(RIEAS Junior Analyst)
The Sahara Desert that encompasses the greatest part of Northern Africa steadily becomes a hotbed for the international terrorist Jihad and its affiliates. On the 13th of July 2005, just a few days after the first bombing attack in the center of London, in the capital of Mauritania there was a significant meeting between important figures of intelligence services such as MI6, CIA, DGSE, along with the Directors of the security services of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco and Niger. The main topic as it was communicated in the international press and DEBKA especially, was to “Discuss towards a common policy against the Al-Qaeda of Western Sahara”. At that time there were reasonable suspicions that the bombings were assisted by the Jihad organizations residing in the Desert.
Along the vast wilderness of this region, the terrorists cooperate with the Touareg and move in relative ease between different countries. They finance their dealings through narcotics & weapons trafficking and their leader is named Mukhtav bin Mukhtar, AKA “The one-eyed one”. As DEBKA service noted back in July 2005, “For a terrorist moving around in northwest Africa, the blue veil is the perfect disguise”.
This particular terrorist organization maintains strong links with the international crime entities that transfer large quantities of armory and explosives, and also constitutes an integral part of the modern day global organized crime by facilitating the exportation of significant amounts of Moroccan hashish to Spain and to Western Europe. By taking into account the recent articulate analysis by Dr. Walid Phares in the Analyst-Network.com and the possible involvement of Saudi Arabia in the Chadian crisis, a whole new context arises for the Sahara region. Up to date the Jama’a of Sahara functioned as a facilitator and tried to provide a low profile for its actions that were directed outwards and to Western Europe especially.
Since the pressure of the West becomes greater in relation to Darfur, the terrorist cells are energized in order to withstand the pressure and try to divert the resources the West is willing to provide. The attack on the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania can be viewed more as a diversion in relation to the Western movements in Chad which in turn cannot be successful if it cannot be complimented by an even greater move and that is in Sudan itself. The Jihadists are in much need of withholding there so as to use this large country as a dual pressure entity against Egypt and Ethiopia. On a second level Sudan is a perfect base for spreading terrorist groups in either Eastern Africa: Somalia, Tanzania, and Kenya or in Central Africa such as Zaire.
Lastly it has to be noted, that the environmental perils concerning Northern Africa, will also play a significant role towards the expansion of extremist activities. According to a recent report by the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO0, in Rome “Climate change will affect food security in all its four dimensions - food availability, food accessibility, food stability and food utilization”. Further, food security experts in the region warn that if regional food prices are not contained social unrest could occur. According Will Killmann the Chairman of FAO “In principle, increasing food insecurity can trigger resource-based conflict - be it agricultural or be it food“.
Already in Egypt conflicts between citizens has reached a climax, with a series of homicides between desperate civilians looking fro bread. A sure prediction for the mid-term is that the alert level concerning extremism in North Africa increases and the risk of a mass immigration movement towards the European Mediterranean countries.
Since the 2004- 2005 attacks in Madrid & London, the European security services have been alarmed for the existence of terrorist cells, and have managed to disband quite a few of them. In Germany, according to reports by the BND that have been published in the press in the past few years, there are some 5,700 Muslims that belong to radical groups, 3,600 of those activate themselves in Jihadi groups. The majority of the members are of Turkish descent the rest predominantly Arabs. Further, 10% of the Mosques in Berlin are considered as places where Jihad is promoted and in cities such as Köln, Frankfurt, Duisburg and Manheim there are similar findings.
The Italian authorities over the past few years have warned for hundreds of terrorists that have fought in Iraq and subsequently returned to European countries. It can be assumed that the developments in North Africa will have their ramifications in Europe, since Al Qaeda uses its African bases as a preparatory spring board for attacks there. That means the alarm level in the European cities once more rises up for the coming weeks.
Furthermore, it was announced by the BBC on Sunday the 10th of February, around the evacuation of an offshore oil platform, due to a bomb alert that activated the security forces of the country. The staff numbering 539 workers was forced to evacuate with the assistance of 14 helicopters and this constitutes the largest operation of its kind in the British waters. In parallel the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the same day around the closure of its Embassy in Kabul after credible information relayed around the possibility of an attack against it. This comes just a few weeks after an attack by terrorists against the Norwegian Minister while he was on an official tour in Afghanistan. Six people died in the hotel where the attacked occurred.
The importance of Sudan, Chad and the neighboring states, is integral for the combat of the Al Qaeda that should it looses its access there, it will face a heavy blow in its ability in conducting a strategy of attacks against Europe. It seems Europe is again entering an alerting period in which the security and intelligence services will have to strive hard to accomplish their role.
List of sources regarding the relation between drug trade from Magreb and the international Islamic terrorist networks:
1) observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,2078419,00.html (Article by the Observer on the direct link between cannabis trade & terrorism)
2) news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/3631823.stm (BBC report on the same theme)
3) www.fpri.org/orbis/4802/jesus.islammaghreb.pdf (Research paper by the Spanish Professor, Carlos Echeverría Jesús)
4) www.merip.org/mer/mer218/218_ketterer.htm (A very good description of the drug issue in Morocco by the American Professor James Ketterer. Linkage between drugs & Islamists in the 6th chapter of the article)
5) Lastly on the Mediterranean Quarterly (Duke University Press) - Volume 16, Number 3, Summer 2005, pp. 86-101, " The Tragedy of Al-Andalus: Madrid Terror Attacks and the Islamization of Spanish Politics", By Celso Anthony; there is commentary around the link between drugs & extreme Islamists of Magreb.