September 27, 2016
There are still no news and more questions asked than answers one week after the kidnapping of two Italians and one Canadian in southwest Libya. Italian government was first to confirm the abduction of two of its citizens while Canadian government confirmed the troubling news almost a week later. The three workers of Ghat airport were reportedly taken while traveling between Ghat and Tahala near the borders with Algeria. Surprisingly they were traveling without adequate security protection despite that the driver might have been armed, but who is not armed in the area?
As of Monday, September 26th no group claimed responsibility leaving room only for speculations and questions. Because of the history of kidnapping for ransoms (KFRs) in the Sahel Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have a strong track record to be considered the main suspect to be indirectly or directly behind the kidnapping. However this will be the first time the group have kidnapped foreign nationals in southwest Libya, an area AQIM mostly used for planning and movement of weapons. Since AQIM emerged a decade ago it relied on KFRs to finance its operations as it reportedly generated close to $100M between 2008 and 2014.
Here are few thoughts on the kidnapping:
- Most likely hostages still in southwest Libya and has yet to be transferred to preferred areas by AQIM and allies, notably northern Mali where at least four foreign hostages are held.
- If AQIM is behind Ghat kidnapping, the group likely to seek ransom for their release from Canadian and Italian governments, or the company hostages were working for. This is encouraging for the abductors because both governments reportedly paid ransoms for the release of their citizens held in Mali.
- Either the operation was directly carried by AQIM or armed
Image of a traveling vehicle in Northeast Niger, July 2015. Source: Sahel MeMo.
bandits, the kidnappers appear to be well informed and knew foreign nationals were traveling on Ghat – Tahala route. This is similar to previous kidnappings claimed by AQIM and allies in Mali and Niger where the abductors always knew the exact location of their potential hostages. Not only that, but also able to execute without being captured. For instance abductors knew the house Swiss national was staying at in Timbuktu January 2016 and managed to escape despite presence of Malian and foreign forces in the city. Back in September 2011 abductors knew the exact rooms where humanitarian workers staying at in Tindouf. In November 2011, kidnappers knew there were western tourists staying at hotel al-Afia in Timbuktu.
- There are several reasons for the delay of claiming responsibility. First the transfer of hostages likely has yet to take place especially if the operation was conducted by armed bandits planning to strike a deal with AQIM or other suiters. Second the abductors might be attempting to reach a safe area which is not as easy as might seem despite instability. Movement of hostages might be challenging due to increased French patrol operations to crackdown on the movement of weapons and fighters with ties to violent extremist organizations (VEOs).
- If AQIM is behind the kidnapping they would ideally like to move the three hostages to northern Mali where the group still holding at least three foreign hostages. Hostages unlikely to be kept together at the same exact location to avoid loosing all hostages in one rescue mission.
- Northeast Niger is also an option but is a challenge for two reasons: French and Niger forces frequent surveillance and it’s more challenging in terms of logistics compared to northern Mali.
- Unlike in Mali and Algeria, AQIM and allies used southwest Libya to plan operations rather than carrying attacks, especially after 2011. For instance In-Amenas attack in Algeria January 2013 then Arlit and Agadez in Niger May 2013 were both planned by Mokhtar Belmokhtar men in southwest Libya.
By Rida Lyammouri
September 5th, 2016
Key members of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) split from the group and created Mouvement pour le Salut de l’Azawad (MSA). The MSA is an initiative led by two former MNLA figures, Moussa Ag Acharatoumane and Assalat Ag Habi. While Moussa have been active public figure, Assalat on the other hand have kept a low profile and his last appearance was back in April 2012 at Gao airport when the MNLA and other groups seized control of the city. He was accused by pro-Malian media to be behind an attack on Malian security forces checkpoint in Ménaka February 2016, but that was never confirmed.
Ag Habi is also a close figure to Elhadj Ag Gamou and Iyad Ag Ghali, all three were close friends and were key members of 1990s Tuareg rebellion. Ag Habi defected the Malian Army in 2011 to join the MNLA and 2012 Tuareg rebellion. He was reported to have joined platform groups supportive of the Malian government in April 2015 but that was never confirmed. Ag Habi is more known for his military experience because of the years he spent in Libya. He is comfortable speaking in Arabic than in French like most former Malian military officers and commanders.
