Bringing Down the West: Kémi Séba and the Pan-Africanist Revolution

Andrew McGregor

December 5, 2019

An unforeseen consequence of Western intervention against African terrorist groups has been the revitalization of pan-Africanism, an ideology that maintains indigenous and diaspora Africans share a common history and destiny as a unified people free of Western “domination.” Though pan-Africanism has been roundly criticized for its belief that the diverse peoples of Africa share a common race and culture, its proponents have taken leading positions in recent demonstrations in West Africa and the Sahel demanding the withdrawal of Western (especially French) troops and the creation of new monetary systems that are not tied to European or American economic systems.

Kémi Séba

Among the most prominent of these new pan-African leaders is the French-born activist Kémi Séba. Intellectually unpredictable and politically mercurial, Kémi Séba has dallied with or espoused a number of intellectual and philosophical trends that have played or continue to play a major role in shaping the security picture in Africa and Europe.

Early Life

Kémi Séba was born to Beninese parents in 1981 in Strasbourg, France, as Stellio Gilles Robert Capo Chichi.

In his youth, Séba travelled to the United States, where he was influenced by Louis Farrakhan’s black supremacist Nation of Islam (NoI) (BBC, August 30). Founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad in Detroit in 1930, the NoI shares some beliefs with Sunni Islam, but differs on several essential theological points, leaving it generally unrecognized as a form of Islam by orthodox Muslims. In recent years, the NoI has grown closer to the Church of Scientology and its teachings.

Following his return to France, Séba joined the French branch of the NoI at age 18, though he did not appear to formally convert to Islam at this time. Séba was also influenced by the Marxist-based studies of decolonization produced by Martinican psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon.

In an interview with the Nation of Islam’s Final Call newspaper, Séba stated that the “key to the resurrection of Black people throughout the world” is “the teachings of [the second NoI leader, 1934-1975] the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, today taught by the leader of us all, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan” (Final Call [Chicago], March 7).

From Neo-Paganism to Islam

After visiting Egypt in his twenties, Séba became spokesman for the Parti Kemite, a movement formed in 2002 and based on Ancient Egyptian thought and religion.

Followers of Kemetism spend an inordinate amount of energy engaging in intellectual disputes with long-dead 19th century scholars whose works have long since been dropped from the curricula of respectable universities. The works of these earlier writers, some of whom suggested the Ancient Egyptians were “white Caucasians,” survive mainly due to the insistence of Kemetists, who maintain that they continue to represent the views of modern, scientifically trained Egyptologists. Rejecting scholarly approaches to Ancient Egyptian linguistics, history or archaeology, few Kemetists are familiar with contemporary Egyptological literature, which typically acknowledges the “African” and indigenous origins of Ancient Egypt (with the constant input of regional influences), but does not accept the popular Kemetic view that the Ancient Egyptians, Nubians, Carthaginians and other ethno-cultures of Northern Africa were related to or identical with the Bantu peoples of West Africa. In its extreme form, Kemetists claim that Egyptologists, who, in their view are exclusively “white,” deliberately mutilate or destroy evidence proving the “Black African” origin of Ancient Egypt.

Cheikh Anta Diop

Kemetists rely on a mix of Black nationalism, esoteric spiritualism and the works of revisionist historians such as Senegal’s Cheikh Anta Diop, British academic Martin Bernal and Khalid Abdul Muhammad (1948-2001), an American member of the NoI until his expulsion from the movement after a 1993 speech that referred to Pope John Paul II as “a no-good cracker,” labelled Jews as “bloodsuckers” and called for the murder of all white South Africans (Chicago Tribune, February 18, 2001). Despite Diop’s centrality to Kemetic thought, Séba has personally rejected his work as invalid due to the Senegalese scholar’s marriage to a white woman (Le Monde Afrique, September 1, 2017).

Kemetism may be classed as a form of neo-paganism as it can involve the worship of Ancient Egyptian gods. There are disputes within the movement whether it can accept Black Christians or Muslims. According to Kémi Séba, “Three Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have cursed Blacks from the beginning, through the curse of Ham. These monotheisms have structured all thought in the broad sense by considering Blacks as inferior” (Le Figaro, October 1, 2007). [1]

Tribu Ka and Anti-Semitism

Séba’s critical view of Jews is largely influenced by a 1991 NoI publication entitled The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews. Though much derided for its highly selective use of sources, the work’s central thesis that Jews and Zionists gained financial power through investment in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade has gained traction in certain quarters.

In 2004, Séba formed the Tribu-Ka, a French version of Farrakhan’s NoI blended with elements of Kemetism, such as Séba’s leadership role as the guarantor of ma’at, the Ancient Egyptian conception of truth, order and justice.

Tribu Ka is a short form for the Atenian Tribe of Kemet, Aten being the image of the Ancient Egyptian sun god as a solar disk, later imposed (unsuccessfully) as the sole god of Egypt by King Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty. Nonetheless, anti-Semitism proved to be the core dogma of the Tribu Ka.

Séba used the internet to post anti-Semitic messages, including some accusing Zionists of creating AIDS, leading to his arrest in September 2006 and calls from Jewish groups to ban his website (European Jewish Press, September 19, 2006).

When Tribu Ka was banned by the French Ministry of the Interior in July 2006, it was quickly replaced by a new formation known as Génération Kémi Séba (GKS). The move did not fool authorities, who banned the GKS and awarded Séba a one-year suspended sentence for his efforts. A further arrest followed in February 2007 for calling a public official “Zionist scum.” The result was five months imprisonment for criminal contempt. Undeterred, Séba formed yet another group called Jeunesse Kémi Séba, likewise banned in June 2009.

On May 27, 2008, Séba led some 50 followers armed with bats and other weapons to a heavily Jewish district of Paris to “defend the interests of Blacks.” The mob shouted anti-Jewish slogans and threatened bystanders, leading to an investigation of the group by the Ministry of Justice. Séba maintained that “It is not anti-Semitic to defend the interests of blacks. When a Jew breaks a fingernail, the whole state apparatus has a broken arm!” (Le Figaro, October 1, 2007).

Séba has accused international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) of being controlled by Zionists “who impose on Africa and its diaspora living conditions so excremental that the concentration camp of Auschwitz can seem like a paradise on earth” (Causeur [Paris], July 6).

After his release from prison in July 2008, Séba announced his conversion to Islam and fled to Senegal. Séba also joined the newly-formed Mouvement des damnés de l’impérialisme (MDI – Movement of the Damned by Imperialism) as its secretary-general and later president. The MDI, self-described as anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist with a focus on internet activism, attracted Holocaust deniers and formed a sympathetic association with Lebanon’s Hezbollah (Le Monde, September 23, 2008). Séba eventually resigned as president of the MDI in July 2010.

Séba’s spiritual views, encompassing both Kemetic beliefs and Islam, are also strongly influenced by Guénonian Islam, also known as “Traditionalism.” Derived from the works of French convert to Islam René Guénon (1886-1951), Traditionalism combines Western esoteric traditions with Islamic Sufi philosophies. This unorthodox approach has found little resonance in the Islamic world but is popular with some Western intellectuals who have converted to Islam. [2]

Séba has written four books: Supra-négritude (2013), Black Nihilism (2014), Obscure Époque – fiction géopolitique (2016) and L’Afrique libre ou la mort (2018). Black Nihilism was described by a Senegalese reviewer as “a porridge of thought,” in which “activism is substituted for thought, virility for strength of argument,” while the author levels men and women on the sole pretext of a common skin color, an “inverted racist cliché” (SenePlus, May 8). Senegalese journalist Racine Assane Demba has denounced Séba’s works as expressions of black supremacism, particularly over white people (Le Monde Afrique, September 1, 2017). African critics of Séba’s ideas and intellectual approach are regularly derided by his supporters as puppets of Paris.

Séba takes inspiration from revolutionary leaders such as Burkina Faso’s late president, Thomas Sankara (Facebook)

Séba has spoken approvingly of the dictatorships of the late Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso) and Mu’ammar Qaddafi and their refusal to relinquish power before both were killed, explaining: “As long as you fight for your country so that your country can access a certain number of things, [dictatorship] does not bother me” (BeninWebTV, April 8).

Séba and the New Black Panthers

After his time with the MDI, Séba was appointed head of the French branch of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) by Malik Zulu Shabazz (a.k.a. Paris Lewis), chairman of the NBPP from 2001 (after taking over from founder Khalid Abdul Mohammed) to 2013. Shabazz, best known for his extreme and often crudely expressed hatred for Jews and Zionists, gave Séba a new name, Kemiour Aarim Shabazz. Most surviving members of the original Black Panther Party reject the NBPP’s claim to be a successor to their movement.

Fighting Françafrique

Séba moved to Senegal in 2011, where his ideas and rhetoric found resonance in academic and media circles. In Europe, however, Séba was coming to be regarded as a toxic presence, beginning with his expulsion from Switzerland in 2012 for inciting violence.

Séba was arrested during a Paris visit in September 2014 after making a public appearance at a theater commonly used by his friend, controversial anti-Jewish comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. The activist was detained for violating the terms of a 2009 suspended sentence (AFP, September 1, 2014).  Séba has also worked with Dieudonné’s associate, right-wing ideologue and filmmaker Alain Soral, who has been convicted on charges of anti-Semitism (Causeur [Paris], July 6).

In 2016, Séba launched a new NGO, Urgences panafricanistes (Panafrican Emergencies), with himself as chairman. According to Séba: “We are neither communists nor nationalists nor liberals. We are Pan-Africanists. We are developing a new path, that of traditionalism mixed with an understanding of geopolitics” (BeninWebTV, December 13, 2017).

Séba claims Urgences panafricanistes is financed by soccer players, including French-Martinican Nicolas Anelka (a friend of Dieudonné who was cited for making anti-Semitic gestures on the field), French-Senegalese Demba Ba and “many African footballers who are friends” but cannot allow their commitment to be known (Le Monde, October 30, 2017).

One of the main ambitions of the group is the elimination of the Communauté Financière Africaine franc (CFA franc), a currency used by 14 former French African colonies. The CFA franc was created after World War Two for use in France’s African colonies. Today, it is the last colonial-era currency in use in Africa, though it is now pegged to the Euro and backed by the French treasury, where member nations must deposit half their foreign exchange reserves. The 14 countries that use it benefit from monetary stability and protection from inflation.

In March, Séba identified several reasons for his struggle against the CFA franc; according to him, the currency is far too strong for local economies, destroying competitiveness. “When you are told that you are independent and that the representatives of the Bank of France have the right of veto in your banks… the adage says that the one who controls you economically, will control you politically” (Yeclo.com [Abidjan], March 28). Similar points have been made by prominent Senegalese anti-French activist Guy Marius Sagna.

Kémi Séba burns a CFA Banknote in Dakar (Jeune Afrique)

On August 25, 2017, Séba was arrested on a complaint from the Central Bank of West African States after publicly burning a bank-note for 5,000 CFA francs ($8.39) six days earlier in Dakar, Senegal. Though acquitted ten days later on a technicality (the relevant law cited destruction of “banknotes” rather than “a banknote”), he was deported to France on September 6 after being declared “a serious threat to public order” (Le Monde, September 6; Senego, October 16).

Séba was now becoming an undesirable in much of West Africa. In March 2018, he was expelled from Guinea, where he had hoped to address a conference. In August of the same year he was ejected from Togo. Séba was expelled from Côte d’Ivoire to Benin in March 2019 after expressing harsh criticism of President Alassane Ouattara’s defense of the CFA franc (including a description of the president as a “voluntary slave”) and attempts to hold a conference against “French colonialism” that authorities said posed a potential risk of unrest (Jeune Afrique, March 27; SeneNews, April 8; Le Monde, March 29). The activist was arrested once his plane touched down in Cotonou, Benin, and interrogated regarding potential connections to Russia, China and Venezuela, questions that had already been asked by the security forces of Côte d’Ivoire. Séba took to Facebook in response: “You put me in prison, I come out stronger. You expel me from a country, I come out stronger” (Jeune Afrique, March 27).

