 troops under the banner of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

‘Political solution unlikely’

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

The Europeans can help but this is going to take time and means”

End Quote Laurent Fabius France’s Foreign Minister

Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels took control of the north after Mali’s president was overthrown in March.

The Islamists subsequently fell out with the Tuareg groups and consolidated their power in all the major northern towns, introducing strict Islamic law.

The UN has warned that the Islamist militias are imposing a harsh version of Islamic law on the areas they control and that forced marriage, forced prostitution and rape are becoming widespread.

Three of the states meeting in Paris – Germany, France and Poland – formed a loose grouping called the Weimar Triangle in 1991 to foster relations.

At their talks on Thursday, they endorsed a decision of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council on 15 October which says the EU is “determined to support Mali in restoring the rule of law and re-establishing a fully sovereign democratic government”.

German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere, second left, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, centre, attend the Paris talks, 15 November Germany’s defence minister (2nd L) foreign minister (C) attended the talks

On that occasion, the council asked for work to begin on planning a possible EU military operation that would focus on reorganising and training the Malian defence forces.

The operation should take “account of the conditions necessary for the success of any such mission, which include the full support of the Malian authorities and the definition of an exit strategy”, the council said.

“The Europeans can help but this is going to take time and means,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters on Thursday.

Nigeria’s military chief Admiral Ola Ibrahim told the BBC that once the UN Security Council gives the green light for military intervention, Nigerian troops would be on the ground within one or two weeks.

There would be less than 1,000 Nigerian soldiers in the Ecowas force, he said.

“What we agreed to is a situation where Malian forces will do most of the job securing their country,” he said.

Adm Ibrahim acknowledged it was possible that military intervention could see the Islamists spread across borders, but he added it was worth the risk as the militants posed a threat to regional peace and security.

BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross says that West African leaders are still hoping peace talks can be held with the Islamist militants who control northern Mali.

However, dialogue seems unlikely to succeed, he says.

On Thursday, the Weimar group also called for continuing efforts “for a political solution to the Malian crisis”.

Ahead of Thursday’s talks, there was speculation that the Weimar group would also discuss the conflict in Syria. However, there was no mention of the crisis in the joint statement.

The five countries called for the EU to further pool its defence resources. bbc

Mali – “al-Qaeda linked commander” killed in Mali car crash

BBC

Al-Qaeda’s ‘Emir of Sahara’ Makhloufi dies in Mali

Islamist fighter in Gao, Mali (7 August 2012)
Ansar Dine is said to have links to al-Qaeda

An al-Qaeda-linked commander known as the Emir of the Sahara, Nabil Makhloufi, has died in a car crash in Mali, an Islamist spokesman has said. Makhlouf was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), accused of abducting and killing foreigners across the Sahara Desert.

A spokesman for Mali’s Ansar Dine Islamist group said the crash happened near the northern city of Gao.

Militant Islamists captured northern Mali in April.

The West African regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), says it plans to send a 3,000-strong force to defeat the Islamists, amid growing concern that they could destabilise the entire region.

However, the UN Security Coucil has not yet approved the mission amid fears its goals are not clear and the troops could get bogged down in a drawn-out conflict.

Ansar Dine spokesman Sanda Abou Mohamed said that Makhloufi, an Algerian known by the alias Nabil Alqama, was killed in the accident near Gao on Sunday, AP news agency reports.

An Algerian diplomat confirmed his death, Reuters news agency reports.

Makhloufi was the deputy of Abdelhamid Abu Zeid, one of Aqim’s leading field commanders in the Sahara.

Aqim has killed several foreigners, including Frenchman Michel Germaneau and Briton Edwin Dyer after they were abducted in Mali in 2010.

Last year, a German was killed and three other foreigners kidnapped by Aqim in Timbuktu, a popular tourist destination.

Ansar Dine, said to have links to al-Qaeda, has destroyed ancient Muslim shrines in the World Heritage site of Timbuktu, leading to widespread international condemnation.

The group claims the shrines, revered by followers of the moderate Sufi sect, promote idolatry and are therefore un-Islamic.

The International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary investigation into whether Ansar Dine’s actions constitute a war crime.

ICC investigating crimes in Mali

BBC

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities committed in rebel-held northern Mali.

Rebels in northern Mali. Photo: 16 July 2012

Malian rebels have been accused of executions, rape and the use of child soldiers

 

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the move followed a request by the Malian government.

Armed groups – including Islamist rebels – are accused of executions, rapes and the use of child soldiers.

The rebels took control of northern Mali after an army coup in March in the impoverished West African country.

‘War crime’
“I have instructed my office to immediately proceed with a preliminary examination of the situation,” Ms Bensouda said in a statement on Wednesday.

She said that the Malian government had admitted that it was “unable to prosecute or try the perpetrators”.

The inquiry would seek to establish there are grounds to bring charges for the alleged atrocities.

Ms Bensouda earlier said that she regarded the destruction of Muslim shrines in the ancient city of Timbuktu as “a war crime”. Read more…

Confronting ‘Talibanization’ In Mali: The Other Ansar Dine, Popular Islam, And Religious Tolerance

African Arguments by Brian J Peterson

Of the insurgent factions that have wrested control over northern Mali from the central government, and effectively partitioned the country, Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”) has stolen the spotlight. Led by the wily Tuareg rebel Iyad ag-Ghali, and aiming to impose shari’a law in Mali, this group has come to epitomize the northern revolt.

Shaykh Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara - a better reflection of Islam in Mali than the black flags and ghoulish antics of Iyad ag-Ghali's own Ansar Dine.

But there is another “Ansar Dine” in Mali, and one that is far more representative of the kind of Islam that most Malian Muslims practice. Although this grassroots movement has over one million followers, it rarely makes the news – at least not the kind of news that ag-Ghali’s Islamist militia made in seizing Timbuktu. And yet in the past decade, the charismatic preacher of this other Ansar Dine, Shaykh Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara, has emerged as Mali’s most popular religious leader. Consistently preaching messages of unity, peace, tolerance, moderation, and moral renewal, he unequivocally opposes the establishment of an Islamic state and shari’a law in Mali. Clearly, we have a tale of two namesakes that stand for very different things.
Thus, it seems an obvious question to ask: What is the place of religion in the current political crisis in Mali?
Now, we have noted the secular nature of the MNLA, and the lack of any religious content among the putschists. But, as the Islamists of Iyad ag-Ghali have promulgated their theocratic intentions, with their sinister black flag, and the unconfirmed reports of rather ghoulish behavior vis-à-vis non-Salafists, we might take a moment to revisit the crisis through the lens of religion in Mali. This also provides a subtle corrective to the overblown reporting on the place of Islam and Islamism in this otherwise peaceful and tolerant country.  Read more…