North Africa “A Magnet for Jihadists” Claims Cameron


dcDavid Cameron’s recent parliamentary address following the end of the hostage situation in Algeria discussed the ever increasing volatility of the north-western region of Africa. The recent stirrings in the region suggested a migrated threat; much of the Jihadist threat used to stem from places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, and still do to some extent, but Cameron now feels that the region in Africa is “a magnet for Jihadists”.

The UK is looking to focus more on the threat in North Africa after Cameron called the combat against Islamic Jihadism a “generational struggle”.

He would not be very wrong in this supposition regarding North Africa. Recent unrest and political uncertainty in the region has meant that it has become a place where groups like AQIM (al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb), Ansar Dine and MUJWA (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) can establish themselves as powerful operative forces. In Mali the groups have capitalised on the northern territory following a coup in the south. The AQIM have been in Mali since the beginning of 2003, using it as a base for targeting other countries in the region. One of their main commanders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed responsibility for the In Amenas hostage situation last week.

It would be erroneous to assume that the groups in the north are a coherent and organised body. Each group has different aims and motives, albeit some common goals, but they do agree on more than they disagree on. In an area the size of France it would be extraordinarily difficult to coordinate the groups but the threat still remains. It was when this threat began to move further south that the Malian Government went to France for help. It is Ansar Dine’s explicit goal to take control of Mali and turn it into an Islamic state and as the most powerful group in the region it is not wholly improbable that the other groups will fall in behind them and join forces.

The situation in Mali is being addressed. French forces are assisting Malian forces in deposing of the threat and it is looking more like that ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) will soon send assistance to Mali.

Wider Context and Threats to European Safety

The wider context of the issue is worth analysing. The AQIM Jihadists that stormed the In Amenas plant in Algeria last week were made of extremists from Syria, Libya and Egypt and were reportedly headed by a Canadian Algerian. This would seemingly vindicate Cameron’s assertion that the region is becoming a “magnet for Jihadists”. And many terrorist experts have said that these groups have been recruiting future combatants in Europe, as well as recruiting in countries such as Mauritania, Morocco, Niger and Senegal. Governments in France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany are aware of this threat and realise the importance of stemming it.

The AQIM is said to have between 600 and 800 members in North-West Africa and Europe and have been notorious for kidnapping tourists and demanding ransom. The recent threat is a geographical one; groups like AQIM are operating in territories that are closer and closer to Europe, while we see attacks in Europe increasing, the attack in Toulouse last year being the most shocking. An article from Christina Hellmich in today’s Guardian (22/01) suggests the threat to Europe from AQIM and other groups is overstated. Hellmich suggests that Cameron’s address merely “reinforces a notion of a unified Islamist threat that does not exist in that form. It is a convenient narrative which benefits both the propaganda machine of Islamists and the calls of those in the west who support military action.” His article suggests that because the groups are not unified and are “highly fragmented” they would not be able to carry out attacks of any sort in Europe.

He is right that the idea of a “unified Islamist threat” does not exist, in a sense; the groups are not exclusively in cooperation with each other. But even a group of several hundred combatant members pose a serious threat. The nature of their operations mean that it is highly difficult to track their movements and therefore highly difficult to counteract any planned attack. Following the decision by France to send troops to Mali there was a real threat to French civilians on French soil from Islamist fanatics, in retaliation for their assistance. And last year, following the invasion of Malian territory, the military commander of Ansar Dine Omar Ould Hamaha said, “When we have finished conquering France, we will come to the USA, we will come to London and conquer the whole world… The banner of Muhammed will be raised from where the sun rises in the east to where it sets in the west”.

There are many individuals, like Hellmich, that are ready to understate the threat of these groups to Europe but if you look at what these groups have done in countries like Algeria, Mali and Yemen, the rhetoric of their statements, and the malevolence they feel towards democracy in general, it is not overly improbable to imagine an attack in Europe. The fight against barbarism and fanaticism is set to continue and will be a “generational struggle” but one that is necessary to undertake.

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