Allesandro Di Battista tears up a fake 10,000 CFA franc banknote on Italian television.

On January 20, 2019, Allesandro Di Battista, one of the leaders of Italy’s populist Five-Star Movement (M5S), tore up a fake 10,000 CFA franc banknote on Italian television while denouncing French “neo-imperialism.” On the same day, M5S president Luigi Di Maio accused France of “preventing development” in countries using the CFA currency, adding that French policies are contributing to massive migrant flows across the Mediterranean. Following a diplomatic scandal, Kémi Séba emerged on Facebook days later to reveal “a well-kept secret,” namely that he had visited Five-Star leaders in Rome in September 2018, where he provided them with documents concerning Françafrique (the French sphere of influence in Africa) and the CFA franc. Séba claimed that this visit was the origin of the Five-Star attacks on France, predicting that: “What African leaders are unable to do, other non-African leaders will do, under our urging, until we ourselves take power in our countries.”  The M5S would only confirm that a “frank exchange of views on Europe and Africa” had occurred with Séba (La Nouvelle Tribune, January 22; RFI, February 2; Le Figaro, February 4).

In the face of moves by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to develop its own currency (the Eco), French Minister of the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire announced in mid-October that France was open to “an ambitious reform” of the CFA franc. [3] Séba denounced the statement, saying Le Maire was “spitting once again in the face of African youth” (BeninWebTV, October 16).

Relations with Russia

Alexander Dugin

Séba was invited to Moscow in December 2017 by controversial Neo-Eurasian ideologue Alexander Dugin, one of the most important influences on Kremlin policy in Putin’s Russia and the target of U.S. sanctions related to the Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine. Taking its inspiration from the Eurasian political philosophy developed by Russians of the 1920s, Neo-Eurasianism, in its most reductionist form, advocates the development of a Russia-centered Eurasian empire based on traditional values, anti-modernism and opposition to Western liberalism. As such, proponents of Neo-Eurasianism are prepared to seek common ground with anti-Western Pan-Africanists such as Kémi Séba. Neo-Eurasianism also incorporates elements of Slavic neo-paganism (rodnovery), similar to Séba’s Afro-centric embrace of Egyptian neo-paganism.

Séba described Dugin as “the most important theoretician and political advisor in Russia” and said their discussion “focused on metaphysics and geopolitics. We shared our view that neither communism nor liberalism nor nationalism can bring salvation to our respective peoples” (BeninWebTV, December 13, 2017).

Moscow is fully aware of Séba’s importance to African anti-colonial and anti-French movements and invited him to attend the October 23-24 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, where Séba continued his denouncements of France (YouTube, October 24). In the lead-up to the summit, Séba expressed his preference for a Russian presence in Africa: “Russia will never be our messiah; the only messiah of Africa is the African people themselves. But because we cannot live in autarky for the moment, Russia is better as a partner than France…” (BeninWebTV, October 2). Russia is believed to have an interest in playing a part in the development of a new ECOWAS currency intended to replace the CFA franc.

Conclusion

Based on an intellectual fallacy, namely the common identity and goals of all Africa peoples whether in Africa or the diaspora, pan-Africanism is vulnerable to entanglement with other ideologies, some of which are based on similarly shaky foundations. In the Soviet era, pan-Africanism became closely identified with Marxist thought and socialist politics. Currently engaged in a broad effort to renew Russian influence in Africa, Moscow will undoubtedly use pan-Africanism or any other useful ideology to achieve its goals. A recent statement from Kémi Séba demonstrates the growth of a radical rejection of the West among pan-African ideologues:

Dear Neocolonialist French, you live your last hours. The New African generation is ready to stop your plundering of our motherland. We stand in solidarity with the French Proletariat… but against its oligarchy that plunders us (Facebook, September 14, 2019).

Notes

  1. The Curse of Ham (son of Noah) refers to a biblical passage, Genesis 9:20-27, that is often used to explain the existence of black people (though the passage makes no reference to race or skin color) and the reason for their servitude to the descendants of the other sons of Noah. It was later used to provide justification for the existence of slavery.
  2. ISIM Newsletter, 7/01, International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, n.d., https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/15605118.pdf

This article first appeared in the November issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Why Mozambique Is Outsourcing Counter-Insurgency to Russia: Hidden Loans and Naval Bases

Andrew McGregor

November 4, 2019 (Part One of this article was published on October 29, 2019)

At the heart of Mozambique’s reinvigorated relationship with Moscow (see EDM, October 29) is a financial scandal that almost ruined the country. Specifically, corrupt elements in the southeast African state’s Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) government and the Serviço de Informaçao e Segurança do Estado (SISE, Mozambique’s intelligence agency) secretly arranged for $2 billion in loans from foreign commercial banks for three state-owned firms without parliamentary approval in 2013–2014. Guaranteed by the government, loans from Russia’s VTB Bank and Credit Suisse were made to EMATUM, Proindicus and Mozambique Asset Management (MAM). The scandal severely undermined Mozambique’s currency and GDP growth as well as resulted in the imposition of strict new conditions on further International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank assistance. It also discouraged further foreign investment even as Maputo struggled to find up to $2 billion to finance its share of development of LNG reserves off Cabo Delgado (Macauhub.com.mo, October 18). Moscow’s VTB Bank is demanding repayment of its loan (over $500 million) by the end of the year (Clubofmozambique.com, September 9).

Mozambican Troops Inspect Terrorist Damage in Cabo Delgado (PetroleumEconomist)

As Mozambique’s state security forces—the Forças de Defesa e Segurança (FDS)—proved incapable of dealing with the lightly-armed terrorists in the north, Maputo began a search for military alternatives. Initially, Erik Prince’s Dubai-based Lancaster Six Group (L6G) private security firm was in competition with Russia’s Wagner private military company (PMC) and Eeben Barlow’s South African Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection International (STTEP) for security contracts in Cabo Delgado, with Prince promising to eliminate the terrorists in three months in return for a share of oil and natural gas revenues (Issafrica.org, November 20, 2018; Macauhub.com.mo, October 18, 2019). Prince also indicated he was interested in forming partnerships or making investments in the three state-owned firms involved in the hidden loan scandal in deals expected to lead to maritime security operations in the gas-rich Rovuma Basin (Deutsche Welle—Português Para África, June 4, 2019).

On August 20, Russia forgave 95 percent of Mozambique’s debt to the Russian Federation during a Russian-Mozambican business forum. Though the forum encouraged continuing growth in bilateral trade, some Mozambican businessmen expressed concern over the consequences of dealing with Russia while it remains under Western sanctions for its annexation of Crimea (Agência de Informação de Moçambique, August 22). Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi also encouraged Russia’s Gazprombank (specializing in financing oil and gas projects) to help invest in liquid natural gas (LNG) projects in the Rovuma Basin (Agência de Informação de Moçambique, August 22). Rosneft, a publicly-owned Russian energy firm, has three licensed exploration blocks in Mozambique and is seeking more.

Russian Cargo Plane Unloads Military Supplies at Nacala International Airport, September 26, 2019 (ClubofMozambique)

Prince and Barlow lost out in the security competition; in late September 2019, reports emerged of armed Russians, possibly from Wagner PMC, arriving in the northern cities of Nacala and Nampula (both in Nampula province, immediately south of Cabo Delgado), allegedly accompanied by drones and helicopters (see EDM, October 15). The reports followed an admission by Mozambique’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation that Russia was providing military equipment for use in Cabo Delgado (Noticias ao Minuto, October 5). Another report suggested the men were Russian regulars, 160 in number, who intended to create a mobile military intelligence (GRU) base and a permanent Russian naval base (Observador, September 28). The Russian embassy in Maputo has denied the presence of Russian military personnel in Mozambique (Sapo 24, October 3).

Russia’s ambassador to South Africa, Ilya Rogachev, recently defended the use of Russian PMCs in Africa, claiming critics see Russia “through colonial eyes,” overlooking Moscow’s perception of African states as “equal and not junior partners.” Rogachev added that “private military companies are not necessarily bad… I think it depends on the goals that are assigned to these companies” (Daily Maverick, October 17).

LNG Fields in Mozambique’s Rovuma Basin (BankTrack)

Though Cabo Delgado is deeply impoverished, organized crime runs lucrative operations there, trafficking in heroin, timber, wildlife and rubies (Globalinitiative.net, October 2018; Enact Africa, July 2, 2018). For now it remains unclear whether the terrorist attacks in the region are more closely connected to radical Islamists from the north or organized crime using Islamism as a cover. The intention could be to create enough insecurity to delay the development of a legitimate industry that could threaten their operations. It has been suggested elsewhere that the insurgency is designed to facilitate the entry of private military firms into the region and enable their exploitation of local energy resources (Deutsche Welle—Português Para África, June 13, 2018). Local journalists attempting to investigate the violence have faced intimidation, detention and even torture from government security forces (Mg.co.za, April 25).

Moscow and Maputo signed an agreement simplifying the entry of Russian naval ships into Mozambican ports and a memorandum on naval military cooperation, on April 4, 2019. Mozambique’s defense minister, Athanasio Salvador Mtumuke, noted that “our national flag depicts the Kalashnikov rifle, which symbolizes the deep relations between our countries in the military area…” (Sputnik Brasil, April 5, 2018).

Alexander Surikov, Moscow’s ambassador to Mozambique, has emphasized the readiness of Russian energy firms to develop natural gas reserves in Mozambique’s north, adding, “We provide [military] assistance to them without threatening their neighbors and rattling the saber, we only do what our partners in Mozambique ask for” (TASS, October 25).

Port of Nacala (MacauHub)

Moscow undoubtedly has eyes on the port of Nacala, southern Africa’s deepest harbor, which lies roughly 200 miles south of the Rovuma Basin. The Mozambican town of Palma, close to the border with Tanzania, is slated for development as the main port for the Rovuma LNG industry, but it is unlikely to serve a dual purpose as a Russian naval base. Palma has suffered from attacks by the insurgents. Additionally, local demonstrations calling for a halt to LNG-related development until security is established have been dispersed by police gunfire (Agência de Informação de Moçambique, January 14). Mozambique’s most powerful neighbor, South Africa, will hold joint naval exercises for the first time with the navies of Russia and China in November.

Besides military support, the FRELIMO government is seeking strong allies as it battles internal dissatisfaction with electoral fraud, growing crime, emerging terrorism, internal political challenges and rampant corruption. While Russia may offer itself as a solution to some of these problems, the question is whether Maputo can overcome its traditional reticence to engage wholeheartedly with Moscow’s regional ambitions. Financial pressure and the lure of energy riches may be just enough to permit Russia to establish its long sought naval base in Mozambique.

This article was first published in the November 4, 2019 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor.

Why Mozambique Is Outsourcing Counter-Insurgency to Russia: The Historical Relationship

Andrew McGregor

October 29, 2019

A new government offensive in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province is the latest attempt to eliminate shadowy Islamist insurgents in a region whose untapped energy reserves could reverse the country’s economic misfortunes and the damage inflicted by decades of civil war and on-again, off-again insurgencies (Agência de Informação de Moçambique, October 21). Unsuccessful in such efforts over the last two years, there are now reports Mozambique has turned to Russia for military aid (see EDM, October 15). But why Russia, and what would Moscow expect in return? The arrival of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gamo in 1498 began a centuries-long colonization of a vast tract of southeastern Africa that came to be known as Mozambique. Modern resistance to the Portuguese began with the formation of the nationalist Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) in 1962. FRELIMO’s first attack on a Portuguese post occurred in Cabo Delgado in 1964. Pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist factions consolidated their control of FRELIMO in the late 1960s as a wave of mysterious deaths and assassinations eliminated nationalist leaders. This allowed the emergence of Marxist-Leninist hardliner Samora Machel as FRELIMO military commander.

