A Family Affair: The Erdimi Twins and the Zaghawa Battle for Chad

Andrew McGregor

July 30, 2010

When Chad became independent in 1960 the government came under the control of the tribes of the fertile southern region, who formed the majority of the population. However, it was only a few years before the Muslim tribes of the arid north launched a civil war against the regime, culminating in their seizure of power in 1979. Since then control of Chad has been fought over by the small northern tribes of the Borkou/Ennedi/Tibesti region with the majority south as spectators to the often fratricidal conflict. Since 1990, Chad has been ruled by General Idriss Déby, a member of the Bideyat sub-clan of the Zaghawa tribe who took power by mounting an invasion from Darfur with Sudanese backing. Since then, revenues from the discovery of oil in the south have created an even more intense struggle for power among the northern tribes and clans.

Zaghawa MapFor 15 years, twin brothers  Tom and Timane Erdimi were the right hand men of the president, handling the most sensitive (and lucrative) portfolios. As nephews of the president they were among his most trusted associates. At the time of their defection to the rebels in 2005, Tom was the President’s permanent undersecretary and chief of oil operations, while Timane was the manager of Cotontchad, the state cotton monopoly (Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent, December 23, 2005).

Tom Erdimi left Chad and relocated in Houston, where he had connections in the oil industry. It is believed that Tom is responsible for the movement’s financing. Field leadership of the movement was given to Timane, a career civil servant rather than a military man like his opponent Déby.

Déby described his new opponents as “mercenaries,” working for Khartoum’s petrodollars. He said he is “ashamed” for Timane Erdimi:

I know that in the history of wars, there have always been defections to the enemy, traitors to the fatherland and other kinds of persons who make up the fifth column. During the Algerian war of liberation, there were Harkis, Algerians who turned round to fight their own brothers from the ranks of the former colonial power. At the end of the war, they complained that France had abandoned them. Chadian ‘Harkis’ are well advised to meditate on that tragic historical lesson.

The Zaghawa

Originating in a homeland that spreads across northern Chad and Darfur, the Zaghawa (who call themselves Beri) are an indigenous African people who have adopted a nomadic, camel herding lifestyle similar to their Arab neighbors. They have their own Nilo-Saharan language, but many speak Arabic and all are now practicing Muslims. In recent decades, however, these poorly known residents of remote regions began a remarkable transformation, achieved partly through their embrace of education. The Zaghawa have demonstrated political, commercial and military skills that have propelled them to an importance far beyond their meager numbers in both Sudan and Chad, where they form only 2% of the population. Their influence has spread as many migrated south to escape drought while others established a successful diaspora community in the Gulf States.

Dar Zaghawa (the land of the Zaghawa) was a victim of late 19th/early 20th century imperialism, being divided between French rule in the west and Anglo-Egyptian rule in the east. The tribe consists of four 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.
  • The Borogat, who are a mix of Zaghawa and Goran (a Tubu sub-group).

Even within the Zaghawa there are divisions between sub-tribes – the Zaghawa Kobe began to complain in the late 1990s that President Déby was favoring Bideyat over the Kobe in key government positions. Despite this, the Kobe continue to dominate the ranks of the Armée Nationale Tchadienne (ANT), the Garde Républicaine, the police and the intelligence services. They are also the dominant group in Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the most significant challenge to Khartoum’s rule in the region.

Friction grew within the Zaghawa ruling circle after the Darfur rebellion broke out in 2003. Many were dissatisfied with the level of support Déby was prepared to offer the largely-Zaghawa led insurgent groups, including Dr. Khalil Ibrahim’s JEM and the Sudan Liberation Army-MM of Minni Arcua Minnawi. (a Wogi whose movement has been reduced to members of his own clan after going over to the Khartoum government in 2006).

The Bideyat sub-tribe of the Zaghawa developed a formidable reputation with French and British colonial administrators in the early 20th century. In a 1915 British intelligence report, Harold A. MacMichael described the Bideyat (with colonial prejudices in place) as “an exaggerated form of the Zaghawa. They are darker, wilder, bigger thieves, more independent, more treacherous and live farther North than the latter.” [1] The Bideyat sub-clan, despite its tiny numbers, now controls both the Chadian government and much of the armed opposition.

The Erdimi Brothers Turn Rebel

In June 2005 an Act of Parliament passed allowing Déby to run for a third term as president. The unpopular legislation prompted a trickle of desertions from Déby’s security forces that became a flood in October 2005 as it became apparent Déby was intent on remaining president long after his constitutionally sanctioned two terms were over, possibly even intending to pass on power to his son Brahim. The deserters, including many Zaghawa officers, headed east to join various rebel movements operating near the Sudanese border. Déby was compelled to reorganize his Presidential Guard after a number of defections.

