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Mali and Algeria – A slightly different view.

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.


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37 Responses to Mali and Algeria – A slightly different view.

    • Golem XIV January 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

      Thank you for the link. I read the piece. I thought it was very good indeed. I have asked the author if we could talk. So thanks again.

      • Nicholas Dyson January 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

        Do let us know what you learn, if you can.

        I have no particular knowledge at all, but this whole incident struck me as odd from the beginning.

        Despite all the murk and lack of information everyone seemed quite confident that the man behind it was Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Yet he appeared to be a man more concerned for his own fortunes than fundamentalist religious gestures. His men turn up at the site and find a couple of busses conveniently loaded with potential hostages. We hear this is a major site with many armed guards but nothing is heard of them. Anyone might suggest to Belmokhtar’s men that the wise thing to do would be to blow up the installation (if that was what they wanted – they were said to have semtex) and move out quickly into the desert with a large but manageable number of hostages for future ransom. They didn’t seem to have any very well formulated or negotiable demands. They seemed just to settle down and wait for the predictable arrival of the Algerian army, who of course whacked them with the usual lack of over-much concern for the lives of hostages let alone opponents. A number of people have lost their lives, but we do not know – and probably never will – how serious this whacking was by Algerian army standards.

        Who has gained? The Algerian government, no doubt looking east and south at islamist or supposed islamist uprisings against repressive governments as well as at the general instability and lawlessness of their southern regions, and now persuaded that their political future lies more and more with western economic and strategic interests, have demonstrated to their unruly subjects and neighbours that they will ruthlessly and effectively put down insurrection or incursion, and have shown western states that they are indispensible and reliable allies in the war on terror, and that is what their troubles are all about (just like Mr Putin’s were). Western states can perhaps find it easier to suggest that west Africa needs the kind of treatment given to Yemen.

        One can of course get too cynical and clever in one’s ignorance.

  1. Penny Bloater January 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Add funding by the Gulf Co-operation Council and Toureg nationalists that want to claim Azawad Province as an independent national homeland into the mix and I think you’ve nailed it David. I’ve also read reports by Thomas Mountain that French uranium mining has polluted water supplies in the North of Mali:


    Also, what the West should ponder is why Toureg mercenaries previously aligned to Gadaffi’s defensive forces should form an alliance with many of the same Islamists that they fought which were part of the anti-Gaddafi offensive?

    Do they no longer work for us anymore?

    In response to this resistance ‘client states’ using ‘special forces trained by the major military apparatuses, led by the US with Britain and France playing a major role’ have taken a lead in enacting ‘a system of repressions and liquidations of activist movements’ with extensive Western media support since the 9/11 attacks as the rhetoric of ‘the War on Terror’ has been extensively deployed against fierce oppositional groups ‘as an excuse to diminish civil and political liberties’ (Panitch 2002: Harvey 2006: p64-66: Aradau 2008).

    Examples of this social solidarity and resistance has been demonstrated in the recent and ongoing attempts by fragmented oppositional movements to challenge or disengage the global neoliberal project of accumulation by dispossession and attain self determination such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Naxalites in India.

    It is a logical response to the conditions of global neoliberal capitalism.

    • Golem XIV January 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      Very interesting point about using the ‘War on Terror’ as a cover for stamping out any and all natioanlist movements whose aims we don’t like the sound of.

      Just when there were no longerenough ‘Communist insurgents’ to justify our intervention, isn’t it lucky we suddenly have all these ‘Terrorist insurgents’ to fill the same role.

  2. Matthew Smith January 20, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    One of the papers noted yesterday that Belmokhtar is known as the “Marlboro Man” because he is heavily involved in the cigarette smuggling business. This, by the way, is not widely considered a suitable job for a pious Muslim, which further casts doubt on the idea that he is an al-Qa’ida fanatic of long standing.