Portuguese Patrol in Mozambique

By 1972, FRELIMO was being supplied with weapons from Moscow and Beijing. This allowed Lisbon to justify its campaign against the guerrillas by insisting they were controlled by the Soviet Union. Marxism was in many ways unsuited to Mozambique; the education of native populations was never a strong-point of Portuguese colonialism, and with most skilled labor done by Portuguese settlers, there was simply no working class to mobilize. Thus, the new socialist state that emerged with independence in 1975 was left open to the anti-Marxist armed opposition of the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO), supported by the fiercely anti-Communist states of Rhodesia and South Africa. FRELIMO’s poor performance against RENAMO later led to a major military intervention by Marxist Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia) to save the FRELIMO regime.

The wholesale departure of the Portuguese following independence left FRELIMO desperate for external assistance. Independence also brought about an important change in FRELIMO’s military approach. No longer fighting a guerrilla war, FRELIMO needed heavy weapons, air-defense systems and training in conventional tactics to fend off incursions by the Rhodesian and South African militaries. Unable to obtain such support from the People’s Republic of China, the party turned to Soviet, Cuban and East German sources, with thousands of military advisors arriving to train the Mozambican army and provide security for the president. Soviet arms, including 24 Korean War–vintage MiG 17 jet fighters flown by Cuban pilots, tended to be outdated Soviet surplus, much to the disappointment of FRELIMO leaders. This encouraged a lingering skepticism in the FRELIMO leadership regarding the depth of the Soviet commitment to a socialist Mozambique.

Samora Machel

In March 1977, Machel signed a 20-year Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union. As part of its Cold War struggle with the West, the Soviets clearly eyed Mozambique as an important strategic asset with warm-water ports and easy access to coastal east Africa and the Indian Ocean. However, FRELIMO worked hard to avoid cutting all ties to the West. As one leading FRELIMO member (hardline Marxist Marcelino dos Santos) explained, “We did not fight for fifteen years to free ourselves to become the pawn of yet another foreign power” (Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman, Mozambique: From Colonialism to Revolution, 1900–1982, Hampshire, England, 1983, p. 171).

In 1980, Mozambique opened an embassy in Moscow, only the second Mozambican embassy in a non-African country (Lisbon being the first). In the same year, Machel decreed that all FRELIMO officers must be Communists. Following a daring South African raid on an African National Congress base just outside of Maputo in January 1981, Soviet warships arrived in the Mozambican ports of Maputo and Beira with a warning of reprisals for further attacks (CSM, February 24, 1981). Nonetheless, Mozambique remained wary of committing itself to full support of Soviet foreign policy objectives. Soviet pressure to establish a new naval base in Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago was firmly rebuffed.

By the mid-1980s, relations with Cuba were in decline and Soviet intentions were regarded with greater suspicion, partly due to Soviet intrigues in Angola (another former Portuguese colony) and Machel’s death in a Soviet-piloted Tupolov aircraft in October 1986 (CSIS Africa Notes, December 28, 1987). Facing financial pressures elsewhere, the Soviets began to back away from their expensive commitment to FRELIMO even as the United Kingdom and the United States stepped in with military and economic support in the war against RENAMO.

Currently led by Ossufo Momade, RENAMO ended its long insurgency by signing a Peace and National Reconciliation Agreement in Maputo in August 2019 (Clubofmozambique.com, August 21), though the movement has yet to relinquish all its arms as called for in the agreement. While this brought a welcome respite to Mozambique’s seemingly endless internal warfare, a new and more mysterious insurgency was emerging in the nation’s north simultaneously with the discovery of massive natural gas deposits in the little-known region.

Cabo Delgado (top) – (ISS Africa)

Most of Mozambique’s Muslim minority lives in Cabo Delgado, especially amongst the Makua people and the Swahili culture of the coast. Moderate Sufism, rather than radical Salafism, is the dominant strain of Islamic worship. The Portuguese made Roman Catholicism the official religion of the colony, but, during the war of independence (1964–1974), Portugal grew more accommodating of Islam to prevent Muslims aligning themselves with the secular rebels. The post-independence Marxist state was less accommodating—Machel always wore his shoes when entering a mosque and once informed a gathering of Muslims that “God is a pig” (Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman, Mozambique: From Colonialism to Revolution, 1900–1982, Hampshire, England, 1983, p. 50). Muslims were increasingly treated as second-class citizens, and the anti-FRELIMO Cabo Delgado Front launched a short-lived, low-level insurgency shortly after independence.

Cabo Delgado’s quiet poverty was interrupted by the offshore discovery of vast natural gas fields by US energy firm Anadarko in 2010. Further exploration revealed what could be the third-largest reserves of natural gas in the world (Eia.gov, May 2018). Newfound wealth attracted new insurgents, and a previously unknown group claiming to be Islamists launched its first attack on civilians in the region in October 2017, killing 40 people (Daily Maverick, October 27, 2017).

This new terrorist group called themselves Ahlu Sunna wa’l-Jama’a (ASJ, a.k.a. Ansar al-Sunna), though they are popularly known as “al-Shabaab,” despite having no apparent ties to the Somali Islamist movement of the same name. Since then, the group has carried out multiple atrocities against the civilian population. In one recent case, responsibility was taken by the Islamic State organization (Sábado, September 29, 2019).

This article was first published in the October 29, 2019 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor

Falling off the Fence: Russian Mercenaries Join the Battle for Tripoli

Andrew McGregor

October 8, 2019

Russia’s so-far ambiguous approach to Libya’s internal conflict, one of reassuring both sides of its continued support, has begun to shift with the deployment of Russian mercenaries backing “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar on the front lines of the battle for Tripoli. Despite Moscow’s search for deep-water ports on the Mediterranean coast, control of oil supplies to Europe, influence over migrant flows to Europe from sub-Saharan Africa, and preference in massive reconstruction contracts, the Kremlin has still refrained from offering Haftar unequivocal support in his attempt to conquer Libya and create a family dynasty.

Russian Mercenaries in Southern Tripoli (Libya February TV)

Haftar first began seeking Russian assistance in 2015 after being impressed by Russian military operations in Syria and promised “oil, railways, highways, anything you want” in return for military aid and diplomatic support in his battle with Tripoli’s Presidential Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations (Meduza, October 2, 2019). Moscow declined any official military support at that time, opting instead to unleash its private military contractors (PMC), beginning with the arrival of the RSB Group in 2017. Haftar met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Wagner PMC boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in Moscow in 2018 (Novaya Gazeta, November 9, 2018; YouTube, November 7, 2018). Russian officials insisted Prigozhin was at the meeting only in his capacity as caterer (RIA Novosti, November 11, 2018). But Wagner PMC personnel subsequently arrived in Libya in March of this year to carry out repairs to Russian-made military equipment (Janes.com, September 13, 2019).

A number of important documents related to Wagner PMC activities in Libya were obtained in September by the Dossier Center (funded by former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky) and Russian news portal The Project, in cooperation with the Daily Beast news agency (The Project, September 12). One of the more interesting documents was written or modified by Pyotr Bychkov, a trustee and African expert in Prigozhin’s Fund for the Defense of National Values (FDNV). The document outlines Haftar’s efforts to exaggerate or publicize his Russian military connection in order to awe his enemies. Haftar comes under criticism for using extortion and bribes (some $150 million provided by the United Arab Emirates) rather than military activity to ensure his campaign to bring southwestern Libya under his control (FDNV, April 10).

Russia is reportedly seeking a role for Muammar Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed during the 2011 revolution (Alarabiya.net, December 30, 2018; Bloomberg, September 25, 2019). Two Russian operatives working for the FDNV were arrested by the GNA in May on charges of political interference related to meetings with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi (Nation News, July 5). Documents obtained by the Dossier Center revealed Russian operatives were unimpressed by Saif al-Islam, noting that he had “a flawed conception of his own significance” and would require full-time Russian minders if used as a political frontman. Hedging their bets, the Russians created Facebook pages promoting both Qaddafi and Haftar. While plans to help rig elections should Haftar run in the future were outlined, it is clear that the Russians were similarly unimpressed with the field marshal (The Project, September 12).

Shortly after Haftar’s Tripoli offensive began, Russia moved to veto a UN Security Council statement calling on the LNA to halt its advance on Tripoli (France24, April 8). Haftar arrived in Moscow three days later. United States President Donald Trump made a secret phone call to Haftar on April 15 (made public on the April 19), reversing US support for the UN-recognized PC/GNA government without consulting the State Department.

A Russian briefing report dated April 6 noted that LNA officers appealed to the commander of the Russian PMC, Lieutenant General A. V. Khalzakov, for deployment of a Russian drone to find a GNA artillery battery that had inflicted serious casualties on LNA forces. The appeal was denied (FDNV, September 13).

GNA forces targeted an LNA operations room in Souk al-Sabat (35 kilometers south of Tripoli) on September 9, killing a reported seven Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries. The men were believed to be operating a howitzer battery firing on Tripoli (Anadolu Agency, September 19; Libya February TV, September 9; for the Ukrainian role in Libya, see EDM, September 6).

Russian and Sudanese mercenaries fighting for Haftar were reported to have made gains in southern Tripoli this month before being repulsed by the Islamist Sumud Brigade, led by Salah Badi (Libya Observer, September 21). Photos of Russian Wagner PMC mercenaries began to appear on local social media on September 22 (Libya Observer, September 22).

(Citeam.org)

A GNA strike on an LNA position on the Sabea frontline (south of Tripoli) on September 23 reportedly killed four LNA commanders and several Russian mercenaries (Libya February TV, September 23). The airstrike was carried out with a precision not commonly found in GNA air operations and was likely the work of Turkish Bayraktar drones operated by Turkish pilots in Tripoli. The Russians were allegedly caught in the open as they prepared to lead an assault on GNA positions (Meduza, October 2). Sources consulted by Meduza offered estimates of between 15 and 35 Russians killed in the airstrike, though an anonymous source in the Russian defense ministry claimed only one Russian had been killed. Meduza, an investigative news service specializing in Russian affairs, based its revelations on interviews with Wagner PMC fighters and commanders as well as Federal Security Service (FSB) and interior ministry forces veterans with close ties to Wagner Group.

 Vadim Bekshenyov (Citeam.org)

Further operations in the area uncovered personal belongings apparently abandoned as Russian fighters retreated. The possessions of one Vadim Bekshenyov, a veteran of the Syrian conflict, included a Russian bank card, Russian ID, printed Russian Orthodox icons, Syrian currency and a photo of a medal awarded by the Russian government for service in Syria. Evidence suggested the mercenary was a former marine in Russia’s Pacific Fleet (Defense Post, September 26; Facebook.com, September 25; Facebook.com, September 25; Citeam.org, September 27).

Russian Medal for Syrian Service on Bekshenyov’s Phone (Citeam.org)

The covert nature of the Wagner Group’s Libyan operations is reflected in the fact that neither the PMC nor the Russian government notified families of combat deaths or returned to them the bodies and decorations of deceased fighters (the usual practice) (Meduza, October 2). So far, Russian mercenary assistance has been unable to move the frontline in southern Tripoli. Russian failure in this campaign would be a blemish on Russian arms, so the Kremlin will be certain to continue to deny all knowledge of private Russian troops in Libya while keeping other political options open—however unpalatable.

