AFP reports on a disturbing trend in northern Mali, where al Qaeda-linked jihadists from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, Ansar Dine, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have been in control since February. Foreign jihadists from West African countries such as Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast are filling out the ranks of the jihadist groups. A Nigerien is identified as a combat commander. AFP also identifies Egyptians, Algerians, and Pakistanis among those operating in northern Mali:
Perhaps the most startling thing about these fighters along this frontier route is that nearly all of them are from sub-Saharan Africa rather than the Maghreb.
“Me too, I am surprised,” Nigerien Hicham Bilal, who is leading a katiba (combat unit) to Gao, admitted to AFP. “Every day we have new volunteers. They come from Togo, Benin, Niger, Guinea, Senegal, Algeria and elsewhere.”
Since all of them want to go to war, Bilal said, the fighters are no longer divided into separate Islamist movements.
“We are all mujahedeen,” he declared. “Here, there’s no more MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) or AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).”
A young Ivorian, clearly a new recruit, boasted: “We are ready for battle. We are waiting for the French or African troops to arrive.”
And residents of Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, report that
two training camps for new recruits have been established, according to AFP.
Seven months after the jihadist alliance seized northern Mali, the United Nations, the European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and countries such as Algeria are still debating on whether to deploy forces to northern Mali.
Unfortunately, this delay has given the jihadists an opportunity to train and organize recruits from the West African nations. Don’t be surprised if you see reports that fighters from Mali are returning to their home countries to establish networks there.