In December, Tom and Timane Erdimi also abandoned the government, sure that regime change was around the corner. The government quickly accused Tom Erdimi of treason, claiming he had embezzled millions of dollars while running state oil operations and had joined in a plot to assassinate the president (IRIN, December 12, 2005). Bideyat anger with Déby had already surfaced in May 2004 with an unsuccessful coup attempt. To further their aims the brothers founded the Rassemblement des Forces Démocratiques (RaFD).

The Erdimis believed they could take a path to power identical to that followed by Déby in 1982 – build a new armed movement in Darfur composed of Zaghawa defectors and then cross 800 km of desert and bush to seize power in N’Djamena. They may well have succeeded in this against a lesser opponent, but despite the corruption and authoritarianism of his government, Idriss Déby has never backed down from a challenge to his rule, even when it appeared his overthrow was imminent; “People tend to forget that I am an old soldier who still keeps an eye open” (Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent, January 5, 2006).

Rivals and Collaborators in the Rebel Front

In February and early March, 2006 the families of Timan Erdimi and General Seby Aguide Béchibo were both evicted from their state owned buildings and their goods seized on government orders (L’Observateur [N’Djamena], March 1, 2006). Days later, an apparent attempt to shoot down an aircraft carrying President Déby on March 14 was blamed on the Erdimi brothers and General Aguide, a Zaghawa officer who was dismissed from the army on March 10 (AFP, March 15, 2006; IRIN, March 15, 2006).

A daring April 2006 attack on N’djamena by the Front Uni pour le Changement (FUC – drawn mainly from the Tama tribe) forces under Captain Mahamat Nour Abdelkerim. Nour’s decision to risk all on a lighting attack across 800 kilometers was described by Déby as a “suicidal” strategy. Erdimi was also critical of the raid that brought FUC rebels into N’Djamena before being repulsed by government forces; “It is a strategic mistake. One cannot leave the Sudanese border and rush straight to Ndjamena without being backed by one’s rear base” (Jeune Afrique, April 24, 2006). Nevertheless, Mahamat Nour was able to parlay his unsuccessful attack into a short-lived appointment as Defense Minister in Déby’s government.

A rival and sometime collaborator of the Erdimi brothers now emerged in General Mahamat Nouri, a Goran of the Anakaza sub-tribe from Faya-Largeau and an important minister in both the governments of Hissène Habré (also an Anakaza Goran from Faya-Largeau) and Idriss Déby before he quit to join the rebellion in 2005.  General Nouri formed the Union des Forces pour la Démocratie et le Developpement (UFDD), composed mainly of Goran tribesmen from the Tibesti region. In reference to Déby and the Bideyat, Nouri said “Chad cannot continue to be governed by one family or tribe,” though Nouri himself is suspected by many other rebels of wanting to restore Goran domination of the government (AFP, February 17, 2008).

A large government offensive in September 2006 attacked the RaFD at Hadjer Marfaine, near the Sudan border. The RaFD claimed to have repelled two columns of troops, capturing 43 soldiers, dozens of transport vehicles and two tanks. Angered by the appearance of French Mirage jets over the battlefield, Timane warned that “all French citizens, military or civil, that fall into the hands of our combatants will be considered as mercenaries and treated accordingly” (AllAfrica.com, September 21, 2006).

Of particular importance to the rebel movement was the eruption of political violence in Dar Tama in September 2006, as Zaghawa gunmen began targeting Tama rebels or suspected rebels. The mainly Zaghawa police force in Dar Tama did little to stop the violence. The army clashed with RaFD rebels again at Guéréda in the heart of Dar Tama in the first week of December, 2006. 

Timane Erdimi reorganized the RaFD as the Rassemblement des Forces pour le Changement (RFC). The first fighting between the new RFC and government forces occurred in early December, 2007 during heavy but indecisive fighting in the Kapka hills after the RFC crossed the border from Sudan (IRIN, December 3, 2007; RFI, December 4, 2007).

To the Gates of the Presidential Palace

In January, 2008 the various rebel movements formed a military alliance but could not decide on a common leader. Despite this unfavorable arrangement, the rebels advanced on N’Djamena in three columns, one under Nouri, another under Erdimi and the third under Abd al-Wahid Aboud Makaye, a Salamat Arab. Rejecting the idea of flight to another country, Déby led an outnumbered force into battle at Massaguet, 80 km north of N’Djamena. After some initial success, the fight did not go well for the president, who narrowly evaded capture at one point. Less fortunate was his chief of defense staff, General Daoud Soumain, who was killed in the fighting. As Déby returned to the capital to organize a last-ditch resistance, government troops began to desert in large numbers.

