The DRS’s ‘state terrorism’ of the 1990s has changed little during this millennium. In the same way as Schindler describes how the DRS assembled the GIA in the 1990s, so, in this century, the DRS, in collusion with US, British, French and other NATO intelligence agencies, as well as the EU Commission (as documented in my two volumes: ‘The Dark Sahara’ and ‘The Dying Sahara’), has created AQIM, or what I have referred to as ‘Al Qaeda in the West for the West’.
This diabolical strategy, straight from the tradecraft manual of the KGB (who, incidentally trained Mohamed Mediène, the current DRS boss, and other top DRS Generals), was reactivated in 2003, when a DRS agent, Saifi Lamari (known as El Para), supported by DRS agent Abdelhamid Abou Zaïd, at the head of some 60 genuine members of the Groupe Salafiste pour le Predication et le Combat (GSPC), the successor to the GIA, in collusion with US military intelligence, took 32 European tourists hostage in the Algerian Sahara. This operation, which received world headlines and was the subject of my book ‘The Dark Sahara’, was used by the US and other western countries to justify the launch of a new or ‘second front’ in the GWOT into the Sahara and Africa.
In September 2006, the nondescript GSPC, with the help of the DRS and US intelligence agencies, internationalised itself by adopting the Al Qaeda brand and renaming itself as AQIM. AQIM’s three emirs (leaders) in the Sahara, Abdelhamid Abou Zaïd, Yahia Djouadi and Mokhtar ben Mokhtar (they have many aliases), were and still are DRS agents. They have now been responsible for the kidnapping of over 60 western hostages (two have been killed and two have died) and most of the other acts of terrorism perpetrated in the Sahara-Sahel region over the last few years. This is known to most western intelligence agencies.
The creation of the MNLA in October 2011 was not only a potentially serious threat to Algeria, but one which appears to have taken the Algerian regime by surprise. Algeria has always been a little fearful of the Tuareg, both in Algeria and in the neighbouring Sahel States. The distinct possibility of a militarily successful Tuareg movement in northern Mali, which Algeria has always regarded as its own backyard (the Kidal region is sometimes referred to as Algeria’s 49th wilaya), could not be countenanced.
The DRS’s strategy to remove this threat was to use its control of AQIM to weaken and then destroy the credibility and political effectiveness of the MNLA. Although denied by the Algerian government, it sent some 200 Special Forces into northern Mali on December 20, stationing them at Tessalit, Aguelhok and Kidal (and possibly elsewhere). Their purpose appears to have been to:
(1) protect AQIM which had moved from its training base(s) in southern Algeria into the Tigharghar mountains of northern Mali around 2008. Most of AQIM’s subsequent terrorism, especially hostage-taking, had been conducted from bases in northern Mali. The MNLA, however, was threatening to attack AQIM and drive its estimated 300 members out of the country;
(2) assess the strengths and intentions of the MNLA;
(3) help establish two ‘new’ salafist-jihadist terrorist groups Ansar al-Din and MUJAO, alleged ‘offshoots’ of AQIM, in the region.
Ansar al-Din and MUJAO, which had not been heard of before, first appeared on local websites on December 10 and 15 respectively. The leaders of both groups were closely associated with the DRS. Iyad ag Ghaly first became acquainted with the DRS when he worked for an Algerian enterprise in Tamanrasset (Algeria) in the 1980s. He had subsequently been used and paid by the DRS to help manage their resolution of EL Para’s 2003 hostage-taking. He had been used again by the Algerians and the US in 2006 to engineer the short-lived May 23 Kidal rebellion and to then undertake two fabricated terrorist actions in northern Mali in September and October 2006. These were used to draw attention to seemingly renewed ‘terrorism’ in the Sahara and to advertise the name change of the GSPC to AQIM. After 2008, he became heavily involved, with his cousin Hamada ag Hama (alias Taleb Abdoulkrim), in AQIM’s hostage-taking operations.
MUJAO’s leadership is less clear. Its initial leaders are believed to have included both Mohamed Ould Lamine Ould Kheirou, a Mauritanian, and Sultan Ould Badi (alias Abu Ali). Ould Badi is said to be an Arab from north of Gao with good connections with the Polisario movement of the Western Sahara. It seems to have been through this later connection that he established himself as a major drugs (cocaine) trafficker in the region, working under the direct protection of General Rachid Laalali, head of the DRS’s external security branch. One reason for the DRS’s interest in northern Mali is that the region is the focal point on the cocaine trafficking route from South America to Europe. The UN estimates that some 60 per cent of Europe’s cocaine, with a street value of some $11 billion, crosses through this region. It is a trade which, until the MNLA threatened to take over the region, has been controlled in large part by elements within Algeria’s DRS.
These two Islamist groups, Ansar al-Din and MUJAO, although starting out as few in number, were immediately supported with manpower from AQIM in the form of seasoned, well-trained killers, and by the DRS with fuel, cash and other logistical necessities. This explains why the Islamists were able to expand so quickly and dominate the MNLA both politically and militarily. The DRS’s strategy has been brilliantly effective so far.
The DRS’s strategy has, however, been extremely dangerous. Apart from turning the region into a human catastrophe, there has been, and still is, a major risk of military intervention and the possibility of a conflagration that could embrace much of the wider region. From the outset, various parties, notably the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), backed in varying degree by the African Union, France and other parties, has threatened to intervene militarily. There are also a considerable number of internal Malian forces, including a range of largely ethnic-based militia, straining on the leash to revenge themselves against both the Tuareg traitors and Arab Islamists who have driven African groups from their land and homes.
A potential bloodbath has not yet been averted. However, having said that, the likelihood of such military intervention is still being held in limbo. One reason for this is because neither the African Union (whose Peace and Security Commission is headed by an Algerian) or the UN Security Council (UNSC) have given the green light for such intervention. The reason for the UNSC’s position is, I believe, quite simply because all five of its permanent members – the US, UK, France, Russia and China – are aware of Algeria’s strategy and therefore do not see the situation as being ‘Africa’s Afghanistan’, as described in the media and by those self-proclaimed ‘security analysts’ who are unaware of the true nature of Al Qaeda in this part of the world.
This is not to imply that Algeria will be able to call off its dogs easily. However, signs are that Algeria and other powers in the region are trying to move towards a negotiated solution. But that will not be easy. With so many armed militias in the wings and so much anger, suffering and desire for revenge in the air, the likelihood of individual agency coming to the fore is very high. While the DRS leadership of the Islamist groups is obviously managed easily, the question of the genuine Islamists, the foot soldiers, may not be resolved so easily. Already, there are signs that Algeria is pushing towards a solution centering around the creation of some sort of shari’a based Arab controlled political party, amongst others, in the region. Such a party is unlikely to be endorsed wholeheartedly by the bulk of the population, and if introduced coercively is more than likely to lead to further conflict.
Whatever sort of dispensation is found for the region, it will almost certainly be tied to Algeria’s hegemonic designs on the region and drugs trafficking, both of which are recipes for future regional instability.
Finally, there is the matter of the ICC’s investigation. If the ICC does progress from its current preliminary investigation to a full-blown investigation of war crimes and associated atrocities in the region, it could conceivably pave the way for justice and a more stable future. However, I believe that there will be huge pressure on the ICC from western powers not to proceed with the investigation. A full ICC investigation is likely to expose the involvement of US, British and French intelligence services in their support for Algeria’s DRS and therefore, it could be argued, their complicity in the atrocities that have been committed in Mali against Africans.
BY: Jeremy H. Keenan