Academic journal article Social Justice

The Sahara Emirate: Al Qaeda in the West, for the West?

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Sahara Emirate: Al Qaeda in the West, for the West?

Article excerpt

Introduction

TWO RELATED "TERRORIST" EVENTS OCCURRED IN THE FIRST WEEK OF OCTOBER 2010. One, on October 3, was the U.S. State Department's warning to U.S. citizens about the potential of terrorist attacks in Europe. In an advisory on its website, it added that current information suggested that al Qaeda and affiliated groups were planning attacks (Mohamed and Bohan, 2010). According to media reports, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany were singled out as the most likely targets. The second event appeared to be a response to the alarm raised by the United States. France's National Police chief, Frederic Pechenard, warned that French authorities suspected al Qaeda's North African branch, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), of plotting a bomb attack on a crowded target.

France's alarm predated the U.S. warning by some time. Whereas the U.S. alert alluded to extremists linked to Pakistan, French concerns were specifically directed to AQIM activities. In November 2009 (almost a year earlier), Richard Barrett, a former member of British intelligence and the U.N.'s highest-ranking official responsible for monitoring al Qaeda and the Taliban activities, said that although attacks by al Qaeda and its operatives were decreasing in many parts of the world, the situation was worsening in North Africa. He was referring to the activities of AQIM in the Sahel region of southern Algeria, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania) After AQIM claimed on July 24, 2010, to have executed a French hostage, 78-year-old Michel Germaneau, France and Mauritania issued declarations of "war against AQIM" in language reminiscent of George W. Bush's declaration of a "war on terror." Mauritania was a party to the declaration because on July 22 the two countries had launched joint military raids into the Malian Sahara, ostensibly to free Germaneau. The raids were an unmitigated disaster. No trace of Germaneau was found and six or seven members of AQIM were killed. Two days later, AQIM announced that it had executed Germaneau in retribution for the raids and the killing of its members.

France was taking the AQIM threat extremely seriously by the time the United States issued its October warning. French counterintelligence officials had already declared that terrorists tied to AQIM--and not Pakistan--were France's No. 1 security threat and that at least six AQIM-related cells had been dismantled across Europe in recent years. On September 16, four days before five French hostages were abducted in Niger, Bernard Squarcini, head of the Direction centrale du renseignement interieur (DCRI), France's counter-espionage and counterterrorism intelligence agency, warned that "the risk of a terrorist attack on French soil has never been higher."

After Barrett's warnings at the end of 2009, AQIM has been portrayed and has emerged as a serious terrorist threat, both in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb and in Europe. The U.S.-initiated security alert of October 3 highlighted Pakistan, while North Africa was the center of Europe's concerns. A brazen Washington Post headline read, "Al Qaida in North Africa Seen as Key Europe Threat." According to the article, "a potentially greater menace [than Pakistan] lies just across the Mediterranean...[in] the well-organized and financed Islamic terrorists from al Qaida's North African offshoot" (Ouali and Charlton, 2010). In the United States, Rudolph Atallah, former Director of Africa Counterterrorism in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and now one of thousands of self-appointed "security analysts," confirmed that "we've known [for years] that AQIM has capabilities to project outwards outside of Africa."

These two related events are particularly serious, not because of the al Qaeda threat, but because both, in slightly different ways, have been fabricated. In the case of the October 3 alert, it took precisely four days for European intelligence officials to denounce publicly the U. …

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