The rebels reached the gates of the Presidential Palace in N’Djamena on February 2, but the offensive then broke against its own core weakness – lack of a single leader. Possibly minutes from taking power, all the ethnic and personal rivalries within the rebel alliance emerged when it could not be decided who would read the victory message over the radio (Sudan Tribune, February 18). The rebels also ran out of ammunition at this point due to what Erdimi’s faction described as the failure of a UFDD convoy bringing ammunition and reinforcements to reach the capital after it was hit by JEM fighters (AFP, February 17, 2008; see also Jeune Afrique February 18, 2008 for an account of the battle). This gave Déby a chance to rally his remaining forces (including a number of JEM fighters) and drive the rebels out of N’Djamena on February 3 with assistance from French forces based in the capital. After the battle French authorities admitted to supplying Déby’s forces with fuel, food, intelligence and Libyan ammunition. French troops also defended the airport and kept it open throughout the fighting, allowing government helicopters to play a decisive role in driving off the attackers (AFP, February 3, 2008; February 7, 2008; February 15, 2008; RFI, February 4, 2008).

After the collapse of the rebel offensive a new rebel coalition formed with Mahamat Nouri as its leader. Defections to a new anti-Nouri movement began immediately, with complaints that Nouri’s leadership had been imposed on the rebels by Khartoum (RFI, March 11, 2008).

The Rebels Try Again

By June, 2008 the rebels were ready to try again, but this time their advance on N’Djamena was halted in a major battle at Am Zoer on June 17 (50 miles north of Abéché). Déby would not allow the National Alliance rebels to close in on N’Djamena and within days of the defeat at Am Zoer the rebels were willing to negotiate, though Déby refused talks until the rebels renounced their ties with Sudan (alwihdainfo.com, June 20; AFP, June 20). Ethnic tensions within the movement and a continued failure to unite behind one leader were cited as reasons for the failure of the rebel advance. The Nouri-Erdimi coalition was doomed to fail as the two had conflicting agendas.  Erdimi sought another Zaghawa (preferably himself) to replace Déby as president, while Nouri was firmly against perpetuating Zaghawa control of the country (Alwihda.com, February 21, 2008).

In August 2008, Timane Erdimi received news that he had been sentenced to death in a mass trial held in N’Djamena. Twelve men, including Mahamat Nouri and former president Hissène Habré were sentenced to death in absentia, though Erdimi said; “I’ve heard nothing about this … it is they who should be put on trial” (Reuters, August 15, 2008; AFP, August 15, 2008). Though far from Déby’s reach in Texas, brother Tom was also sentenced to 30 years at hard labor (Le Progres [N’Djamena], July 24, 2008).

Timane Erdimi – The Imposed Leader

In early January, 2009 Erdimi joined his force with several other rebel groups in the Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) (RFI, January 19, 2009). His leadership of the alliance was reportedly imposed by Khartoum, which also supplied new Chinese-made military equipment (RFI, January 24, 2009). There were challenges to Erdimi’s leadership, however, especially from Mahamat Nouri’s Tama followers who believed it was their turn to rule the country (Tchadactuel, February 3, 2009). In July, Colonel Ahmat Hassaballah Soubiane, a major rebel leader, decided to return home rather than continue under Erdimi’s leadership (Le Temps [N’Djamena], July 27, 2009).

Timane ErdimiTimane Erdimi

UFR forces fought government troops at the May 7-8, 2009 battle of Am Dam in Chad’s southeastern Salamat region, home to the nomadic Arab Salamat tribe.  The UFR forces crossed the border from their bases in Darfur headed for N’Djamena on May 5, but General Toufa Abdoulaye mounted an ambush with the Republican Guard for the rebels roughly 100 km south of Abeché, the old capital of the Sultanate of Wadai, traditional rival of the Sultanate of Darfur. The arrival of armored forces under Chadian Chief-of-Staff General Hassan al-Gadam al-Djineddi prevented the UFR from flanking Abdoulaye’s force and drove them back in disorder to the border with Darfur. Russian-made Sukhoi bombers and MI-8 gunships flown by Ukrainian pilots were also used against the rebel columns (RFI, May 19, 2009).  UFR losses were heavy and by December most of its elements had withdrawn its trucks and fighters (RFI, December 10, 2009).

In June, 2009 a website sympathetic to the armed opposition outlined the movement’s grievances with Timane Erdimi’s leadership of the UFR:

  • Erdimi had failed to bring about the expected defection of relatives and clansmen still supporting the Déby regime.
  • Despite having a large and well-equipped rebel force Erdimi controlled little territory in Chad.
  • Erdimi’s political skills were questionable – his only major speech had plagiarized an earlier address by former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide (Alwihda, June 1, 2009).