This article first appeared in the October 8, 2019 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor

Power and Rebellion in Chad: A Profile of Rebel Leader Mahamat Nouri Allatchi

Andrew McGregor

September 4, 2019

General Mahamat Nouri Allatchi in France (DR via al-Wihda)

At 72 years of age, Chad’s General Mahamat Nouri Allatchi has survived numerous battles, headed a series of rebel movements, and evaded repercussions for being a close associate of one of Africa’s worst mass murderers. Now, however, this veteran soldier and politician is facing prosecution in France for alleged war crimes.

With nearly 200 ethnic groups and a roughly 60-40 split between Muslims and Christians, governing Chad is a formidable task. Since the murder of its first president in 1975, Chad’s Christian south has played only a minimal role in national politics, which is now dominated by nomadic and semi-nomadic Muslims of Chad’s north and east, particularly the Tubu, Tama, Arab, and Zaghawa peoples. The latter, despite representing only roughly 3% of the population, have become disproportionately powerful. [1]

Complicating the issue of governance is Chad’s status as one of the most corrupt and impoverished nations on earth. The discovery of over one billion barrels of oil inside Chad has not eased a seemingly intractable humanitarian crisis – despite the best efforts of the World Bank, much of the money that has flowed through Chad’s capital of N’Djamena has been spent on arms or disappeared into the accounts of the country’s leaders. Most notable of these is Chad’s president, Idriss Déby Itno, who has not relinquished power since seizing it in 1990.

In this stagnant political atmosphere, scores of rebel movements have emerged in the last three decades, though few seem to have any kind of plan other than to simply take power for themselves. As noted by one observer,

In Chad, armed violence is one of several modes of intervention in the political field. From the point of view of those who resort to such actions, engaging in politics by force of arms is neither more nor less commonplace than engaging in politics without arms, even if the results are not the same. [2]

Early Career

Mahamat Nouri was born in 1947 at Faya Largeau as a member of the Anakaza sub-group of the Gura’an, part of the larger Daza Tubu ethnic group.

Nouri worked in northern Chad as a postal official until sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when he joined a northern rebel movement fighting the southern-dominated government of François Tombalbaye, who was attempting to institutionalize the animist rituals of his southern Sara people (Jeune Afrique, February 11, 2008).  Nouri served in the Second Army of the Front de libération nationale du Tchad (FROLINAT – National Liberation Front of Chad) alongside two future Chadian presidents, Goukouni Oueddei (Tumaghera clan of the Daza Tubu), and Hissène Habré (an Anakaza Gura’an, like Nouri). When a 1976 dispute between Oueddei and Habré shattered the movement’s unity, Nouri followed Habré into a new group, the Forces Armées du Nord (FAN).

General Félix Malloum

Tombalbaye was killed in a coup d’état led by southerner General Félix Malloum (Sara) in April 1975. Nouri was given the sensitive job of negotiating the Khartoum peace accord on behalf of FAN in 1978. The accord created a coalition government with General Malloum in which Habré was made Prime Minister and vice-president. Nouri’s loyalty to Habré was rewarded by his appointment as Interior Minister in the new government. The coalition collapsed in February 1979; Malloum resigned in March and a new national unity government was formed with Goukouni Oueddei at its head.

Chad entered a period of multi-sided armed political struggle, with Oueddei and Habré as the main contenders. Oueddei appealed to Libyan leader Mu’ammar Qaddafi for military assistance in December 1980, enabling the president to force Habré and his troops out of the capital. Eventually, the FAN returned and took control in 1982, installing Habré as president. Nouri was given the post of Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. By 1984, he was a leading figure in Chad’s sole legal political party. [3]

Nouri played a leading role as a military commander in the August 1987 Battle of Aouzou that helped end the so-called “Toyota War” (1986-1987) and expel Libya forces from northern Chad, where Qaddafi had tried to seize the allegedly uranium-rich Aouzou Strip (an International Court of Justice decision awarded Aouzou to Chad in 1994).

Nouri somehow evaded the consequences of his close association to the much-hated Habré. It is difficult to imagine that Nouri, Habré’s confidant and defense minister, could have remained unaware and uninvolved in the Habré regime’s reign of terror, during which some 40,000 people were executed or died in detention (Le Monde/AFP, May 17, 2013). Habré received a life sentence for various crimes against humanity from an African Union court in Senegal in 2016.

In Government

One of Habré’s leading generals, Idriss Déby Itno (Bideyat Zaghawa), led a column of rebels across Chad from their Darfur base in December 1990, forcing Habré to flee the country, never to return. Displaying remarkable political survival skills, Nouri joined the new administration in several leading posts, including Minister of Health, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Livestock, and Minister of Defence from 2001 to 2003. After a bout of ill health, Nouri was made ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2004 to 2006.

Nouri resigned his post in 2006 after a dispute over funding of the Chadian embassy and Nouri returned to the field as a rebel and leader of the newly founded and mostly Gura’an Union des forces pour le progress et la démocratie (UFPD – Union of Forces for Progress and Democracy) (Echos [N’Djamena], May 11-14, 2006).

First Assault on N’Djamena, 2006

Desertion of ANT officers and men from the Armée nationale tchadienne (ANT – National Army of Chad) together with their arms and equipment began to plague the army, with many joining the armed opposition. With support from Sudan, which was feuding with the Déby regime, rebels of the Forces unies pour le changement (FUC – United Forces for Change) coalition led by Mahamat Nour launched a mass attack on N’Djamena in April 2006. Mahamat Nour (not to be confused with the subject of this profile) was the leader of the largely Tama Rassemblement pour la démocratie et la liberté (RDL – Assembly for Democracy and Liberty), which later became the core of the FUC.

The French garrison in N’Djamena provided Déby with important logistical and intelligence support that helped save the Déby regime. With support from Khartoum, the rebels formed a stronger coalition in October 2006, the Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement (UFDD – Union of Forces for Democracy and Development). The coalition included Nouri’s own UFPD, part of the FUC and the Conseil démocratique révolutionnaire (CDR – Revolutionary Democratic Council), led by Acheikh Ibn ‘Umar Sa’id (Awlad Rashid Arab and, like Nouri, a former minister in Habré’s government) (Le Figaro, October 15, 2007). Only hours after issuing its founding statement, 800 men and 70 vehicles left their bases inside Darfur and launched attacks in eastern Chad on Goz Beïda, the capital of Dar Sila, and Am Timan, capital of the Salamat department (Chad is divided by departments, similar to states or provinces in other countries)  (Le Figaro, October 26, 2006). The UFDD was a potent coalition, but failed to bring in many Tama and Bideyat rebels who remained loyal to Mahamat Nour.

The coalition soon expanded to a total of 3,000 men from a variety of ethnic groups, including the Gura’an, Arabs, Bideyat, and Maba. [4] Schisms in the rebel camp continued, however, and Acheikh Ibn ‘Umar left in May 2007 with most of the UFDD’s Arabs to form the UFDD-Fondamentale together with veteran Arab rebel ‘Abd al-Wahid Aboud Makaye (Salamat Arab).

In November 2006, the UFDD was joined by Arabs of the Concorde nationale du Tchad (CNT – National Concord of Chad), led by Hassan Saleh al-Gaddam “al-Jineidi” (Hemat Arab) and Bideyat of the Rassemblement des forces democratiques (RaFD – Assembly of Democratic Forces) to carry out attacks on the towns of Am Zoer and Biltine in eastern Chad. Nouri’s forces went on to carry out a raid on Abéché, occupying the capital of Wadai province for 24 hours. [5]

Timan Erdimi (Jeune Afrique)

The RaFD was a Bideyat rebel movement led by twin brothers Tom and Timan Erdimi, who are also cousins (sometimes described as nephews or even uncles of the president). The brothers were formerly close to Déby and held various cabinet posts and important posts before abandoning the government in favor of rebellion in December 2005. [6]

Khartoum continued to show confidence in Nouri by supplying his group with vehicles, arms, and other war materiel. Nouri disclosed that the UFDD strategy would now involve attrition of the Chadian army through hit and run attacks, with a final assault on N’Djamena when the time was right. [7]

Peace talks were sponsored by Mu’ammar Qaddafi and mediated by Goukouni Oueddei. Nouri and other rebel leaders signed a peace agreement at Sirte in October 2007. The agreement was short-lived, however, with the UFDD and three other rebel movements launching new attacks in eastern Libya in what was widely described as the worst fighting in Chad in over 20 years. Both sides suffered heavy losses and Nouri’s UFDD, hit hard by heavy arms acquired with Chad’s new oil wealth, was forced to withdraw and regroup (AFP, December 9, 2007).

Second Assault on N’Djamena, 2008

With Khartoum’s encouragement, the UFDD, the FUC and the Rassemblement des forces pour le changement (RFC – Assembly of Forces for Change, the reorganized RaFD) of Timane Erdimi created a unified but ultimately three-headed command to mount a new assault on N’Djamena. The RFC’s Zaghawa troops remained the object of suspicion by other rebels for belonging to the same ethnic group as the president and his closest supporters.

In late January, 2008, the rebels set off from their bases in Darfur in three columns to depose the Déby regime, crossing 1,000 miles of desert with 2,000 men and approximately 300 vehicles. At Massaguet, 78 kilometers from N’Djamena, the rebels repelled an attack by the Chadian Army in bitter fighting that killed the ANT chief-of-staff, General Daoud Soumain. Fighters belonging to the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur rebel movement led by Zaghawa and supported by Chad, joined Déby’s forces and withdrew into the capital with the defeated army. The Chadian rebels arrived in N’Djamena the next day, February 2, 2008, and quickly took most of the city.

The president was still unwilling to give up even though the battle reached the gates of the presidential palace on February 3, but this did not prevent Nouri and Timane Erdimi from quarreling in the midst of the unfinished battle over who would have supreme command over a new regime. This dissension at the top and an unwillingness by the rebels to take orders from anyone not belonging to the same movement weakened the assault as French forces again supplied logistics and intelligence to the Déby loyalists. Chadian helicopters operated from the French-protected airport, using French targeting information and (allegedly) Algerian mercenary pilots to pound rebel positions, driving them out of the city (TchadActuel, February 17, 2008). Chadian armor took a heavy toll on the lightly-armed rebels; Nouri later remarked: “Pick-ups can do nothing against a tank” (RFI, February 2, 2009). Hundreds of dead civilians, rebels, and soldiers covered the streets of the capital while hospitals tried to deal with thousands of wounded.

Deby holds his first press conference after the February 2008 attack on N’Djamena (Jerome Delay/AP/SIPA)

The failure of a UFDD column to arrive in time with ammunition and reinforcements due to JEM attacks also contributed to the collapse of the final push on the presidential palace (Sudan Tribune, February 8, 2018). In August 2008, Nouri was one of 11 rebel leaders sentenced to death in absentia by the criminal court of N’Djamena for his part in the assault on the capital (Le Monde/AFP, August 15, 2008).

The failure in N’Djamena prompted the formation of yet another rebel alliance with Nouri at its head – the Alliance nationale (AN). Joining the UFDD were the UFDD-F, the Union des forces pour le changement et la Démocratie (UFCD – Union of Forces for Change and Democracy, mostly Arabs from Wadai under Colonel Adouma Hassaballah Jedareb), and the Front pour le salut de la République (FSR – Front for the Salvation of the Republic), led by General Ahmat Hassaballah Soubiane, an Arab of the Mahamid branch of the Rizayqat tribe. However, Adouma and many of the Arabs soon left the coalition to form yet another movement, the Union des forces de la résistance (UFR – Union of Resistance Forces) over concerns Nouri was too tightly controlled by Khartoum (AFP, March 12, 2008).

Déby responded to the attack on N’Djamena by supporting a May 2008 JEM strike on Khartoum that nearly toppled President Omar al-Bashir. When the attack failed, Chad moved half its army (9,000 men) and three Russian-built attack helicopters up to the Sudanese border in anticipation of a retaliatory attack by the SAF (Le Monde, May 13, 2008).

