Everyone, it seems, newspapers as well as politicians, are very keen to talk about the Islamist terrorist affiliations of the armed groups in Mali and Algeria. All the British papers are quick to point out the Islamic extremism links of the purpetrators. This is the analysis of events they offers us.
The historian Michael Burleigh writing in the 18th January Daily Mail article on the Algerian Gas facility ‘kidnaping’ describes the leader of the group behind the attack as,
Master of terror: Veteran Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar is behind the heavily-armed Islamist group which stormed the In Amenas gas facility in eastern Algeria.
The article goes on,
When he was 19 this Islamist fanatic went to wartorn Afghanistan to train in Al Qaeda camps….
The Daily Mail leaves no room for doubt, Belmokhtar is an al-Qaeda leader. Calling him such makes what happens in Algeria suddenly seem very much connected to attacks on New York and London. The al-Qaeda narrative allows our governments to re-enforce their central message that the threat of Islamist extremism is every bit as severe and near as they have been telling us, which in turn justifies every Homeland Security act, every internet snooping law, every curtailment of civil and legal rights. Were we to get involved in either Algeria or Mali, it would be easy to portray and justify any actions we might take as ‘pre-emptive self-defence’. Might sound slightly oxymoronic but the idea has a long and blood spattered history stretching from The Romans to modern Israel to drone attacks in Waziristan.
Meanwhile over at The Guardian a more nuanced analysis is on offer. Their article informs us that those Islamist factions in Algeria, known by the acronym AQIM, which are affilaited or at least sympathetic to al-Qaeda, are “slightly chaotic”. In The Guardian’s opinion,
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the man suspected of orchestrating the refinery attack, leads his own breakaway group that does not even pay nominal allegiance to the southern AQIM faction, let alone the group as a whole, and certainly not to al-Qaida.
But having proved its greater depth and insight, The Guardian does, in the end, offer up essentially the same Daily Mail analysis just with more caveats.
Belmokhtar has spoken of his admiration for Bin Laden and Zawahiri. He has also expressed classic jihadi views that align him with “al-Qaidaism”. He is, therefore, part of the new, fragmented and fast-evolving landscape of Islamic militancy in the region,…
So, if you read a tabloid its “Al-Qaeda”. If you spend more money and buy a broad sheet its “al-Qaidaism”. Different spelling. more letters used in the name and it comes to you in ‘knowing’ quotes. They, by the way, are great for appearing clever. I use them myself.
I am not saying Mr Belmokhtar doesn’t pay at least lip service to Jihad and al-Qaeda and I am quite sure he is a muslim. BUT, as a friend of mine in Libya, himself a fairly devout Muslim, put it to me recenlty, when I was asking him about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in both Libya and Egypt, he laughed and said, businessmen in both countries who were never previously shown great Muslim piety, have been growing big old Muslim beards because they have realised it is now good, even essential, for doing business. Everyone is suddenly a Muslim Brother. Behind the outward devotion to the cause it is still business. And why not? The first Crusaders may have been fired by a fervent desire to murder infidels in the name of Christ. But many who followed them did their murdering more for profit than anything else. I believe we should not overlook this when dealing with ‘radical’ Islam. I’m not saying those who claim to be Muslin and sport the required facial adornemnt aren’t Muslim. If they say they are, they are. All I am saying is they are also in business and unless you look at that you will not get a very clear picture of what they do and with whom. Their connections will not be all Islamic.
Let’s ask a simple question I have not seen in the mainstream media. How are these groups funded? It takes money to become ‘heavily armed’. Mr Belmokhtar may be in a Gas facility but he doesn’t own it. He does not get income from the gas and oil fields. And over in Mali, Norther Mali especially, they have very little of anything. Mali is one of the ten poorest nations on earth.
One does, however, have one burgeoning business. Mali is one of the main transit routes for South American drugs coming to Europe. I wrote about it here in Augsut last year. One of the articles I quoted from was from September 2012, in the Globe and Mail which in turn drew on a UN report and a US Homeland security report from as long ago as 2008.
Another key drug route is northern Mali,..The smugglers in Mali transport huge quantities of drugs through the Sahara desert and eventually to Mediterranean ports, where they are shipped to Europe.
So who are these ‘smugglers’?
…the smuggling routes are controlled by Islamist radicals with links to al-Qaeda. The Islamists have played a key role in the rebellion that seized control of every city in northern Mali in recent weeks.
That. I think, is how the Islamist groups in both Mali and Algeria are funded and armed. Algeria is the country due north of Northern Mali. This is one of the main drug routes from the West African coast up to the Med. I’m not saying the Islamists, some of them at lest, aren’t interested in teh radical Islam agenda. I am saying that they are also in the drug trade. And remember it’s a big trade.
A report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2008 warned that cocaine was being smuggled across the Atlantic on a growing fleet of at least 10 airplanes, including Boeing 727s, executive jets and twin-engine turboprops.
Now those planes are not owned by either the Mali rebels nor al-Qaeda. They are owned by the Cocaine cartels. But those planes are bringing a regualr and considerable income to the men and groups that run and control the drug transport networks. To you and me, and media these groups are Islamist terrorists. To the drug cartels they are a transport company. Either way they need paying and having been paid they will probably need a bank.
My guess is that the Mali and Algerian Islamist groups will be paid partly in money and partly in kind. The ‘kind’ – again I am guessing – will be arms shipped in on the same planes from Panama. Panama is where you source weapoons, especially Kalashikovs of either Czech or Chinese manufature.
It is a win/win deal. The Algerian and Mali groups don’t have to find their own arms dealer every time they need something. They can simply negotiate that the same plane that brings the drug also brings in arms. The rest of the time they can accept cash.
If there was no drug trade crossing Mali into Algeria, I doubt there would be much of an Islamist force in those countries either. Are they an ideologically driven force of fundamentalists or are they a drug dealers service industry? I would say they could not flourish as the one without also being the other.
And yet our governments have known about this trade and these specific routes for several years now and done very little. Particularly the French have had a good idea what is going on in this reason and what has been going on in its banks. Our governments know that many of the banks of West Africa from Mali down to Togo, and inland from the coast across the sahel up to Moroco, libya, Tunisia and Algeria are all handling and laundering this money.
It may be very hard to track down the mobile and well armerd insurgents. But we know how they are funded and have a pretty good idea where they are likely to be banking their money. And those banks are not hard to track down. Yet little if anything has been done about the side of this problem, the financial side, which is easy to locate, and doesn’t require soldiers to die to deal with it. Yet nothing has been done for years. Why?
Why do we wait till the money has bought the guns and created the ‘well armed’ groups and then choose to tackle the men with guns rather than the men with the drugs and the other men who bank the proceeds and keep the whole thing running?
Could it be that there are interests in our countries that are willing to tollerate islamists as long as they stick to the day job of helping us and our prefered African leaders bank the proceeds of the war with drugs.