Consequences of the Chad-Sudan Peace Agreement

A peace agreement between Chad and Sudan reached earlier this year means Khartoum’s active support for the Chadian rebels will end for the time being, though Khartoum would undoubtedly like to keep the armed movements in their back pocket for future use. Erdimi tried to brush off such concerns, stating their fight was “not dependent on relations between Chad and Sudan” (RFI, February 12; AFP, January 22). Nevertheless, the agreement is unpopular with many leading Zaghawa – when JEM leader Dr. Khalil Ibrahim attempted to land in N’Djamena on May 23 on his return to Darfur from Libya via Chad, permission was refused for his plane to land. An incident was avoided when Khalil dissuaded supporters in 300 vehicles from overrunning the airport. The Zaghawa military leadership issued a note to the president criticizing his decision. The president’s brother, Sultan Timan Déby, was reported to be very angry at the refusal to admit Khalil Ibrahim – Sultan Timan is also Khalil’s cousin (Asharq al-Awsat, May 23).


Tom Erdimi’s association with U.S. oil executives in Houston has cost the brothers political support from Libya and France, who continue to support Déby in the interests of regional stability. Erdimi has threatened to mount attacks on the French and American oil infrastructure in the south with the intention of creating enough insecurity to force the United States and France to abandon President Déby. This idea was immediately attacked by Mahamat Nouri; “He should not make threats like that. The petrol sector is for all Chadians. We should be preserving it, not using it for blackmail” (AFP, March 17, 2009; RFI, March 17, 2009). Timane Erdimi views the Déby regime as surviving solely on the support of France, the United States and the World Bank. So far, nothing has come of Erdimi’s threats against the oilfields as the struggle for power remains largely confined to the tribes of the north. With oil providing nearly all the national budget, crippling the industry could also finish Erdimi as a political force in Chad.

Timane Erdimi has always denied acting as a proxy for Khartoum, stating; “We are not auxiliaries of the Sudanese army” (AFP, May 10). However, he is still widely seen as perpetuating the Bideyat-Zaghawa domination of Chadian politics. For all its rhetoric, the Zaghawa armed opposition is fundamentally undemocratic, for no conceivable free election would return the minority Zaghawa to power. Erdimi has admitted that, should he take power, his plan for Chad “is not democracy,” but will rather focus on developing the government’s infrastructure (AFP, April 24).

The Erdimi brothers’ political future does not look bright – Uncle Idriss grips power as tightly as ever in N’Djamena, some of their followers now see them as “yesterday’s men” and they can expect little support from Khartoum, which has signed a deal with Déby to secure Sudan’s western border before next year’s referendum on southern independence.


  1. H.A. MacMichael, “Notes on the tribes of Darfur,” Khartoum, 1915 (Sudan National Archives – SNA INTEL 5/3/38).


Puntland Security Forces Attack Salafist Group in Sanaag

Andrew McGregor

July 29, 2010

New fighting has broken out in the remote Galgala mountains in Somalia’s Sanaag region, a territory disputed by the breakaway Republic of Somaliland and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

Atam Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id Atam

Following reports that Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id Atam, a known arms supplier for al-Shabaab, was building a Salafist-Jihadi militant group in the Galgala mountains, Puntland security forces took action on July 26 with a pre-dawn raid on the group’s hideouts in a number of mountain caves. According to Colonel Abdurahman Ali, three Puntland soldiers were killed and seven wounded (AFP, July 26). The attack appears to have followed an assault by the militants on the town of Karin (40 km south of Bosaso, the commercial capital of Puntland) in which four Puntland soldiers were killed, as well as anywhere from four to “dozens” of civilians  (Shabelle Media Network, July 26; Mareeg.com, July 26). The arrival of Mogadishu-based al-Shabaab fighters (allegedly including a number of Somali-Americans) in the Sanaag region was first reported last January (Somaliland Times, January 29). Elders in the Galgala region told AFP that 400 fighters were training in the region and were equipped with pick-up trucks, heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (AFP, July 22).

Muhammad Sa’id Atam is a native of Galgala and a member of the Warsangali/Darod clan. He is believed to have been behind the abduction of a German national in 2008. According to Colonel Muhammad Jama, an official of the Puntland security services, “Atam has links with al-Qaeda and represents al-Shabaab in the region. We are receiving information that he has mobilized hundreds of Islamist militants in the villages around Sanaag Bari” (AFP, July 22). Local sources said Atam had declared the Galgala region independent from Puntland and installed an Islamic authority to govern the area. There were reports that the militants had beaten two women for not wearing the hijab (Sunatimes [Bosaso], July 17).

Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole later claimed that the security forces had killed 13 militants in Galgala and captured a senior militant, Jama’a Ismail Duale (Garowe Online, July 26; Reuters, July 27). Stating that the militants had been trained in south Somalia, Farole warned the international community and neighboring states that “Puntland is under attack from both local and foreign Islamist militants.”

Reports of a southern origin for the militants were confirmed by Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Trade Minister Abdirashid Muhammad Irro, who said the TFG was ready to help Puntland against the southern-trained militants (Shabelle Media Network, July 26). The Minister noted that “At least 50 regional officials have recently been killed in Puntland by al-Shabaab organized militias” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], July 26).

President Farole has suggested terrorists want to establish themselves in Bosaso for the “same reason as Mogadishu. It is a city with business and a big population and is therefore easy to hide [there].” He also described reports of al-Shabaab flags flying in Galgala as a mere fundraising effort; “[The militants want] to say ‘Look, we have raised the flag at the corner of a remote mountain. Send us money.’ But they have nothing there” (Garowe Online, July 21).

The Sanaag region is the subject of an occasionally violent territorial dispute between Puntland and Somaliland over the Sool, Sanaaq and Cayn regions (referred to as SSC). Fighting began in 2007 and the region is now host to a variety of armed groups with various political allegiances and clan loyalties.

Following months of bombings and assassinations blamed on al-Shabaab, Puntland authorities have begun rounding up hundreds of male migrants from southern Somalia and sending them back to the south. The policy is opposed by the TFG. Puntland is also implementing a new law on terrorism that will establish a special terrorism court to speed up prosecutions (Garowe Online, July 17). A senior al-Shabaab commander, Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur,” threatened Somaliland and Puntland with invasions by al-Shabaab last year due to their failure to implement Shari’a (AllPuntland.com, October 31, 2009).

This article first appeared in the July 29, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Prominent Egyptian Preacher Dissects al-Qaeda Strategy

Andrew McGregor

July 29, 2010

In a recent interview Egyptian television preacher Dr. Umar Abd al-Kafy criticized the strategy and theological underpinnings of al-Qaeda’s ideology. The interview was carried by Dubai’s al-Arabiya TV on July 16.


Dr. Umar Abd al-Kafy

Al-Kafy suggests there are three ways of approaching the concept of jihad in the Islamic world:

  • The first group says jihad must be declared on anyone who does not say there is no God but Allah. “This group does not base its ruling on the Koran or Prophetic Traditions, but on fervent emotions that do not know Islam at all.”
  • The second group says there is no jihad based on fighting. There is only the jihad (“struggle”) against one’s own desires and evil impulses (the so-called “Greater Jihad”).
  • The third group takes a centrist position, saying jihad is imperative if Muslim lands are occupied and holy places desecrated.

Jihad can only be declared by a recognized Wali al-Amr (Muslim ruler or guardian); “Islam does not leave matters to anyone to decide.” Al-Kafy maintains that killing civilians and terrorizing the innocent cannot be considered jihad. The enemy cannot be defeated until one ceases committing injustices through a “jihad of the soul.”

Referring to Koranic scripture, the preacher rejected Bin Laden’s fatwa demanding all Americans in Muslim lands be killed. Al-Kafy stated, “Islam ordered us to protect [the disbelievers] as long as they are not fighting against us, not seizing our land and not violating our sanctities. How can I fight them if they are peaceful?”

Al-Kafy criticized the jihadis’ view of the concept of hakimiyah (ruling according to the revelations of Allah), saying it is incorrect to interpret this as a call for theocratic government; “Islam does not say the ruler must be a man of religion, but the ruler must be the most noble and best behaving among people.” Such rulers can be chosen either through a shura (consultative) system or through democratic means. This places the Egyptian preacher squarely at odds with the Salafi-Jihadists, who reject democracy entirely. Existing rulers cannot be branded as apostates (according to the Salafi-Jihadist embrace of takfir) unless they fail to perform their religious duties or deny the existence of God. Instead of branding wayward rulers as apostates or infidels, Muslim scholars should instead offer prayers and advice.

Al-Kafy bemoans the gradual loss of centrist policies and attitudes in the Islamic world under the pressure of extremism. There is a danger of radicals being given free reign despite having poor knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence; “The opinion over which there are differences will not become a rule.”

The preacher was most damning of al-Qaeda in his discussion of the movement’s use of Hukm al-Tataruss (The Law on Using Human Shields) to justify the slaughter of innocent Muslims. Al-Tataruss is based on an obscure medieval ruling that permitted the killing of Muslims if enemies of Islam were in their midst. Al-Qaeda has revived the ruling to justify the death of innocent Muslims in suicide attacks and bombings to bypass the well-known injunction against killing fellow Muslims and thus avoid charges of apostasy. Al Qaeda’s Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri is a noted proponent of the concept, which he has examined in his books Healing the Hearts of Believers and The Treatise Exonerating the Nation of the Pen and the Sword from the Blemish of Weakness and Fatigue (also known as The Exoneration). The latter was a 2008 response to the criticism of al-Zawahiri’s reliance on al-Tataruss, contained in the Revisions of the imprisoned ex-leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (a.k.a. Dr. Fadl), formerly a close colleague and associate of al-Zawahiri. According to al-Kafy, “There is a difference between someone who throws himself in the middle of the enemy that occupied his land and the one who blows himself up among peaceful and secure people, thinking that this is martyrdom. This is not stated in the Koran or said by the Prophet.”