Exile

Khartoum and N’Djamena finally tired of the very dangerous game they were playing and reached a rapprochement in 2010 that brought an end to support for cross-border insurgent groups. No longer needed, their leaders were sent away. Nouri was deported from Sudan to Qatar in 2010 and left for France a year later, where he was eventually joined by his deputy, Mahamat Mahdi ‘Ali. [8] Erdimi headed to exile in Qatar while many rebels headed north to lightly-governed southern Libya or south to join Muslim Séléka rebels in the northern Central African Republic (CAR).

Nouri criticized the conditions of his residence in France, noting that “although I am sentenced to death in my country, I am not entitled to political asylum [in France]. Proof that the relations between Paris and Déby are good!” (Paris Match, April 23, 2016).

Nouri was one of four Habré associates for whom the Chadian Justice Ministry issued international arrest warrants in May 2013. The rebel leader protested (unconvincingly) that he had only dealt with international relations and managed Air Tchad, asking: “Where have I committed crimes?” (Le Monde/AFP, May 17, 2013).

In 2015, Nouri sent Mahamat Mahdi ‘Ali to Libya to try to revive the UFDD. A member of the Kecherda sub-group of the Daza Tubu, Mahamat Mahdi recruited mainly from the Kecherda and the closely related Kreda, another Daza Tubu sub-group. With Nouri still in Paris, Mahamat Mahdi tried bringing the revived UFDD under his personal control, allowing them to be used as mercenaries by Misrata Islamists, but bloody clashes with Nouri’s Anakaza Gura’an supporters forced Mahamat Mahdi to leave the UFDD in March 2016 to form a new rebel group, the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad (FACT – Front for Change and Concord in Chad). [9] Nouri responded negatively to the creation of FACT, describing it as nothing more than “a group of mercenaries in the pay of Misrata whose mission is to establish the power of Libyan Islamists in Jufra [central Libya]” (Paris Match, April 23, 2016).

In a 2016 interview, Nouri noted that under existing conditions, another 2008-style drive on N’Djamena was unlikely. Bases in Sudan were no longer available and Libya was an unsuitable launching point. Nonetheless, he suggested Déby could count only on the Presidential Guard as “resistance” was growing in both civil society and the army (Paris Match, April 23, 2016).

France imposed financial sanctions for a period of six months on Mahamat Nouri on January 19, 2017 under a provision of the French Monetary and Financial Code that allows for restrictions on financial assets belonging to “persons who commit, or attempt to commit, acts of terrorism” (Le Monde, June 23).  Nouri insisted he had no funds to freeze and claimed he was the victim of a “politico-judicial cabal assembled from scratch by the French authorities” designed to deliver him into the hands of Chadian authorities (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], June 25, 2018).

Amidst growing concern over the activities of Chadian mercenaries in Libya, Nouri was among 23 Chadians for whom the Libyan Attorney General issued international arrest warrants on January 3, 2019.

After Chadian authorities reported the defection of 400 UFDD fighters to the government in March, Nouri responded that the real figure was “85 to 86,” the rest being either artisanal gold miners responding to a new ban on such work in northern Chad or army deserters turned rebel who wished to take advantage of an amnesty proclaimed in May 2018 (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], March 14). Some of the defectors were ambushed by a Daju militia known as the “Toro Boro” near the point where they were to rendezvous with Chadian Army forces just south of the Libya-Chad border, suffering seven dead  (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], March 9).

Arrest in Paris, 2019

Nouri was arrested by French police on June 17 after a two-year investigation by French prosecutors (Le Monde, June 23). Fellow exiles Abakar Tollimi and ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Abd al-Karim were arrested at the same time (the latter was subsequently released due to a lack of evidence).

Among other charges, Nouri was accused of the forced recruitment of combatants between 2005 and 2010, including minors (RFI, June 22). When questioned by a French judge over claims regarding the use of child soldiers in a UN report, Nouri responded that the children depicted in the report’s photos were actually southerners with no involvement in Nouri’s northern rebel movement, basing his identification on the absence of the “finer nose” of the northern people. His lawyer, Elise Le Gall, appears ready to exploit the difficulty experienced by outsiders in understanding the complex structure and organization of Chad’s rebel movements to move for a nullification of the indictment (Le Monde, June 23).

The case is being handled by the Office central de lutte contre les crimes contre l’humanité, les génocides et les crimes de guerre (OCLCH – Central Office for Combatting Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes), which operates under universal jurisdiction, allowing it to arrest and try individuals on French territory for crimes committed elsewhere (France24.com/AFP, June 17).

Conclusion

In early February, a column of UFR rebels (mainly Zaghawa and Tama) tried to cross through Tibesti into Chad after fighting as mercenaries in Libya’s internal conflicts since 2013. From February 3 to 6, the column was struck 20 times by seven French Mirage aircraft working out of N’Djamena and Niamey. The attempt to reinsert the rebels into Chad was shattered and as many as 250 fighters were captured by ANT forces with the intention of trying them as terrorists (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], February 9; RFI, February 7).

UFR rebels captured by ANT, February 2019 (Al-Wihda)

Though the UFR forces did not include the UFDD, the message was clear—France, which is using N’Djamena as headquarters for its counter-terrorist Operation Barkhane, is not prepared to tolerate any armed challenge to the Déby regime, its major African military partner.

The ANT, with active deployments against Islamist militants and other groups in Chad, Niger, Cameroon and the CAR, is badly overstretched at the moment, leaving Déby’s security reliant on the discreet support of the French. In this sense, Mahamat Nouri has become the victim of a greater struggle against Islamist terrorism in which Nouri and other Chadian rebel leaders have become disposable irritants.

Notes

[1] The Zaghawa consist of four sub-groups: the Zaghawa Kobe, who live mostly in Chad and form the largest Zaghawa group, the Zaghawa Wogi, who are split between Chad and the Sudan, the Bideyat, who are concentrated in the Ennedi Massif of northeastern Chad, and the Borogat, who are a mix of Zaghawa and Gura’an Tubu.

[2] Marielle Debos, Living by the Gun in Chad: Combatants, Impunity and State Formation, Zed Books, London, 2016.

[3] Samuel Decalo, Historical Dictionary of Chad, Scarecrow Press, 1987, p.236.

[4] Jérôme Tubiana, “La guerre par procuration entre le Tchad et le Soudan et la « darfourisation » du Tchad: Mythes et réalité,” Small Arms Survey, April 2008, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-12-Chad-Sudan-Proxy-War-french.pdf

[5] Ibid

[6] For the Erdimi brothers, see: “A Family Affair: The Erdimi Twins and the Zaghawa Battle for Chad,” Militant Leadership Monitor, July 30, 2010.

[7] Roy May and Simon Massey: “Chad: Politics and Security,” Writenet, March 2007, https://web.archive.org/web/20070612230327/http://www.unhcr.org/home/RSDCOI/46384cde2.pdf

[8] For Mahamat Mahdi ‘Ali, see: “Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, September 7, 2017.

[9] Jérôme Tubiana and Claudio Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble: State and Statelessness in the Chad-Sudan-Libya Triangle,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2017, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/SAS-CAR-WP43-Chad-Sudan-Libya.pdf

 

This article first appeared in the September 4, 2019 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Foreign Drones Take to Libya’s Skies to Shatter Military Stalemate

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, August 7, 2019

“Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar’s three-month old offensive to take Libya’s capital of Tripoli has bogged down, forcing Libya’s would-be ruler to look to air operations to break the impasse. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA, nominally representing the House of Representatives rival government in Tobruk) and the forces of the UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) have both turned to foreign-made and operated drones to advance their struggle for dominance. The fact that these drones violate a UN arms embargo and their operators are probably foreign nationals highlights the increasing proxy nature of the conflict in Libya.

Bloodbath in Murzuq

On August 4, drones likely operated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on behalf of the LNA targeted a meeting of some 200 local dignitaries gathered in Murzuq’s al-Qala district to discuss intercommunal violence. The result was 43 dead and more than 60 injured. The LNA confirmed the strike on Murzuq, but claimed it had targeted “Chadian opposition fighters,” a euphemism used by the LNA to refer to the indigenous Libyan Tubu, a non-Arab ethnic group found in southern Libya, northern Chad and eastern Niger. [1] The massacre followed an LNA airstrike in June that struck a migrant detention center in Tripoli, killing 44 migrants.

Chinese Drones over Misrata

Chinese Wing Loong II Drone (Dafz.org)

GNA forces in Misrata (north-west coast) announced the downing of one of the UAE’s Wing Loong II drones on August 3, adding that LNA warplanes unsuccessfully tried to destroy the drone before it could be retrieved by the GNA (Libya Observer, August 3, 2019). The drone was equipped with Chinese Blue Arrow 7 laser guided missiles, some of which were recovered by the GNA. The UAE has used the Chinese-built drones in Yemen and in last year’s LNA siege of Derna in eastern Libya. Misrata is a stronghold of anti-Haftar forces.

Wreckage of the UAE Wing Loong II Drone Downed Near Misrata (SouthFront.org)

The UAE was the first export customer for the Wing Loong II, which is comparable to the US General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, but sells for a fraction of the price ($1 to 2 million vs $30 million) (Dafz.org, November 10, 2018). The UAE’s drones deploy out of al-Khadim airbase in eastern Libya, which was expanded in 2016 to accommodate UAE air operations.

New Turkish Drones

Bayaktar TBII Drone System

On July 25, the LNA declared it had brought down a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone during an attack on al-Jufra Airbase, held by the LNA since June 2017. There was speculation that the craft may have been downed by one of the UAE’s Russian-made Pantsir S1 air-defense systems that have been spotted alongside LNA forces in Libya (SouthFront.org, July 25, 2019; Jane’s 360, June 19, 2019). The Bayraktar TB2, with a flight endurance of 24 hours and a payload of 150 kilograms, can carry out reconnaissance, surveillance and attack functions day or night. Twelve Bayraktar drones have been sold to Ukraine with another six purchased by Qatar (Daily Sabah [Istanbul], June 24, 2019). The GNA is believed to have obtained the drones in June or early July.

Destroyed Ilyushin Transports in al-Jufra (Avia.pro)

Two Ukrainian Ilyushin IL-76TD transports were destroyed in the drone strike on al-Jufra. The planes were two of five such transports belonging to Kiev’s Alfa Air and were produced between 1990 and 1992 (Libya Observer, July 28, 2019). The GNA also claimed to have destroyed ammunition depots and a hanger containing drones, though the LNA issued an unlikely claim that the aircraft were not delivering weapons, but were solely allocated to carry pilgrims to Mecca (Anadolu Agency [Ankara], July 26, 2019; Libya Herald, July 28, 2019).

Al-Jufra Region and Airbase (Libya Observer)

PC/GNA authorities claim al-Jufra Airbase is a gathering and provisioning point for mercenaries from Sudan and other nations involved in the assault on Tripoli as well as a launch point for foreign military aircraft (Libya Observer, July 30, 2019).  A spokesman for the PC/GNA’s military deployment (Operation Volcano of Rage) claimed the attack had killed 42 LNA members, adding that their artillery now had the Jufra airbase in range (Libya Observer, July 28, 2019).

Italian Commandos in al-Jufra

In retaliation for the strike on Jufra, Haftar’s forces struck Misrata airport with missiles the next day, the fifth such attack in 15 days (Libyan Express, July 27, 2019). After the strikes, the LNA declared that the raid had revealed the existence of an Italian military base, but the presence of Italian military personnel in Misrata has been known for several years.

Italy sent Special Forces units to Libya in August 2016 to support Tripoli’s efforts against Islamic State terrorists. The Italian deployment included members of the 9th Parachute Assault Regiment, the Italian Air Force, counter-terrorist specialists from the Carabinieri and commandos from the Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei, a unit of Special Forces frogmen named for Major Teseo Tesei, who died in a 1941 human torpedo attack on Malta (Italian Insider, August 11, 2016).

