Libya Has Become ‘The New Mali’ as Arab Terrorists Shift in Sahara

The MUJWA group includes more African collaborators better able to drift unnoticed between West African nations since France’s onslaught. “They have deployed to other theatres,” said Soumeylou BouBeye Maiga, a former Malian foreign minister and security chief. “They will take on France elsewhere as there is a concentration of forces here.”

Niger’s long border with Mali, tough line on tackling the militants and role as a supplier of uranium to France have long made it a target. U.S. troops are training the army and Niamey has stepped up security in the north, where French Special Forces went this year to protect mines. Four French mine workers seized in Arlit in 2010 are still being held.

U.N. conflict expert Ismael Diallo said France, which had originally ruled out using ground troops in Mali, was gradually being dragged deeper into policing the region.

“France has no choice,” said Diallo, a former senior official in Burkina Faso. “Regional cooperation will not improve soon enough and to a credible level to deter the armed groups.”

We are Watching

In Mali, drone surveillance and counter-terrorism teams on the ground have done much to stifle the terrorists. Suicide attacks around the northern towns of Gao and Menaka this month claimed no victims apart from the bombers themselves.

According to French officials, about 600 terrorists have been killed in “Operation Serval”, named after a desert wildcat.

About 200 tonnes of ammunition and dozens of vehicles were seized in operations that scoured desert and mountain bases, disrupting arms and fuel dumps that the Islamists prepared during their nine-month occupation of northern Mali.

“They don’t seem to have the ability to coordinate attacks in Mali anymore,” said a French officer in Mali. “We assume that they will try to regroup but it will take time for them and it is risky as they know we are watching.”

French operations have been backed by a British spy plane and U.S. drones operating from Niger alongside an established monitoring base in Burkina Faso.

But Arab terrorists who once traveled in large convoys have adapted and are keeping a low profile. “At any given time, they could be anywhere,” said a U.S. official. “People go where the fight is.”