This article first appeared in the July 29, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Nigeria’s Imams Warn of Threat from Kala Kato Islamist Movement

Andrew McGregor

July 24, 2010

A group of Muslim imams in Nigeria’s northern Niger state have warned state governor Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu of the threat posed by a radical Islamic group known as Kala-Kato. The Imams urged the state government to take action to defuse the threat before the group begins a new campaign of sectarian violence (Vanguard [Lagos], June 16; Daily Trust [Lagos], June 16). According to the chairman of the group of Islamic scholars, Mallam Isah Fari, “If action is not taken immediately and the sect is allowed to spread and strike, it will affect everybody irrespective of religious beliefs and this will be termed…a religious war.” [1] The group is said to be concentrated in the Sauka Kahuta area of Minna Township (Daily Trust, June 16).

Niger StateFollowing the teachings of Mallam Muhammadu Marwa Maitatsine, Kala-Kato rejects the Hadiths and Sunna (sayings and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad), considered by most Muslims to be integral parts of Islamic belief and jurisprudence along with the Quran. The Quran is the only book Kala-Kato followers are allowed to read. The movement considers everyone who fails to follow their unorthodox beliefs an infidel.

Friction between Nigerian security forces and Kalo-Kato members erupted into violence late last year in Bauchi State. When police tried to stop them from preaching, Kalo-Kato members responded with attacks using bows and arrows and automatic weapons seized from security forces (Bloomberg, December 29, 2009). 38 people were killed, including at least one soldier, several children and the local leader of the group, Mallam Badamsi. A subsequent police investigation suggested the violence had its origin in a crisis that erupted within the sect, when Mallam Badamsi accused some members of being responsible for an ailment from which he was suffering (Punch [Lagos], January 10). Police Commissioner Atiku Kafir reported that a search of Badamsi’s home revealed a cache of bomb-making materials and explosives, two AK-47 rifles and “a large quantity of swords, daggers and gunpowder” (Daily Independent [Lagos], December 30, 2009).

Kala-Kato, like a number of other sectarian groups in northern Nigeria, often uses juveniles in its front lines. The young members are typically released after their arrest, and by the time they come of age they are highly experienced in street violence. In the Bauchi rioting, children between the ages of 10 and 15 were reported to have set homes and buildings on fire with adults providing support (Daily Independent [Lagos], December 30, 2009).

The movement’s inspiration is Mallam Muhammadu Marwa “Maitatsine” (Hausa for “He who curses others”). A Cameroonian preacher who relocated to Nigeria’s Kano State, Maitatsine forbade his followers from using automobiles, bicycles, watches, radios and from possessing any more than the absolute minimum amount of money needed to survive. Relations with fellow Muslims, whom the movement regarded as pagans, reached their breaking point in 1979 when Maitatsine declared himself a prophet and successor to Muhammad. Maitatsine and his followers began to clash with their neighbors, police and the military, leading in 1980 to the loss of thousands of lives, including that of Maitatsine himself. Under his successor, Musa Makiniki, the movement erupted into violence again in 1982, 1984 and 1985, with the further loss of thousands of lives. One Nigerian daily suggested that sectarian violence was encouraged in the country’s north by religious-minded politicians who intervened to shield culprits from prosecution (Daily Sun [Lagos], January 8).


  1. Mallam is the Hausa language adaptation of the Arabic mu’allim – Islamic scholar or teacher.

This article first appeared in the June 24, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Turkey Turns to Enhanced Intelligence and Professional Army to Fight Terrorism

Andrew McGregor

July 22, 2010

Rather than rotating short-enlistment conscript troops in and out of a completely unfamiliar battlefield, soldiers of a new Turkish paramilitary counter-terrorism force will live in the mountains of southeastern Turkey for the duration of their five-year enlistment. There, the soldiers will strike in accordance with real-time intelligence rather than man static positions in the government’s campaign against Kurdish militants of the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK – Kurdistan Workers Party).

 Turkish CTTurkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul

In a press interview, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul tried to describe the concept behind this new paramilitary:

Think of it as a long-service, salaried military service specializing in counter-terrorism. Right now the Gendarmes serve for four years. According to our ongoing studies, these personnel can also volunteer to do five years service and get a good salary. But when this period is up their ties with the state will end also. For example, they will not get a pension (Radikal [Istanbul], July 17).

While Gonul says it has not yet been decided whether to go with fresh recruits under 25 or to recruit older, more experienced men who have completed their military service, he made it quite clear that applicants should not expect a career in state service.