Italy announced in April that its forces would remain in Tripoli and Misrata despite the launch of the LNA offensive to take Tripoli and, eventually, Misrata. The current deployment is believed to consist of 100 personnel in Tripoli and another 300 in Misrata (Arab News, April 9, 2019).

A LNA drone struck Misrata’s Air Academy on August 6. The LNA claimed to have struck a military cargo plane carrying ammunition, but local GNA-affiliated forces insisted the plane was a civilian cargo plane that had landed only minutes earlier (Libya Observer, August 6, 2019).

UAE Russian-Made Pantsir S1 Air Defense System in Yemen – Now in Use by the LNA?  (Defense-Blog.com)

GNA-aligned General Osama Juwaili warned that that the airport at Bani Walid (southeast of Tripoli) could be targeted next if it continued to be used by “Haftar’s gangs” as a military base for LNA fighters and mercenaries after the LNA lost Gharyan to GNA forces (Libya Observer, July 30, 2019).

Outlook

It is unlikely that local Libyan forces are capable of operating the drones, suggesting an active military presence by both Turkish and Emirati air force personnel. Libya’s drone warfare illustrates the increasing internationalization of the Libyan conflict and its use as a proxy battleground. Perhaps most disturbing is the likelihood that Libya is also being used as a testing ground for new weapons technologies at the expense of its civilian population. The cynicism of the international community in its approach to Libyan bloodshed eight years into a seemingly interminable civil conflict hardly suggests that compromise and reconciliation will carry the day anytime soon. In the meantime, extremists and terrorists will make the most of the ongoing chaos to entrench themselves in Libya’s ungoverned regions.

Note:

  1. For more on the LNA’s conflict with the Murzuq Tubu, see: “Is Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army Carrying out Ethnic Cleansing in Murzuq?” AIS Special Report, July 20, 2019, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4476 .

Army for Sale: Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces and the Battle for Libya

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, August 4, 2019

RSF Patrol (al-Jazeera)

With their barely literate leader General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” in full control of Sudan (though nominally only number two in the ruling military council), Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary has attracted international attention through its brutal repression of civilian demonstrators seeking civilian rule. [1] Now an estimated 30,000 strong, the RSF is deployed in the cities of Sudan, the goldfields of Darfur, the northern borders with Libya and Egypt, the battlefields of South Kordofan and Blue Nile State and even in Yemen, where they serve as part of the Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi rebels.

Good Days for African Warlords: General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti”

Though Sudan has little interest in the internal struggle for control of Yemen, the RSF’s deployment of as many as 10,000 men since 2015 was clearly made in return for Saudi and Emirati cash badly needed to prop up the flailing regime of ex-president Omar al-Bashir. Following the coup that overthrew al-Bashir, Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) has accessed $500 million from the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with pledges of another $2.5 billion in commodities to follow. Both nations see military rule as an effective way of keeping Muslim Brotherhood members (known as “Ikhwan” in Sudan) out of the Sudanese government.

Mercenaries for Sale

The TMC and its new civilian partners are in need of Saudi funds to keep new waves of economic protests from breaking out. Thus, the deployment to Yemen continues, but with the precedent of soldiers-for-dollars already set, the TMC is looking for new revenue streams as well as ways to keep Darfur’s Arabs of military age busy abroad rather than pursuing grievances against Khartoum at home.

The answer? A May 17 $6 million contract between the TMC and Dickens & Madson, a Montreal-based firm run by former Israeli intelligence agent Ari Ben-Menashe. Among other things, the contract stated Dickens & Madson would counter unfavorable media coverage of the TMC and (presumably) the RSF, arrange a meeting between President Trump and TMC leaders, and, most ambitiously, create a union with South Sudan and a joint oil project “within three months.”  With only days to go before three months are over, no such union or joint project has emerged.

Dickens & Madson also pledged to obtain financing for the TMC from the United States, the Russian Federation and other countries, including “funding and equipment for the Sudanese military.” Most importantly for the cash-strapped TMC, was the intent to “obtain funding for your Council [TMC] from the Eastern Libyan Military Command in exchange for your military help to the Libyan National Army (LNA).” [2]

The New Qaddafi? Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (Reuters)

One thousand RSF members began arriving in eastern Libya in the last days of July, the beginning of a Libyan deployment that might eventually reach as many as 4,000 fighters. Their new employer is Libyan warlord “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, whose self-styled “Libyan National Army” (a loosely disciplined collection of militias) has spent the last few months in a so-far frustrated attempt to seize the Libyan capital of Tripoli from the UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA).

According to al-Jazeera, leaked documents revealed that the UAE began picking up Sudanese military personnel in military aircraft from Khartoum in May. The agency further claimed that Hemetti had recruited 450 additional Arab mercenaries from Darfur, Chad and Niger. According to a source, Hemetti specified they should be “light-skinned and speak Arabic” (al-Jazeera, July 24, 2019). Hemetti would have had connections with the Arab tribes in these lands from his days in the Janjaweed, when Khartoum invited regional Arabs to fill areas where indigenous African Muslims had been displaced by state-sponsored violence. The UAE is one of Haftar’s major backers, providing military air support from their eastern Libyan base in al-Khadim.

The RSF is expected to provide security for the Libyan oil facilities that are expected to provide the funds needed to buy the RSF’s services, enabling Haftar to concentrate his forces for a final push to take Tripoli from the collection of militias that have aligned themselves with the PC/GNA.

The Montreal Connection

Ari Ben-Menashe, who arranged the rental of the RSF, is an arms dealer with a checkered business career and a controversial claim to have played a central role in the Iran-Contra affair. Ben-Menashe served a year in an American prison for his role in supplying arms to Iran before being acquitted on the grounds that he was working under orders from Israel. After failing to obtain refugee status in Australia, Ben-Menashe moved to Montreal in 1993, where he obtained Canadian citizenship and set up the Dickens & Madson consulting agency, though his American partner was deported in 2008 to the United States, where he was wanted on multiple racketeering and fraud charges in two states.

While secretly working for Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe in 2002, Ben-Menashe helped implicate Mugabe’s main political rival in charges of treason. There are allegations that Ben-Menashe was paid for his services by a Zimbabwean drug lord who wished to maintain his cozy relationship with Mugabe. In 2014, Ben-Menashe signed a $2 million deal with Libyan warlord Ibrahim Jadhran to promote the latter’s attempt to create an autonomous Cyrenaïcan state in eastern Libya. As in other deals Ben-Menashe had with Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic, the former intelligence agent pledged to work towards obtaining economic and military support from Russia. The fixer thus encouraged an existing trend to greater Sudanese-Russian cooperation that began with a January 2019 draft military agreement between the two countries that could lead to “a Russian naval base on the Red Sea” (Sputnik, January 12, 2019; Sudan Tribune, January 13, 2019). [3]

Ben-Menashe moved on to another Libyan warlord in 2015, signing a $6 million contract with Khalifa Haftar. Besides promising to improve Western media coverage of Haftar’s campaign against Libya’s UN-recognized government, Ben-Menashe again agreed to seek grants from the Russian Federation “for security equipment and technical support.” Haftar’s campaign received a huge boost in April when Haftar discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts” with President Trump by phone. The White House followed up with a statement recognizing “Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” (Reuters, April 19, 2019). Despite multiple accusations of war crimes and human rights violations including summary executions of opponents and the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets such as hospitals, refugee centers and residential housing, Haftar has already received covert military and open diplomatic support from Russia, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. [4]

Hemetti’s Revenue Streams

Renting out young Darfuri fighters is a proven revenue source for Hemetti. Musa Hilal, Hemetti’s former mentor and Janjaweed commander, opposed the deployment to Yemen and encouraged Arab tribesmen in Darfur not to volunteer. Hilal also accused Hemetti and his patron, former Second Vice President Hasabo Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman (like Hemetti, a member of the Mahariya Branch of the Rizayqat Arabs), of siphoning off millions of dollars donated to Sudan by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in exchange for the use of the RSF in Yemen (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017).  Hemetti was reported to have been paid directly, and told a press conference he deposited $350 million in Sudan’s Central Bank, but was not clear on how much he may have kept for personal or political uses (African Arguments, August 1, 2019).

An RSF Column in the Desert (AFP)

An April 2018 New York Times investigation of the traffic in migrants through Sudan, based on separate and confidential interviews with known smugglers, suggested that the RSF was, according to the smugglers’ testimony, the main organizer of the cross-border trade, supplying vehicles and sharing in ransom revenues obtained from the detention of the migrants in Libya (NYT, April 22, 2019).

Hemetti’s control of much of Sudan’s newly discovered gold reserves (some of it wrested from Musa Hilal by force) provides him with the financial clout needed to make the former camel trader a candidate for Sudan’s presidency. Darfur, Sudan’s “Wild West,” is already producing enough gold to make it Africa’s third-largest producer, though a remarkable 70% is believed to be smuggled of the country via remote air strips.

Notes:

  1. For RSF commander Hemetti, see: “Snatching the Sudanese Revolution: A Profile of General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo ‘Hemetti’,” Militant Leadership Monitor, June 30, 2019, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4455
  2. The contents of the contract were revealed under the requirements of the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The document can be seen in full at: https://efile.fara.gov/docs/6200-Exhibit-AB-20190617-8.pdf
  3. For Russian mercenaries in Sudan and Russia’s search for a naval base on the Sudanese Red Sea coast, see: “Russian Mercenaries and the Survival of the Sudanese Regime,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 6, 2019, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4356
  4. For LNA war crimes, see: “Libya’s Video Executioner: A Profile of LNA Special Forces Commander Mahmud al-Warfali, Militant Leadership Monitor, July 6, 2018, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4214

Terrorism Will Justify Egypt’s Political Repression

Andrew McGregor

Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, August 6, 2019

Significance

Egypt recently extended its national state of emergency for an additional three months, the ninth time it has done so since April 2017. The state of emergency provides the president with extraordinary powers over all Egyptian media and the exercise of individual rights to movement and assembly.

Egypt is the Arab world’s largest and most influential state; attacks there on democratic norms and institutions whether by terrorist groups or the state have a direct impact on the direction of other Arab nations. How Egypt deals with extremist fighters returning from campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Libyan as well as its ongoing campaign against the MB will have repercussions throughout the Middle East.

Analysis

Six years after Egypt’s military overthrew the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, the nation faces a three-pronged terrorist threat from the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda (whose leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, is Egyptian) and militant offshoots of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The terrorists have multiple targets, including Christians, Sufi Muslims, politicians, civil servants and security personnel of all types.

President ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi used a July 23 speech to declare victory over the terrorists, stating their infrastructure and bases had been destroyed (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 23, 2019). The president’s announcement came only days after the Interior Ministry claimed it had broken up a major plot by the Muslim Brotherhood to incite riots and other violence in a campaign orchestrated through social media and satellite television channels.

Egyptian Immigration Minister Nabila Makram (CBC)

The Sisi regime has broadened its definition of terrorism to include most forms of political opposition. Independent reporting of terrorism issues in Egypt can bring about charges of supporting terrorism, with severe penalties. In an alarming statement, Egyptian Immigration Minister Nabila Makram used a July 23 speech in Toronto to casually suggest that anyone criticizing Egypt should be killed (Al-Jazeera, July 25, 2019).

Political dissent now equals terrorism, turning a significant and non-violent portion of the population into terrorists. As the number of individuals identified as “terrorists” by the state swells, it becomes harder to ever triumph over “terrorism.” Low-level insurgencies are common in authoritarian states and serve to provide justification for repressive measures. Hundreds of suspects at a time are processed through the justice system in mass trials. In the meantime, detainees are exposed to real terrorists in prison.

