Persons and groups in Mali

Source material is from a Joshua Hammer article, “When the Jihad Came to Mali“, in the New York Review of Books, March 21, 2013 edition.

Hammer is quoted extensively. While not all the events he describes are pleasant, his writing is a joy to read.

Mali – population almost 16 million, lies “in the Sahel—the arid belt that extends across North Africa—was widely viewed as a gentle if very poor democracy, a favorite of low- budget tourists and world music fans alike. The Festival in the Desert, a kind of African Woodstock in the dunes near Timbuktu, drew thousands of Western and local visitors every January.”

Following this backpacker line, Hammer says, “I pulled into Mopti, by the Niger River, which was once favored by backpackers but has now fallen on difficult times. Once-popular cafés such as the Restaurant Bar Bozo—noted for its views of sunset over the river—had shut down, following a series of kidnappings and killings of Westerners a year ago.” If LSW is not mistaken, Robert Kaplan (whatever one might make of him) has written something to the effect that everywhere backpackers have flaunted their Western upbringings, disaster has followed. But LSW is not at all for sure Kaplan has said any such thing.

Interestingly, “Timbuktu itself, in the last few years, underwent an unlikely renaissance as a cultural oasis in the Sahara, with half a dozen libraries that preserved a trove of Arabic manuscripts from a millennium ago that had recently been rediscovered.” In this respect, LSW thinks of Doris Lessing’s two novels “Mara and Dann” and “The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter” libraries long buried in the sand figure significantly.

The country is extremely poor. beset by drought, radical Islam and subject to armed rebellions (four armed rebellions by the Tuareg population since 1963).In addition, “The Sahara also became a sanctuary for outlaws—including narcotraffickers, cigarette smugglers, and, in the last ten years, jihadists bent on creating a Caliphate across the desert.”

Iyad Ag Ghali “a burly Tuareg whose black-bearded face is well known in the country. A former diplomat, smuggler, and hostage negotiator, Ghali had now taken on a new identity: the founder and commander of Ansar Dine, or Defenders of the Faith, a radical Islamist organization allied with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a force financed partly by the ransoming of Western hostages.”

Here is a longer look at Ghali: “Iyad Ag Ghali first rebelled against the state in 1990, when he and Tuareg followers from the northeast Malian town of Kidal attacked Malian military bases across the Sahara. But in 1991, he flew to Bamako and signed a peace deal. For years “everybody respected him because he kept the peace,” said Manny Ansar, a Tuareg music promoter from Timbuktu who had a long friendship with the former rebel. Ghali, who was then a moderate Muslim, and Ansar bonded over music. “He loved Malian music, he’d even written a song for [the Tuareg group] Tinariwen, he went to their concerts, he smoked cigarettes,” Ansar told me”

But then, “Around 2005, however, a new wave of fundamentalism began sweeping the country. Ghali fell in with a group of Pakistani Salafists who had come to Mali to win adherents.”

Mokhtar Belmokhtar: “former Mujahideen in Afghanistan, and an ex-fighter for the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria—the most brutal group to battle Algeria’s secular regime during the 1990s civil war.”

It should be noted that the Algerian civil war is the subject for an extended study in itself. For instance, this quote from an Aljazeera article: “…the GIA was a tool created by the Algerian secret services to turn opinion – both in Algeria and among its Western allies – against political Islam.” Further along in the article, “Several Algerian witnesses and human rights organisations have accused the Algerian military of deliberately escalating the violence with false flag operations, but their voices have long been drowned out” This false flag take is not limited to Aljazeera by any means. But to implicate the false flag motive is to invite accusations of ‘conspiracy theorist’ and nutcase. Nonetheless, these theories should be investigated with an open mind.

Belmokhtar went on to organize “kidnappings in Mali of Westerners for ransom and oversaw a lucrative cigarette-smuggling business—an operation that earned him the nickname “Mr. Marlboro.”” In 2007, with the approval of the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahir, he and other leaders in GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) changed the name of the group to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Tuaregs – “nomadic Berber people who live in the interior Sahara region of North Africa”

Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative – 500 million dollar program under which the U.S. trained and supplied select elite Malian troops