There has been some debate in the government as to whether the new force should come under the command of the police or the General Staff. Some reports suggest the Prime Minister favors a kind of joint command, such as that of the Gendarmerie, with some command functions under the General Staff and others under the newly created anti-terrorist Undersecretariat of Public Security (Today’s Zaman, July 17).

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said efficiency will increase and losses will decrease by deploying a highly-trained force with knowledge of the local terrain and conditions: “Our aim is to designate only professional personnel at our borders” (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, July 16). Deputy Premier Cemil Cicek insisted the new force would not be “a separate army or be under the responsibility of a separate commander,” but suggested a professional formation specializing in counter-terrorism would be able to respond much more quickly to changes in terrorists’ methods, targets and rhetoric. Moreover, by spending the term of their enlistment on the border, they will be able to “differentiate between the terrorists and innocent people” (WorldBulletin.net, July 17). Though the exact size of the force has yet to be determined, it is expected to consist of six brigades including six commando teams, a total of roughly 30,000 troops (Milliyet, July 15).

Turkish CT 2Turkish Special Forces in Training

By constantly rotating men out of the force after their enlistment term is up and returning them to the private sector, the government appears to be trying to avoid the establishment of unauthorized units like the Jandarma Istihbarat ve Terorle Mucadele (JITEM), which ran a vicious war of its own in southeastern Turkey within the official command of the Gendarmerie (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, July 28, 2009). This was one of the concerns expressed by Demokratik Sol Parti (DSP – Democratic Left Party) leader Masum Turker in a meeting with the Prime Minister (Today’s Zaman, July 16). The deputy chairman of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP – Republican People’s Party), Akif Hamzacebi, warned that the new unit could develop into a parallel institution within the existing military (Hurriyet, July 14). Mehmet Sandir, the Deputy Chairman of the right-wing Milliyetci Hareket Partisi (MHP – Nationalist Movement Party) – currently in the midst of a feud with the Prime Minister – described the new force as “a private army” and insisted that “Turkey’s efforts to build a professional army outside of the TSK and in line with EU demands are inappropriate, insincere and lacking seriousness” (Today’s Zaman, July 16). The pro-Kurdish Baris ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP – Peace and Democracy Party) warned that the new unit would only repeat the mistakes of special operations units in the southeastern provinces in the 1990s (Today’s Zaman, July 17).

The United States has indicated through its ambassador that it is ready to “review urgently any new requests from the Turkish military or government regarding the PKK” (AFP, June 21). The United States, which controls airspace over Iraq, has already given Turkey permission to fly its new Israeli-built Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over northern Iraq, providing the TSK with the type of real-time intelligence it complained it was not receiving on a steady basis from the United States (Today’s Zaman, July 15). Turkey, however, is not neglecting its own intelligence capabilities. It is currently reassessing its intelligence network in the border region, with an eye to a new emphasis on the collection of human intelligence by the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT – National Intelligence Organization). The agency reportedly intends to deploy 2,000 agents in the region, many of them recruited locally (Today’s Zaman, July 15).

Disappointed in the many delays involved in delivery of the Israeli Herons, Turkey has commissioned Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) to build its own medium-altitude long-endurance UAVs. The first TIHA (Turk İnsansız Hava Aracı – Turkish UAV) was completed on July 16 and delivery to the military will begin in 2011 (Hurriyet, July 15; Today’s Zaman, June 30). The ten meter long UAV has advanced surveillance equipment, a ceiling of 30,000 feet and can remain in the air for 24 hours (TAI.com). There are also reports that Turkey is looking to purchase Predator and Reaper UAVs from the United States (Today’s Zaman, July 15).

The creation of the new counter-terrorist force may be seen as one phase in the TSK’s gradual transition into a leaner, more professional force from its existing Cold War model of an oversized conscript army.

This article first appeared in the July 22, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Resurrected Boko Haram Chief Threatens United States

Andrew McGregor

July 22, 2010

As the first anniversary of a bloody five day Islamist rebellion in northern Nigeria approaches, Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State, is awash in heavily armed riot police and intelligence officials. Their presence is in reaction to spreading rumors of an imminent rebellion to be led by a man police still insist is dead – Imam Abubakr Shekau. Formerly deputy leader of the radical Boko Haram movement, Shekau was declared dead following vicious street fighting last year between movement members and Nigeria’s security forces (AFP, July 31, 2009).

Abubakr ShekauBoko Haram Leader Abubakr Shekau

Boko Haram has existed under various names since 1995. Mallam Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf took control of the group in 2002 when its founder left to pursue religious studies in Medina. Yusuf led the group in a more militant direction, and by 2004 it had begun attacks on police outposts (Vanguard [Lagos], August 4, 2009). The movement broke into open rebellion last July in fighting that spread over four states, killing nearly 800 people. Security forces dealt with the rebels ruthlessly. Mallam Yusuf was captured by the army on July 30, 2009 and turned over to the police, who later dumped his naked and mutilated body in the street, still wearing handcuffs (al-Jazeera, February 9). Police were videotaped executing suspected members of Boko Haram, leading to the March arrest of seventeen policemen identified from the footage (Daily Independent [Lagos], March 1, al-Jazeera, March 1; Guardian [Lagos], March 4; see Terrorism Monitor, March 26).