According to a 2018 report from the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), over 27,000 arrests have been made in al-Sisi’s war on terror, with half belonging to the MB and more than 11,500 detainees having no known affiliation to a terrorist group. This is in addition to more than 7,000 deaths in counter-terrorism operations, 95% of these being residents of North Sinai, where the MB has little influence (TIMEP, 2018, p.11).

Most Sinai Egyptians are Bedouin who are distrusted by the government, kept out of the security services and largely excluded from any but the most minor economic activity and development. Profitable tourist facilities in south Sinai that prohibit employment of local Bedouin have been built on land seized from Bedouin owners. Many of North Sinai’s 450,000 people have roots in Palestinian Gaza, just across the border, and see little reason to integrate with Egyptian society at large.

Demolition of Rafah by the Egyptian Army

Egyptian authorities have tried but failed to isolate the terrorist threat in northern Sinai by turning the region into an open-air prison where arbitrary measures prevail. Demolition crews have been hard at work demolishing buildings and homes and productive farms are razed. The city of Rafah (70,000 residents) no longer exists except as a memory in a new “buffer zone” established on the border with Israel. Services are nearly non-existent and departure from this armed quarantine can only be made by obtaining a special permit. These are hardly steps designed to encourage greater engagement by the local population in the anti-terrorism struggle.

IS has carried out a steady stream of ambushes, bombings and assassinations targeting security forces, Sufis and Christians. IS preachers have accused the Sufis of heresy, sorcery and cooperation with security forces to justify their mass murder. This includes a 2017 attack on the Rawda Sufi mosque that left over 300 dead after security forces ignored intelligence warning of the attack and were slow to respond once it had started (ICG, January 31, 2018).

Cairo claims to have killed some 3,000 terrorists in Sinai since the beginning of the insurgency, though this number is either inflated or includes innocent victims of security rampages and extrajudicial executions. An additional 9,000 residents have been arrested on suspicion of being members of the Islamic State or other terrorist groups.

The Egyptian Army has empowered local drug addicts and criminals by enrolling them as so-called manadeeb (“delegates”). Usually wearing masks and dressed in army camouflage, the manadeeb identify terrorist suspects (an easy way to take revenge on otherwise innocent residents) and participate in their interrogation and even summary executions (HRW, May 28, 2019).

IS targeting has forced nearly the entire Christian population of Sinai to depart for refuge in the Nile Valley, though they are still under threat from IS Wilayet Sinai terrorists who have expanded their operations to other parts of Egypt through attacks on tourists, diplomatic facilities and churches.

Terrorist cells have a very different composition elsewhere in Egypt. Many of the cells operating in the Nile Valley region are composed of well-educated middle class Muslim Brotherhood members or sympathizers. These members are not unemployed social outcasts or alienated from Egyptian society at large, a status that should alarm Egyptian authorities. The MB is highly resilient – it has endured persecution before, but is organized to survive these episodes.

Egyptian M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

While Egypt’s militants are largely restricted to weapons such as firearms, explosives, IEDs and suicide attackers, Egypt’s security apparatus has brought a wide variety of sophisticated weapons and equipment to bear, including advanced surveillance aircraft, Apache attack helicopters, F-16 fighters, Rafale multi-role fighters, mortars, M1 Abrams main battle tanks, artillery, missiles and a variety of infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers.

There is no improving economy to offer alternatives to terrorism. To the contrary, Egypt’s economy is struggling across the board, with major declines in foreign currency reserves, rampant unemployment, an industrial sector distorted by military involvement and a precipitous drop in investor confidence. The tourist industry, one of the nation’s largest employers, has been devastated by the impact of terrorism.

What Next

Al-Sisi’s supporters in parliament have introduced amendments to the constitution that will allow al-Sisi to remain in power until 2034. Egyptian political development is static, unable to break free from a cycle of generals turned politicians, from Nasser through Sadat and Mubarak to al-Sisi. This political stagnation will continue to foment opposition that can now find no legal form of expression other than violent means.

The majority of terrorist attacks in Egypt have targeted security forces rather than civilians, though there is a progression to more indiscriminate killings such as attacks on churches and mosques.

Impacts

  • Al-Sisi exploits his role as a front-line opponent of terrorism to gain Western tolerance for his rule, if not outright support.
  • Authorities insist the political violence within Egypt is supported by Egypt’s “enemies,” Qatar and Turkey in particular.
  • Egypt’s increasingly secret war on terrorism fails to engage the larger population.
  • Ayman al-Zawahiri has used the overthrow of Muhammad Mursi as proof that only violence can root out and destroy Egypt’s “deep state.”

Is Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army Carrying Out Ethnic Cleansing in Murzuq?

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, July 20, 2019

Tubu Rider in Murzuq

Deep in the desert of Libya’s southwestern Fezzan region is the ancient town of Murzuq, a small commercial hub and oasis in the midst of some of the world’s most difficult and energy-sapping terrain. At the moment, it is the scene of a bitter struggle between local fighters of the indigenous black Tubu group and Libyan National Army (LNA) forces led by “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, a former CIA asset now tentatively backed by Russia.  Haftar also enjoys military support from Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in his campaign to conquer Libya.

Murzuq is not an easy place to live – the town experiences extreme heat year round. In the current summer months, Murzuq has an average daily temperature of over 90º F and daily highs over 100º F. In the 19th century, Murzuq was infamous for a virulent and usually fatal fever that felled Ottoman authorities and European visitors alike. Despite this, Murzuq remains home to many members of the indigenous Tubu ethnic group, famous for their physical endurance and martial skills. The Tubu, ranging through southern Libya, eastern Niger and northern Chad, share a common culture but are split by dialect into two groups, the northern Teda and the southern Daza.

Murzuq at 14º E and 26º N.(Atlas of Reptiles of Libya)

Many Libyan Tubu have complained of “ethnic cleansing” by Libya’s Arabs and Arab/Berber tribes since the 2011 Libyan revolution, even though most Tubu sided with the revolutionaries against Qaddafi, who had revoked their citizenship and treated them as foreign interlopers despite their historical presence in southern Libya long before records were kept. In this, they stood apart from their Saharan neighbors and occasional rivals, the Tuareg, most of whom backed Qaddafi and played an important role in the dictator’s army.

Until recently, the non-Arab Tubu and Tuareg had observed a century-old non-aggression treaty, but the Tubu have endured recurring clashes with Arab tribes, most notably (but not exclusively) the Awlad Sulayman in Fezzan and the Zuwaya in the Kufra region of southern Cyrenaïca (eastern Libya, Haftar’s power-base). The overthrow of the Qaddafi regime and the subsequent failure to replace it with a unified government has exacerbated these ethnic tensions and revived the Arab canard that the Tubu are foreigners from Chad and Niger in need of expulsion.

(Nationalia.Info)

Murzuq is a strategically located city in the sparsely inhabited Fezzan, some 144 km south of the regional capital of Sabha, which has also been the site of battles between Tubu and Arab Awlad Sulayman factions since 2011. Unlike Sabha, with its Tubu minority, Murzuq is largely Tubu. Like many of the southern settlements centered on rare oases, Murzuq is home to an impressive Ottoman-era castle later used by Italian colonial garrisons.

Located on a route between nearly impassable and water-less sand seas, control of Murzuq is important to the control of Libya’s most productive oil fields as well as offering dominance of several trans-Saharan trade routes that must past through here. Italian-occupied Murzuq was the target of one of the Second World War’s most daring desert raids, with British and New Zealanders of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) joining Free French desert fighters to cross hundreds of miles of barren desert to launch a surprise attack on the Italian outpost. Italian losses were heavy, the aerodrome and its bombers shattered and the fort badly damaged by mortar fire before the raiders withdrew. General Leclerc’s Free French returned to claim Murzuq in January 1943, completing the Allied conquest of the Fezzan.

Haftar’s Offensive in Fezzan

“Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar leads the Libyan National Army (LNA), a loose coalition of militias ostensibly operating on behalf of one of Libya’s two competing government, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). In practice, the LNA serves as a vehicle for the advancement of Haftar’s personal agenda, which includes taking control of Libya and establishing a family dynasty. Though most Tubu support the rival and UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA, based in Tripoli), there are also Tubu representative in the HoR. Tubu support for the PC/GNA is not firm, as the community regularly complains of a lack of government support and services in the south. The region as a whole continues to suffer from economic decline, widespread unemployment, inadequate infrastructure and soaring crime rates. Smuggling and human trafficking present attractive alternatives to grinding poverty.

Haftar began his offensive in southwestern Libya in January 2019, with the cited objectives of securing the region and “protecting residents from terrorists and armed groups” (Libya Observer, January 19, 2019). More importantly, for Haftar at least, was the necessity of securing the volatile and loosely governed Fezzan before advancing on Tripoli to complete Haftar’s conquest of Libya and destruction of the UN-recognized government before elections scheduled for December.

Before launching the offensive, Haftar formed a southern battle group in October 2018 composed of the 10th Infantry Brigade, the Subul al-Salam Battalion (Kufra-based Salafists, mostly Zuwaya Arabs), and the 116th, 177th and 181st Battalions (Libya Herald, October 24, 2018).

As LNA forces advanced on southwestern Libya, anti-Haftar Tubu fighters responded by creating the “South Protection Force” (SPF). In its first statement, the SPF condemned the LNA’s “military aggression” and called for an investigation into the LNA’s use of Sudanese mercenaries (Libya Herald, February 7, 2019). Both rival governments have resorted to using rebels from Darfur and Chad (many of the latter being Chadian Tubu) who have taken refuge in southern Libya after being forced out of their home bases by government military operations. Haftar and the LNA typically refer to Libyan Tubu as Chadian rebels in need of expulsion from southern Libya.

Clashes against Tubu fighters in Ghadduwah oasis (lying roughly halfway between Murzuq and Sabha) began on February 1, leaving 14 killed and 64 wounded (Libya Observer, February 2, 2019). Fighting continued through the week as the LNA claimed it was clearing Chadian rebel movements from the area. However, observers and local Tubu claimed that the oasis’s Tubu residents were the real target, leading to a series of resignations of Tubu HoR members and officials citing racial persecution (Libya Observer, February 3; Libya Observer, February 6, 2019). LNA spokesman General Ahmad al-Mismari had a different view of the military operations, insisting “Our Tubu brothers fight with us” (AFP, February 6, 2019). The oasis was eventually turned into a base for regional LNA operations.

Ottoman-Era Castle in Murzuk, 1821 (George Francis Lyon)

Warplanes attached to the LNA (likely UAE in origin) carried out an airstrike on Murzuk on February 3, killing 7 and wounding 22. LNA spokesmen claimed the strike had targeted a gathering of the “Chadian opposition” (Libyan Express, February 4, 2019). On the same day, French warplanes attacked a column of 40 pickup trucks carrying Chadian rebels across the border back into northern Chad. According to the LNA, these fighters were fleeing the LNA offensive (AFP, February 6, 2019). [1]

Local Tubu were alarmed that much of the LNA force advancing on Murzuq was composed of Tubu rivals such as the Brigade 128 (Awlad Sulayman), led by Major Hassan Matoug al-Zadma, and the Deterrence Brigade led by Masoud al-Jadi (Libya Observer, February 2, 2019). Also figuring prominently in the LNA force were Darfurian mercenaries from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who had been driven out of Darfur by the operations of Sudan’s military and the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti.” [2] Murzuq HoR member Rahma Abu Bakr described the situation in Murzuq as “tragic” on February 4, saying the town was besieged by “tribal forces” (Libyan al-Ahrar TV [Doha], February 4, 2019).

