2012 Vol4 No2 RONNEY Content


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THE MALI STAMPEDE

In the course of an eventful life, Iyad Ag Ghali, Head of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine, has been a rebel, diplomat, negotiator and Islamist militant. In his latest avatar, he could also now determine the future of northern Mali.

By Leela JACINTO (text)

On May 30, 2007, Iyad Ag Ghali, the current luxuriantly-bearded Head of Ansar Dine, an al Qaeda-linked militant group, walked into the US embassy in the Malian capital of Bamako for a friendly chat with the ambassador.

US diplomats at the meeting were clearly sympathetic to the man who would go on to turn into the scourge of the breakaway region of northern Mali.

“Soft-spoken and reserved, ag Ghali [sic] showed nothing of the cold-blooded warrior persona created by the Malian press,” noted a leaked US Embassy cable.

A fearsome Tuareg fighting man who, like many of his brothers-in-arms, had fought for a motley mix of bosses and rebel groups, Ag Ghali was attempting to negotiate yet another shotgun ceasefire in the long history of conflict between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels of various stripes and allegiances.

The cable noted that a “seemingly tired” Ag Ghali told the US ambassador that then-Malian President, Amadou Toumani Toure had accepted Ag Ghali's request for a diplomatic posting in Saudi Arabia. During his “wide-ranging meeting”, Ag Ghali repeatedly requested US assistance for “targeted special operations” against al Qaeda's North African branch, AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).

In this stretch of the Sahel - the remote region bridging the Sahara and the African savannah where the borders of Mali, Algeria, Niger and Mauritania meet - the fortunes of men seem to change with the shifting sands.

Former democratically-elected Malian President Toure - or ATT, as he's known - was ousted in a March 22 military coup and is currently in exile in Senegal.·

MALI

Mali's perfect storm of woes creates a perfect militant breeding zone . All in the family: abducting and releasing hostages. The cash transactions in question are ransom payments doled out by mostly European governments for the release of their citizens captured in the Sahel, an unpoliceable zone where smuggling and kidnappings are common income sources - and very profitable ones for Ag Ghali and his AQIM friends.

TERRORISM

Key figures in al Qaeda's North African branch most experts agree that Ag Ghali's ties to AQIM have been intricately linked to the hostage business.

According to Keenan, Ag Ghali's cousin, Abdel Krim operates under senior AQIM leader, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, who heads one of the most violent AQIM katibas (or brigades) responsible for a spate of kidnappings over the past few years, including those of Frenchman Pierre Camatte and British tourist Edwin Dyer.

While his cousin has been part of AQIM's kidnapping operations, Ag Ghali for a while positioned himself as the hostage negotiator, a task he fulfilled admirably. “He's understood to make a lot of money for this; he doesn't do it for free,” notes McGregor.

Giving peace and Islam a chance

Born in the northern Malian town of Kidal into the elite, noble Iforas clan that claims sharif status - or ancestral links to the Prophet Muhammed - Ag Ghali's exact age is not known. Experts believe he was born in the 1950s.

As a young man, Ag Ghali, like many Tuareg men his age, left northern Mali to serve as a mercenary for Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

Mali's coup leader Amadou Sanogo speaks to FRANCE 24.

Like many militant leaders, Ag Ghali has created his own fighting narrative, much of which is likely to be true. “During the 1980s in Gaddafi's legions, he was dispatched to fight in Chad and he now claims to have fought the Israelis in southern Lebanon,” says Keenan.

In the early 1990s, he returned to Mali to take part in a Tuareg rebellion as a rebel senior commander before he abandoned the fight to help negotiate a peace deal with the government.

It was around this time that he encountered a handful of preachers from Tablighi Jamaat, a controversial Pakistan-based spiritual reformation movement, attempting to proselytize in the Sahel.

The fundamentalist preachers were having little success in a region with a strong Sufi tradition and little patience for hardline Islam when they landed in Kidal and encountered Ag Ghali.

His subsequent religious conversion is a matter of much debate within his community, with some Tuaregs insisting it was an expedient move for an ambitious Iforas leader to boost his religious credentials. Others, however, say it could well have been a genuine religious awakening.

It was during his stint as consul-general in the Saudi city of Jeddah that Ag Ghali made the transition from pacifist fundamentalist to hardline Islamist, a move that alarmed his hosts and resulted in his expulsion from Saudi Arabia.

Two rejections and another rebellion

Mali coup leader rejects ECOWAS troop deployment Amadou Haya Sanogo (photo), the army captain who led a March 22 coup in Mali, on Saturday rejected a decision by the West African bloc ECOWAS to send troops to the country to ensure an agreed transition to civilian rule.

Under diplomatic pressure from Mali's partners and military pressure from an advancing rebellion in northern Mali, he agreed to hand power over to Traore, the former speaker, who was sworn in as president on April 12.

ECOWAS on Thursday urged the military to return to the barracks, amid allegations that the former junta still interferes with the country's political life and that the return to constitutional rule is not complete.

Political leaders and diplomats in Mali also suspect the coup leaders may be reluctant to return to the barracks, and former colonial master France on Friday called on them to abide by signed agreements and give up control of public ORTM radio and television.·

Mali

Mali interim PM forms new government ·

MALI

Crisis-hit Mali swears in transitional president

·

MALI

Junta arrests politicians as leadership crisis continues

Date created: 29/04/2012

 

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