Jerome Taylor: Al-Qa'ida or not, this spread of terror could be disastrous

Violent Islamists have started to use increasingly bold tactics in the north

Share
Related Topics

Last summer Agence Nouakchott Informations, a Mauritanian news agency with good contacts among violent Islamists in the Sahara, received a video showing two western hostages pleading for their lives in front of three masked gunmen.

The hostage-takers claimed to be from a group calling itself “Al Qa’ida in the land beyond the Sahil”. For terrorism watchers the group’s name was entirely new. But their tactic was depressingly familiar.

Across vast swathes of the Sahara, the kidnapping of westerners has become frighteningly commonplace. More often than not the finger is pointed at Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a violent Islamist group that was chased out of North Africa and now operates in the lawless Sahara desert regions of Niger, Mali and southern Algeria.

But what made this particular hostage video remarkable was that the two victims – Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara – had been taken from Birnin Kebbi, a town in north western Nigeria. It was the first time a group supposedly associated with Al Qa’ida’s global ideology had carried out a successful kidnap in Africa’s most populous nation.

The group’s choice of name seemed to relish that fact. Sahil is an Arabic word that means “shore coast” and refers to the semi-fertile strip of land where the Sahara desert meets the savannah. The group’s new name was chosen to announce that Al Qa’ida now had a presence beyond the Sahara.

Whether that claim is true or not is difficult to judge. Agence Nouakchott Informations stated that it had spoken to members of AQIM who said that “Al Qa’ida in the land beyond the Sahil” were a group inspired by their goals rather than directly affiliated with them. Nonetheless security officials have looked with alarm at the increasingly bold tactics violent Islamists have begun to employ in northern Nigeria.

Boko Haram, a once poorly organised indigenous militant group, has carried out a string of coordinated attacks in Nigeria one of which, on the UN compound in Abuja last year, used a complicated shaped charge car bomb that showed an unusual technical prowess. The fear is that Boko Haram has made contact with and is learning from its militant allies to the north.

At the same time, however, the strength and reach of AQIM is sometimes overplayed. Over a two day period in November six European tourists were kidnapped from three towns in Mali. One of the hostages, a German who resisted, was shot dead. AQIM happily took responsibility for the kidnappings and was quickly blamed by terrorism experts.

Yet evidence suggests the hostages were more likely taken by Tuareg tribesmen who have fought various rebellions against the Malian and Algerian authorities over the decades. Witnesses said the kidnappers spoke the Tuareg language tamashek whilst Malian security sources hinted that a rebel Tuareg leader recently returned from fighting for Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi was behind the kidnappings.

Either way one thing remains certain. The Western Sahara, once a place that attracted intrepid western tourists, is becoming increasingly dangerous. If that instability spreads to northern Nigeria it could be disastrous. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Start a Career as a Financial Markets Trader

£40000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Become a professional Trader a...

Recruitment Genius: Software Implementation Consultant

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Recruitment Genius: Service Desk Co-ordinator / Client Services Administrator

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Warehouse Assistant

£14807 - £15470 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manufacturer and supplier ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The era of graduates from the university conveyor belt is over

Hamish McRae
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks