| Jan-Mar 09 | Apr-Jun 09 | Jul-Sept 09 | Oct-Dec 09 | Jan-May 10 | Jun-Dec 10 | Jan-May 11 | Jun-Dec 11 |

[Dehai-WN] Jamestown.org: Hot Issue - Revolutionary Roadshow: Libyan Arms and Fighters Bring Instability to North and West Africa: Part One

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2012 00:05:51 +0100

Hot Issue — Revolutionary Roadshow: Libyan Arms and Fighters Bring
Instability to North and West Africa: Part One

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 0 Issue: 0

February 8, 2012 02:15 PM Age: 4 hrs

frelation_pi1%5Bauthor%5D=153> Andrew McGregor

Part One: The Libyan Pandemonium

Executive Summary:

A year after the eruption of Libya’s spontaneous revolution, there are few
signs of progress towards establishing internal security or a democratic
government. Real power lies in the hands of well-armed militias with little
inclination to disarm or demobilize and the ruling Transitional National
Council (TNC) has been reduced to holding its meetings in secret to avoid
bottle-throwing, grenade-hurling demonstrators. Amidst this turmoil come
increasingly louder demands for a Shari’a regime as the old regime’s looted
armories and former soldiers fuel new insurrections in the Sahel/Sahara
region. Even as neighboring Mali descends into a new round of rebellion that
threatens to become an all-out civil war, Niger and Algeria are struggling
to find ways to break the wave of violence at their borders.

The alarming developments on the Libyan periphery inspired a special two-day
meeting of foreign ministers and intelligence chiefs from Mali, Algeria
Mauritania and Niger in Nouakchott in late January. These officials also
invited their counterparts from Nigeria and Burkina Faso to discuss the
rising “terrorist threat” in the Sahel/Sahara region and the possibility of
ties between AQIM and Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants (AFP, January 23; PANA,
January 24; Nouvel Horizon [Bamako], January 24).

 Libya’s Political Chaos

In some ways it is proving difficult to distinguish between the new and old
regimes in Libya as reports emerge of widespread torture and consequent
deaths in detention centers run by the new military security agency and
various militias. The UN estimates some 8,500 Libyans are held in
militia-run prisons in and around Benghazi that have no external supervision
(Telegraph, January 26). Libyan and UN authorities admit that they do not
even know where all the detention centers are in Libya (AFP, January 25).

The ruling TNC has been forced to meet in secret after their Benghazi
offices were stormed by protesters who tossed home-made grenades, set part
of the building on fire and pelted TNC chairman Mustafa Abd al-Jalil with
empty bottles (NOW Lebanon, January 22; al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 25). Only
days earlier, the TNC deputy leader, Abd al-Hafiz Ghoga, was verbally abused
and manhandled by protesters who questioned the sincerity of his defection
from the Qaddafi regime (NOW Lebanon, January19). Ghoga’s subsequent
resignation was rejected by the TNC (AFP, January 30). The fact that these
incidents occurred in Benghazi, the TNC’s supposed stronghold, do not auger
will for the future success of the interim government. The TNC already
acknowledges it has little control over most of the country, which continues
to be largely administered by well-armed militias. A campaign on Libyan
social media seeks to undermine the transitional government with calls on
Facebook and Twitter for the overthrow of the TNC, which is described in the
messages as working for the return of the Qaddafi dictatorship (al-Sharq
al-Awsat, January 25).

Libya’s Muslim Brothers have already demonstrated their political savvy in
the creation of the new Libyan government by successfully demanding that
two-thirds of the new assembly’s seats be reserved for candidates from
political movements, a regulation that virtually guarantees the Muslim
Brotherhood a dominant role in the new government as one of Libya’s only
well-organized political movements (AFP, January 28). Restrictions on the
participation of former members of the government in the electoral process
automatically eliminate much of the Brotherhood’s opposition in contesting
seats for the assembly. Thousands of Libyans have joined street
demonstrations in Benghazi demanding the immediate implementation of Shari’a
and its incorporation into a new Libyan constitution (AFP/NOW Lebanon,
January 21).

Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib has recently warned of the danger
posed by Qaddafi loyalists who had escaped the Libyan revolutionaries: “This
is a threat for us, for neighboring countries and our shared relations”
(Reuters, January 20). However, recent reports that pro-Qaddafi fighters had
attacked a militia occupying the southern city of Bani Walid reveal how
easily these fears can be manipulated to repress political opposition.

Though militia statements indicated the Bani Walid fighters were Qaddafi
loyalists, the violence was in reality the result of anger over thefts and
arbitrary arrests committed by May 28 Brigade members that boiled over when
a number of armed Bani Walid residents arrived at the Brigade’s base to
demand the release of a local arrested by the militia. The Warfallah tribe,
Libya’s largest and the dominant group in Bani Walid, demanded that the
Brigade be disarmed and brought under Defense Ministry control (AFP, January
27). Though various militias had gathered around Bani Walid for a major
assault on the city’s alleged “pro-Qaddafi” elements, the TNC declined to
open a new round of fighting and instead sent Defense Minister Osama
al-Juwali (himself a commander in the Zintan Brigade militia) to negotiate a
settlement (Jordan Times, January 26). Libyan Interior Minister Fawzi
Abdelali later clarified the situation by denying the uprising against the
thwar (Libyan revolutionaries) was the work of pro-Qaddafi militants (NOW
Lebanon, January 23). The talks led to TNC recognition of a tribal-based
local government in Bani Walid, which should set an interesting precedent
for decentralized government as the TNC attempts to extend its influence in
post-revolutionary Libya.

Jordan is trying to alleviate the problem of rogue militias by undertaking
the training in Jordan of some 10,000 thwar as preparation for their
integration into Libya’s new military and security services (Jordan Times,
January 20). However, it may prove difficult to convince the gunmen to
abandon their new powerbases at a time when their armed presence will
guarantee them a share in the considerable revenues of a new, oil-rich
administration. Alternatively, Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has
offered to help Libya disarm its militias and integrate them into the new
national police and military units (BBC, January 8). Al-Bashir received a
warm welcome from the TNC in a mid-January visit to Libya, despite being
wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and
crimes against humanity in neighboring Darfur (Le Monde, January 19).

A New Tuareg Rebellion

The overthrow of the Qaddafi regime has had an enormous impact on Libya’s
southern neighbors, most notably in Mali. Much has changed in Mali’s arid
north since the leading Tuareg rebel, Ibrahim ag Bahanga, was killed in
mysterious circumstances on August 26, 2011 (see Terrorism Monitor,
September 16, 2011). [1] A prominent opponent of the political and military
domination of Mali by the Bambara (one of the largest Mandé ethnic groups in
West Africa), Ag Bahanga had been harbored by Qaddafi’s Libya after his
defeat by Malian forces aided by Arab and Tuareg militias in 2009 (see
Terrorism Focus, February 25, 2009). At the time of his death, it was widely
believed in Mali that Ag Bahanga was preparing a new rebellion with weapons
obtained from Libyan armories (Nouvelle Liberation [Bamako], August 17,
2011; Ennahar [Algiers] August 27, 2011). Ag Bahanga publicly opposed the
“intolerance preached by the Salafists” of AQIM and at one point even
proposed that his men be used as a mobile counterterrorist strike force (El
Watan [Algiers], August 29, 2011; see also Terrorism Monitor, November 4,
2010). Ag Bahanga was an active recruiter for Qaddafi’s loyalist forces but
later described the Libyan strongman’s death as an opportunity to advance
Tuareg efforts to create a new state, Azawad, composed of the three northern
territories of Mali; Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.

Since Ag Bahanga’s death, a new Tuareg independence movement has been formed
from a mixture of veteran rebels, defectors from the Malian Army and the
recently returned Tuareg veterans of the Libyan Army who arrived in northern
Mali in several heavily-armed convoys. The military commander of the
Mouvement National pour la Liberation de l'Azawad (MNLA – National Movement
for the Liberation of Azawad) is Colonel Muhammad ag Najim, a Malian Tuareg
formerly of the Libyan Army (Proces-Verbal [Bamako], January 30). According
to one report, each of the three major MNLA units is commanded by a pair of
officers, one a veteran of the Libyan army, the other a defector from the
Malian army (Jeune Afrique, January 24).

The military base at Aguel Hoc (Kidal Region) was attacked by the MNLA on
January 18 and again on January 24 (L’Essor [Bamako], January 26). Unlike
the raids that characterized past Tuareg rebellions, the intent this time
was to take and hold the town. As the MNLA poured reinforcements into the
fighting the government forces ran out of ammunition, forcing a complete
withdrawal from the town on January 27 (Reuters, January 27). Similar
attacks occurred simultaneously at Menaka and Tessalit. According to a
Malian military source, the assailants in Menaka were equipped with Katyusha
rockets, courtesy of the looted Libyan armories (AFP, January 19).

The MNLA appears to be conducting joint operations with a new Tuareg
Islamist movement. Iyad ag Ghali, one of the leaders of the Tuareg rebellion
of the 1990s has formed a movement demanding the institution of Shari’a in
Mali (Info Matin [Bamako], January 12; 22 Septembre [Bamako], January 12).
By doing so, Ag Ghali, who remains powerful in Kidal Region, has introduced
an Islamist element to the traditional ethnic-nationalism that has fueled
past Tuareg uprisings. Ag Ghali claimed it was his new Islamist movement,
Harakat Ansar al-Din, that was most responsible for the January 18 seizure
of Aguel Hoc (Sahara Media [Nouakchott], January 19).

It may have been Ag Ghali’s group that Mali’s Defense Ministry was
referring to when it claimed units of AQIM jihadis had joined the MNLA in
the assault on Aguel Hoc (AFP, January 26; al-Jazeera, January 27). By the
end of January, Bamako was claiming the attack on Aguel Hoc was the combined
work of AQIM, the MNLA and “a group linked to religious fundamentalists”
(most likely Ag Ghali’s Ansar ad-Din) (L’Essor [Bamako], January 30). A
Paris-based representative of the MNLA, Moussa ag Acharatoumane, told
journalists that he rejected the government’s claim his movement had been
joined by AQIM jihadis: “We’ve heard all this before. Every time Mali finds
itself unable to battle our fighters, the Malian government tries to link us
to terrorists. We reject all forms of terrorism. Our intention is to get rid
of the drug traffickers and AQIM from our soil” (AP, January 27; Reuters,
January 27).

A Malian army counterattack directed from the Gao headquarters of General
Gabriel Poudiougou succeeded in briefly driving off the Tuareg occupying
Aguel Hoc and Tessalit, with the reported loss of 45 to 50 insurgents
including Colonel Assalat ag Habbi, a deserter from the Malian military, to
the loss of two dead government soldiers (L’Essor, January 23; Maliba Info
[Bamako], January 19). [2] However, the army’s success was short-lived, as
it was not long before MNLA fighers returned to the towns, inflicting heavy
losses on government forces.

The Tuareg widened the rebellion on January 26 by attacking tow ouposts more
than 500 miles apart; Anderamboukane in the east and Lere in Mali’s
northwest, taking the latter without a fight after a small government
garrison was withdrawn (AP, January 26; Reuters, January 27). Reeling from
Tuareg attacks, the Malian military withdrew to Niafunke, which was then
promptly attacked and taken by the MNLA (Le Combat [Bamako], January 31).

With thousands of Tuareg and Arab refugees crossing into neighboring Niger,
there is alarm in the Nigérien capital of Niamey that the rebellion in Mali
may spread to the Tuareg community of northern Niger, which has a similar
volatile mix of well-armed, disaffected Tuareg returnees from the conflict
in Libya. Niger’s president, Issifou Mahamadou, appealed for an end to the
ethnic divisions that have plagued the Sahara/Sahel region: "Let us cease
shooting each other in the foot; let us stop stabbing one another. Let us
stop dividing ourselves, taking recourse to our ethnic groups, to our
region” (Tele Sahel [Niamey], January 24).

Andrew McGregor is Director of Aberfoyle International Security, a
Toronto-based agency specializing in security issues related to the Islamic


1. For a profile of Ibrahim ag Bahanga, see Andrew McGregor, “Rebel Leader
Turned Counter-Terrorist?: Tuareg’s Ag Bahanga,” Militant Leadership
Monitor, March 30, 2010.

2. Both the MNLA and the Malian Army issue reports of massive losses to
their opponents while reporting only minimal or no casualties to their own


Part Two will be continued in next week's Hot Issue.


      ------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Wed Feb 08 2012 - 18:06:05 EST
Dehai Admin
© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 1993-2012
All rights reserved