    And while I don’t doubt that a lot of Libyans have grown beards since the end of Qaddafi’s rule (and similarly Egyptians since Mubarak fell), this doesn’t make anyone a “Muslim brother”. It’s just the norm for men in Islam (go and have a look round Leicester if you don’t believe me) and the dictators (except the religious ones like in Saudi) don’t allow it because clean-shaven faces, to them, are a sign of westernisation and “progress”.

    • Golem XIV January 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

      Morning Mathew Smith,

      Sorry I didn;t make myself very clear in the article (I have amended it to make it clearer now ) my friend in Libya is himself a fairly devout Muslim and he was laughing because he saw many businessmen who had never previously been devout or concerned that their country should be particuarly Islamic, now growing beards and aligning themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood.

      In our discussion about the role and power of the Brotherhood in both Egypt and Libya he felt that it was less a purely Muslim oerganization than it had been. Of course there is a core, a powerful core, who are concerned to spread Sharia law etc, but he felt, particularly in Libya its numbers had been swelled not because of a flowering of Islamic militancy but because the business class were joining as a purely practical expedient.

      Sorry I wasn’t clear.

  3. Mike Hall January 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Spot on Golem, great piece 🙂

  4. bill40 January 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm #


    I have just been reading about this in the MSM and had the deja vu feeling I so often get. Over I pop to here and have it confirmed that I’d already read it here so thanks for the link to the old article.

    In China the news media at first reported this as a purely internal act of an unstable country. They now report it as a handy stick to beat Islam with, those troubles have not gone away. There is also another question being asked which may be simply spiteful hearsay.

    Hong Kong is pegged to the US dollar and the peg is failing, as all pegs do. So the question asked is how is this being funded and is it connected with “our friends in Africa”?

    Hong Kong has recently overtaken London as a financial centre measured by employees. Regulation is hard to find and what there is, is rarely enforced if ever. HK also largely funds the shadow banks in mainland China that routinely undermines party dictats.

    It is also rumoured that a lot of the money eventually, perhaps inevitablely , ends up in Switzerland that, by coincidence, also has an artificial currency peg. Now I have no evidence of this or the knowledge to find out more but I know of several people that do.

    There is nothing the CCP would like more than a scandal in HK so watch this space.

    • Golem XIV January 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

      Interesting stuff. I certainly agree that Hong Kong is one of THE places to watch. I wrote about it quite a lot and continue to watch what goes on there. Any info or leads please let me know. Happy to follow them.

  5. desmond dillon January 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Thank you Golem, another well written piece. Government by PR and all governments singing from the same song sheet. All opposition is futile being the sub message. Have there always been bandits in the world? if we legalized all drugs it would disempower bandits and banking..

  6. StevieFinn January 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    According to this the rebels are going to get the shite kicked out of them in terms of the technology & weaponry that all those who are very keen to put the boot in are supplying. A tight lid is being kept on it all.

    Since Jan. 15, the information officially released by the French MoD has become scarce with less details and figure. It looks like reporters from all around the world either embedded with Paris Special Forces or simply stationed around the main bases in West Africa were denied the possibility to provide much details about the ongoing Operation Serval for OPSEC issues. Therefore, the only way to get a glimpse of what is going on in Mali Air War is almost exclusively through the images and footage made available by the French Air Force and Army on social media

    OPSEC ? http://www.checkpoint.com/opsec/


    • Nicholas Dyson January 20, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

      Your link to the Business Insider report makes me reflect how convenient it could be to have an incident that enables the western powers to come out into the open about the extent of their military efforts in the region and an intention to upgrade them. One cannot kep this sort of thing out of the public eye indefinitely. Cameron’s remarks today seem to fit the picture:

      “This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months,” he said.
      “It requires a response that is patient and painstaking, that is tough but also intelligent, but above all has an absolutely iron resolve and that is what we will deliver over these coming years.”
      There are parallels between north Africa and Pakistan/Afghanistan, he said.
      “It is different in scale but there are similarities. What we face is an extremist Islamist violent al-Qaida-linked terrorist group – just as we have to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in north Africa. It is similar because it is linked to al-Qaida, it wants to destroy our way of life, it believes in killing as many people as it can.”