This division is another outcome during post conflict when influential members within certain community attempt to position themselves. Both Ag Acharatoumane and Ag Habi are key figures within Tuareg clans based in Ménaka region on the borders with Niger, Douassahak and Chamanamas respectively. Thus although MSA claims to represent communities throughout Azawad (northern Mali), this is unlikely to be case because of their limited influence and popularity among other communities.
I will add analysis and more context to this soon. Images below posted Moussa Ag Acharatoumane on 05 September 2016 (Source).
By Rida Lyammouri
September 5th, 2016
Video started circulating on the messenger application Whatsapp of Tebu armed movement. The group was supposedly created in 2008 but never really conducted any violent attacks against Nigerien authorities. In the video, a representative of the group confirmed the group was indeed established back in 2008 and its members are disappointed at the Nigerien government for not addressing their claims. I am quoting here the group’s representative then followed by my comments:
“We have created since 2008 Mouvement pour la Justice et la Rehabilitation du Niger (Movement for Justice and Rehabilitation of Niger). Since we came to existence we didn’t have fundamental rights in Niger. All doors were closed and was no channel for us to claim our rights, thus we have created an armed movement. If it happens we will attack Niger because we didn’t have an opportunity for an open dialogue with Nigerien government. We are here on the ground and engaged to claim our rights in Niger. We are here to claim our rights because we are marginalized, there is petrol and uranium in this area but we are not benefiting. As a result members of this group have decided to re-organize and get armed to claim their rights to live, eat, and rights to education and health services. We have two points: We demand our rights from the Nigerien government, and second, our rights from the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC).”
- At this point it is too early to know how serious the group is about its threat toward the Nigerien government, and its capabilities to conduct violent attacks against Nigerien forces and foreign interests in Niger. However it should not be underestimated since from the video the group appears to have at least dozens of armed fighters with 5 vehicles, rocket launcher and machine guns. These capabilities are enough to cause harm to local forces and disrupt foreign interests based in remote areas where there is little presence of Nigerien forces.
- Despite that spokesperson did not indicate group’s area of operation, northeastern and eastern Niger on the borders with Libya and Chad are the most likely areas of their presence if any. Both regions are categorized by Tebu communities presence and home to uranium mines in Agadez region in northeastern Niger and oil refinery in Diffa region. Any disruption by this group will further result harm to Niger’s economy while there are already tensions between Niger and its French and Chinese partners.
- The small size of their unit is likely to make them more mobile and to focus on guerrilla type of attacks rather than conventional war with Nigerien forces.
Screenshot from the video. Source: Youtube.
By Rida Lyammouri
September 2nd, 2016
Security situation in Mali remains a major concern due to ongoing attacks by violent extremist organizations (VEOs) against Malian, French, and the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Similar to July, almost exclusively all the attacks in August were conducted and claimed by Ansar al-Din operating in Kidal region and Ansar al-Din Macina brigade operating in central Mali. This trend is expected to continue for coming weeks and months despite increased pressure by French and Malian forces. On August 3rd Ansar al-Din released a video confirming to hold hostage 5 Malian soldiers from the Nampala attack.
National and international efforts to stabilize the country also suffered a major setback with ongoing violence and tensions between domestic actors. Tensions between the two key participants at the Algiers accord, the Coordination des Movements d’Azawad (CMA) and Groupe autodéfense touareg Imghad et alliés (GATIA), remains really high and have resulted more violent clashes. Clashes between Bambara and Fulani communities also resumed in central Mali, have been deadly, and this violence likely to continue in coming weeks and months.
Screenshot from Ansar al-Din video of Malian soldiers captured. Source: al-Rimah.
AQIM and Ansar al-Din Related Security Incidents
03 August 2016: MINUSMA supply truck attacked and set on fire while heading to Timbuktu. (See image)
UN supply truck set on fire August 3rd heading to Timbuktu. Source: @Baba_A_
07 August 2016: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED between Aguelhoc and Tessalit in Kidal region. 1 peacekeeper killed and 4 injured, all of Chadian nationality. Ansar al-Din claimed the attack.