By February 5, the LNA’s Tariq bin Zayid Brigade (Madkhali Salafists) was involved in clashes inside Murzuq as it prepared to mount an offensive on the Umm al-Aranib region, northeast of Murzuq. [3] At the same time, the LNA’s 141st Brigade was cutting off exit and entry points for armed groups within the town (Libya 218 TV [Amman], February 5, 2019). Stocks of fuel, food and medical supplies reached critically low levels under the LNA blockade. Tubu reluctance to negotiate with an LNA command composed of their tribal enemies and Sudanese mercenaries was stiffened by social media posts from individual members of the LNA force threatening the Tubu with genocide and expulsion from their traditional lands (Libya Observer, February 3, 2019).

Murzuq’s Old Mosque (foreground) and Ottoman-Era Castle as they appear today.

On February 8, the LNA announced it had carried out “violent and painful” airstrikes on three groups of “Chadians and their allies” near Murzuk (Defense Post, February 8, 2019). The next day, LNA aircraft struck the runway at nearby al-Fil oilfield just as a Libyan Airlines plane was about to leave for Tripoli with a load of sick and wounded people in need of treatment. Tripoli’s Presidential Council (PC) described the incident as “a terrorist act and a crime against humanity” and an attempt to deprive Libyans of their oil resources (Libya Observer, February 9, 2019).

Struggle for the Oilfields

A century-old peace agreement between the Tubu and the Tuareg that defined tribal territories did not survive the political violence that followed the 2011 revolution, with large clashes breaking out in the Tuareg-dominated city of Ubari, roughly 80 miles northwest of Murzuq.  A 2015 peace treaty brokered by Qatar that also included the Arab Awlad Sulayman was short-lived, though it was replaced by another agreement signed in Rome in 2017. However, Haftar’s intrusion into Fezzan and his alliance with the Awlad Sulayman brought an effective end to that treaty as well.

A chief objective for Haftar’s LNA in the south was control of the Sharara oilfield, Libya’s largest, capable of producing 315,000 barrels per day. Security at the facility was handled since 2017 by Tuareg fighters of Brigade 30, led by Ahmad Allal. The brigade initially repulsed attempts by the local LNA affiliated 177th Brigade (mostly Hasawna Arabs, led by Colonel Khalifa al-Seghair al-Hasnawi) to take over the Sharara oilfield (Libya Herald, February 7, 2019).

In response to the incursion by LNA fighters, the GNA commander for the Fezzan, Tuareg General Ali Kanna Sulayman, attempted to build a military alliance of Tubu and Tuareg minorities, most of whom shared similar grievances with the government and animosity towards Haftar and the Arab gunmen who followed him. [4 However, Kanna failed to bring Brigade 30 onside amidst pressure from Tuareg elders to abandon the facility in order to avoid pitting one Tuareg group against another. Kanna left for al-Fil and by February 12 the LNA-aligned Tuareg Brigade 173 began to move into the main facility after negotiating with armed protesters who had held parts of the oilfield since December 2018, forcing the National Oil Corporation (NOC) to declare a state of force majeure at the facility (Middle East Monitor, February 12, 2019; Middle East Eye, February 10, 2019).

Production resumed under LNA occupation, but by July 14, protesters again threatened to take over the facility as well as al-Fil oilfield, which has been closed by a strike over salaries since February (Libya Observer, July 14, 2019; AFP, July 15, 2019). Protesters frequently take over oil and water pumping facilities (part of Libya’s vast “Man-Made River” project) to call attention to days-long power outages and shortages of fuel and water in the south that persist despite the south being Libya’s main source of wealth and resources.

Battle for Murzuq

The LNA moved on Murzuq in early February, beginning with airstrikes and a fuel blockade. Once Sharara was secured, Awlad Sulayman fighters began to enter Murzuq from the east on February 20, though they met stiff resistance from Tubu fighters of the South Protection Force (Libya Observer, February 20, 2019).The assault on Murzuq followed failed negotiations between residents and the LNA, represented by LNA Special Forces commander Wanis Bukhamada.

Gunmen believed to belong to the LNA broke into the home of local security director Ibrahim Muhammad Kari on February 20, murdering the unarmed officer and stealing his safe before torching his home (Libya Observer, February 21, 2019).

The LNA claimed to have secured Murzuq on February 21, but other reports suggested the Tubu, aided by Chadian mercenaries, had in fact repulsed Haftar’s troops in ongoing fighting (Libya Herald, February 21, 2019). Within a few days, however, the LNA consolidated its control of Murzuq. By February 26, Tubu fighters were withdrawing to the south and the LNA announced it had “liberated Murzuq from Chadian gangs” (Libya Observer, February 24, 2019). The occupation permitted the LNA to take over the nearby al-Fil oilfield the following day.

LNA Brigadier ‘Abd al-Salim al-Hassi

Murzuq was quickly engulfed in looting, arson and extra-judicial killings. As many as 104 cars belonging to Tubu residents were stolen and 90 houses torched while activists and community leaders were hunted down by LNA gunmen. Even the home of local Tubu HoR representative Muhammad Lino as well as those of his brother and father were burned down, allegedly on the orders of the LNA’s commander of military operations in the west, Brigadier General ‘Abd al-Salim al-Hassi (Libya Observer, February 24, 2019).

One Murzuq resident complained that Libyan TV didn’t “say the truth, they just show the LNA celebrating and saying ‘we have liberated Murzuq and there is now security and freedom.’ But it’s not true. We are not okay and we do not have freedom” (Middle East Eye, February 26, 2019). There were soon numerous complaints from Tubu leaders and politicians that Haftar’s LNA was conducting “ethnic cleansing” and “ethnic war” (AFP, February 6, 2019; Libya Observer, February 23, 2019).

Much of the looting and arson was blamed on mercenaries from Darfur employed by Haftar’s LNA. One of the occupying brigades, the 128th (commanded by Awlad Sulayman Major Hassan Matoug al-Zadma) was composed of members of Kufra’s Zuwaya tribe and members of Fezzan’s Awlad Sulayman, both traditional enemies of the Tubu. Observers recorded video footage showing fighters from Darfur’s rebel Sudan Liberation Army – Minni Minawi (SLA-MM, mostly Zaghawa) operating as mercenaries tied to the LNA’s Brigade 128 (Middle East Eye, February 26, 2019; Middle East Eye, February 14, 2019; Libya Herald, February 7, 2019). [5]

Evacuation and Return

The LNA began a surprise evacuation of Murzuq late in the day on March 5, redeploying to Sabha after heavy clashes in Murzuq both before and during the evacuation that left four Tubu tribesmen dead (Libya Observer, March 6, 2019, Libyan Express, March 6, 2019).

As residents attempted to restore normalcy after the LNA occupation, Representative Muhammad Lino noted a lack of support from Tripoli’s PC/GNA and demanded to know whether there was coordination between allegedly rival political formations to “exterminate” the Tubu. The representative also noted that the HoR had denounced the March 15 mosque attack in New Zealand but had nothing to say about the death of Muslims in Murzuq (Libya Observer, March 26, 2019).

Tubu Folk Festival in Murzuq

Murzuq residents were dismayed when the LNA returned early this month, allegedly in pursuit of Chadian rebels and Islamic State terrorists whom they blamed for the armed resistance to the LNA’s return.  Murzuq’s Security Directorate issued a statement denying the presence of Chadian fighters or Islamic State forces in Murzuq, insisting only Tubu residents of the town were involved in the battle against Haftar’s invasion force (Libya Observer, July 9, 2019).

As the LNA re-occupied Murzuq, deadly clashes broke out between Tubu residents and members of the local al-Ahali community (Arabized black Libyans descended from slaves or economic migrants) (Anadolu Agency, July 11, 2019). On July 10, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed concern over the human cost of Tubu clashes with the LNA occupiers (Libyan Observer, July 10, 2019).

Conclusion

It seems increasingly clear that Khalifa Haftar and his Arab allies in the LNA are intent on reversing any gains Libya’s southern minorities may have made since the 2011 revolution. Both the Tubu and the Tuareg were used and abused by the Qaddafi regime according to the “Supreme Guide’s” whims and needs. Both were denied their ethnic identity, the Berber Tuareg characterized in Qaddafi’s mind as “southern Arabs” and the indigenous Tubu denied all rights as Libyan citizens.

Some Tubu support the LNA’s campaign against Chadian rebels and mercenaries, but are dismayed by the LNA’s indifference to their support and their continuing identification of all indigenous Tubu as non-Libyan foreigners, an attitude fostered by Arab supremacists during and after the Qaddafi regime.

Like the Tuareg, Libya’s Tubu population is determined not to be driven out from their harsh ancestral homeland where they have roamed for thousands of years. The vast spaces of the Libyan interior, its brutal climate and harsh topography make deployment there highly unpopular amongst the coastal Arabs who contribute the vast majority of Haftar’s LNA. Securing Libya’s southern borders, oil resources and water supply will require the cooperation of Libya’s southern minorities, not their elimination. A new Libyan state cannot be built on a foundation of ethnic cleansing, identity denial and Qaddafi-era Arab supremacism.

Notes

  1. For the Chadian rebels and their efforts to return to Chad, see: “War in the Tibesti Mountains – Libyan-Based Rebels Return to Chad,” AIS Special Report, November 12, 2018, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4308
  2. For Hemetti and the RSF, see: “Snatching the Sudanese Revolution: A Profile of General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo ‘Hemetti’,” Militant Leadership Monitor, June 30, 2019, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4455
  3. For the role of the Madkhali Salafists in the Libyan conflict, see: “Radical Loyalty and the Libyan Crisis: A Profile of Salafist Shaykh Rabi’ bin Hadi al-Madkhali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, January 19, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3840
  4. For General Ali Kanna, see “General Ali Kanna Sulayman and Libya’s Qaddafist Revival,” AIS Special Report, August 8, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3999
  5. For Minni Minawi, see: “The Unlikely Rebel: A Profile of Darfur’s Zaghawa Rebel Leader Minni Minawi,” Militant Leadership Monitor, December 8, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4088

The Inates Attack: Islamic State Embarrasses Niger’s Military… Again

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report,  July 3, 2019

For the second time in less than two months, militants belonging to the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have demonstrated the poor intelligence and operational incapacity of Niger’s military through an hours-long attack on a Nigerien military base at Inates, 260 km north of the national capital, Niamey.

The assault on the advanced military post began July 1 at 2:30 PM with the arrival of a pair of suicide bombers in cars who charged into the center of the camp before detonating their charges. This was the signal for a large number of IS fighters on motorcycles to open fire on the camp, which they had surrounded.

(Map – BBC)

Responsibility for the attack was claimed on July 3 by the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency (Reuters, July 3, 2019).

Niger’s Defense Ministry reported the intervention of French and American warplanes that managed to drive away the attackers (RFI/AFP, July 12, 2019). Two French Mirage 2000 fighters from Niamey worked over the terrorists, killing several and destroying one truck, while American and French surveillance aircraft monitored the ISGS withdrawal. Eighteen Nigerien soldiers were killed in the ISGS assault.

Material losses in the ISGS attack included a barracks burnt to the ground by the suicide bombers, several vehicles incinerated and at least a dozen stolen, and the loss of numerous weapons. Four soldiers remain missing, likely either captured or lost after fleeing into the desert.

A place in Tillabéri known as Balley Béri was the site of a deadly Islamic State ambush of Nigerien troops on May 14. Twenty-eight men of the 112e Compagnie Spéciale d’Intervention (CSI) were killed, including their commander.

Troops of the Forces Armées Nigeriennes (FAN) on Patrol (AFP)

The attack raised security concerns in Niamey, which is hosting a summit of African Union leaders from July 4 to July 8. The real issue, however, concerns Niger’s inability to provide meaningful security in its remoter regions without the intercession of French military assets, a troubling development for Nigeriens who fear a loss of sovereignty and the development of a Paris-reliant neo-colonial state.