      Sounds like a well prepared script.

      The idea of moving on to Africa after the tremendous success in Afghanistan has freed up our military resources is interesting, as is the thought of the possible long-term conflicts between the different styles of western and Chinese involvement in a continent that is seen as so important in terms of natural resources.

      • Wirplit January 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

        A interesting article David,
        …and Nicholas your link to Andy Morgan’s piece was really helpful. It was an excellent grounding and I look forward to his book.

        Suddenly the immense back story which comes out …and all the dots coming from the Libyan uprising, Gaddafi’s games in Africa, the environmental disaster in the Sahel, Chinese involvement in African resources and even the destinations of Rendition victims… start to link up. I had little idea of the extent of American involvement with the Algerian government, its notorious secret service and its struggle with the Islamists.
        Now and then you get a predictable shock all over again of just how stage managed the normal media news is….
        I stayed in Matmata in South Tunisia where those Austrian tourists were kidnapped just the year before…wonder how much the British government would have paid for me…lol

  7. Johnny Appleseed January 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    ‘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?’

    Why does the U.S. and company persist in its foolish, destructive and futile war on drugs, enabling this entire boondoggle?

  8. John G January 20, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    Pepe Escobar is always good for filling in some context.


    AQ and CIA have concurrent interests.

    • steviefinn January 20, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

      Thanks, great article – Nowadays in relation to any large theatrical production being played out by TPTB I think of Cicero’s maxim -,’cuo bono’ ( to whose benefit ) & how this maxim should be applied to their latest work in progress, the above answers it nicely – same old, same old.

  9. shaun s January 20, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    It is also not a coincidence that the Euro rose 5 centimes the moment Hollande sent in the troops. (Against the Swiss franc among others). War is good for business.

    The countries that have promised “logistic aid” are also ones that have their “presidents” loosing ground in the polls or have internal oppositions building up. ie Canada, UK, and those who need distractions right now.

    However Golem, the idea that this is a “drug-backed” war is interesting to say the least. Believable because of the long term connections of the CIA and Pentagon with drug running. (nowadays there are transits through Kosovar and through a major US base North of Afghanistan, and then into Europe.) plus the CIA is becoming more of a secretive “military” than an intelligence organisation.

  10. Mike Hall January 21, 2013 at 2:10 am #

    Just released, one for the bookmarks, MMT the movie


  11. The Slog January 21, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    Fascinating piece. Many Islamist groups rationalise involvement in the drugs trade as a means of weakening the corrupt infidel culture still further – poppies in Afghanistan being another classic example.
    Having said all that, I have been part of a charity sending farming equipment and training to Mali for some years, through connections in rural France. It’s very closely aligned with Catholic missions in Mali, and that too is undoubtedly a target for African Islamism.
    A further factor is the Chinese – rabidly anti-Islam and nakedly exploitative in Africa, Islamic fundamentalism will soon be fighting a war on two fronts in many countries there. But as with the Western powers, it is a fight against a nuisance – an obstacle – rather than any kind of crusade. The growing African shambles remains what it has always been: a scramble for raw materials by a system gone mad.

    • John G January 21, 2013 at 6:59 am #

      I think it’s wrong to describe the Chinese trade and aid model as “nakedly exploitative”.

      Compared to Western standards it’s a shining light of fairness.

      I’ve no idea where the ‘rabidly anti-islam’ notion comes from either. The Chinese are pragmatic mercantilists.

      Again, compared to the West, they are a model of diplomacy.

  12. Pat Flannery January 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    I see the covert hand of the CIA here. America is moving its main operations out of the Middle East into Africa to counter a perceived Chinese takeover of the African Continent.

  13. bill40 January 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    What I really want to know is where they get these pictures of islamic baddies, is there some sort of agency?

    • Golem XIV January 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

      What a great notion. Made me laugh!

    • John G January 23, 2013 at 7:58 am #

      Google Rita Katz. It’s a hoot.

  14. Great Brithole January 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    “What I really want to know is where they get these pictures of islamic baddies”

    The usual place – Photoshop.

    The best kind of patsy/bad guy is one who doesn’t really exist at all, except in the media and therefore in the eyes of the public. That way he can commit acts of violence, die at your hands, or anything else you desire at your own discretion.

    Figments of the imagination don’t blow whistles, write autobiographies or leave themselves open to bribery either.

    There are often clues in the names that they are given.

    Just my humble opinion.

  15. Phil January 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    I suspect that these ‘islamists’ are secret Kirk Douglas fans, and proclaim ‘I am Al Qaeda’ in honour of the famous scene from one of his movies.

    ‘Terrorists’ claiming to be Al Qaeda, or our sabre-rattlers making similar claims about them, should not be taken at face value.

    Where’s the evidence? Command structures, evidence of communicated orders, etc?

  16. sheepshagger January 22, 2013 at 1:11 am #

    Noam Chomsky’s ” Manufacturing Consent ” springs to mind with a whiff of Oliver North
    lingering at the back of my brain.

  17. mark chesworth January 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Isn’t the real story here OIL ? a few minutes searching on google was enough to bring back lots of news about recent oil finds in Mali and the interest of leading multi-nationals in developing the region.

    for example


    recent events in Libya may have destabilised the region but in my opinion its the natural resources in that area which are the real issue here.

    it may also be significant that one of the key players in Mali (Sonatrach) is one of the companies involved with the gas refinery in algeria which has been so in the news recently

  18. comminus January 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    so far as the drugs angle is concerned it actually makes more sense if you believe that a rise of fundamentalism in the region will actually harm the flow of drugs from South America into Europe.

    it’s certainly my recollection that during the period when the Taliban had control of Afghanistan that the production of opium in their territories fell dramatically.

    For organisations like the CIA which have often in the past seen the profits from drugs as a way of financing operations without the need for budgetary approval from Congress this was obviously a situation which couldn’t be allowed to continue indefinitely.

  19. Buck Turgidson January 24, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    The moon landing was faked as well? Radical Islam a myth? Is it all about geo politics, drugs and oil? I don’t think so. When Qaddafi was overthrown his black African allies were shot in the streets of Libya. They fled south with bunches of weapons and aligned themselves with the Islamist already there. I’m sure they would not turn down drug money because these Sahara traders have been moving anything that makes money for century s. But disagree that their main motivation is financial I believe it to be religious. I have driven through the area on my way from Europe to South Africa and I found the Taureqs to be devout.

  20. Andrea January 28, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    The “West” – USA plus poodles – has supported or co-opted or enrolled islamists, jihadists, muslims, rebels, opposition fighters, freedom fighters, revolutionaries, young supporters for democracy, whatever one wants to call them, in Afghanistan (against the Russians), in Yugoslavia (against a socialist state..), in Lybia (to depose Kadafi)…now in Syria (against Assad.)

    It has fought, or is fighting, against ‘rebels’, ‘terrorists’, ‘islamists,’ in Iraq (though as under occupation it is a case apart), Yemen, Pakistan, Lybia (to depose Kadafi), now Mali (and previously Algeria) and we leave Palestine out.

    In between, the ‘Arab Spring’ in Tunisia and Egypt, the W wanted to hold on to the old order, Moubarak, Ben Ali, but you have to go with the flow, and eventually support the new order (these two are big countries.)

    As for ‘rebels’ in Bahrein, Quatar, Saudi, elsewhere, hush hush, that is under the radar.
    Nothing to do with Islam or terrorism or anything like that.

    It is cynical pick and choose who you fund, arm, support in function of short term aims, biz deals, personal contacts, power grabs, looming Big Corp Deals, and the like.


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