A new video was posted to jihadi websites last week in which Shekau directed the movement’s wrath at a new target – the United States (Ansar al-Mujahideen, July 11). Describing Americans as “infidels, hypocrites and apostates” in his Hausa language address, Shekau warns “Do not think jihad is over. Rather, jihad has just begun… America, die with your fury.” The Boko Haram leader announced he has taken the leadership of Boko Haram and used part of the video to eulogize Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the late leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Qaeda in Iraq, respectively.

Police first learned last December that videos of Shekau threatening revenge on security forces were circulating through mobile telephones, but declared the images were digitally manipulated (Daily Independent [Lagos], July 3; Nigerian Tribune, July 7). Police believed Shekau was killed in an exchange of fire at Boko Haram’s Ibn Taymiyah compound, but there were no indications his body had been recovered. Shekau claims he was indeed shot in the leg, but was rescued by “fellow believers” (Daily Trust [Abuja], July 1).

A journalist provided an Abuja daily with a video he shot of Shekau in April after being driven, while blindfolded, to Shekau’s hideout. Despite his movement’s opposition to Western civilization and education (“boko”), Shekau rationalized Boko Haram’s use of firearms in stating, “Guns are not products of boko… we also can make guns, we even made and used guns” (Daily Trust, July 1).

Rumors that Shekau will return to Maiduguri this month to take revenge on police have filled the streets with security forces. Numerous flags believed to indicate allegiance to Boko Haram are reported to have appeared throughout the city, but Borno Police Commissioner, Ibrahim Abdu, says they are of no concern, as they differ from flags flown by the movement last year (Daily Independent, July 3; Nigerian Tribune, July 7). The police, however, are reluctant to begin raids to take the flags down, as this might ignite an already volatile situation. Rumors already claim the flags are actually being raised by the Borno State government to create an atmosphere of insecurity (Daily Independent, July 3).

While radical Islamist groups in northern Nigeria such as Boko Haram and Kala Kato have traditionally focused on attacks on the Nigerian federal and state governments in their attempts to establish an Islamic caliphate, Shekau’s praise of al-Qaeda and commitment to the global jihad represents a new direction for the militants.

This article first appeared in the July 22, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Al-Shabaab Expands Operational Zone with Kampala Bombing – But to What End?

Andrew McGregor

July 16, 2010

After several years of threats and warnings, al-Shabaab’s Somali jihad has finally spilled across Somalia’s borders to its East African neighbors. On July 11, bombs ripped through the Ethiopian Village Restaurant and the Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala, killing 74 civilians gathered to watch the World Cup finale. Somali Islamists have violently opposed the viewing of soccer matches in the past, saying the time could be better spent studying the Koran. Ethiopians are especially hated by al-Shabaab because of their country’s military occupation of Somalia from December 2006 to January 2009.

Kampala 1An estimated 5,000 people were in attendance at the rugby ground, which was reported to have little in the way of security arrangements (Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 13). The events have been termed suicide bombings, but there is emerging evidence, confirmed by al-Shabaab leaders, that the attacks were carried out by planting suicide vests that could be detonated remotely (New Vision [Kampala], July 13; Daily Nation [Kampala], July 13).

There is ample speculation that al-Shabaab is expressing its intention to join the global jihad with the Kampala bombings. However, the attacks are more likely to be part of a strategic plan to eliminate al-Shabaab’s strongest opposition to completing its conquest of Mogadishu and elimination of the TFG – the 5,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi. The mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has changed since the first deployment of Ugandans in 2007. With no peace to keep, the mission’s mandate now provides for the vigorous military defense of the Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad government.

The bombings were carefully timed, coming a week in advance of the July 19-27 African Union summit meeting of heads of state, hosted this year by Kampala. More importantly, however, they come as a timely warning to the six member nations (Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti) of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional grouping which responded to an urgent appeal from Somali president Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad by pledging on July 6 to provide an additional 2,000 men to AMISOM by September. Addressing worshippers at Mogadishu’s Nasrudin Mosque after prayers on July 9, al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahmud Raage accused the Somali president of handing the country over to the IGAD group of nations (Shabelle Media Network, July 9). Despite the decision, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi made it clear that Ethiopian forces would not join the new deployment (AFP, July 7; PANA Online, July 6).

Al-Shabaab first issued threats of retaliation against Uganda for its contribution of troops to AMISOM in 2008. These threats culminated with a warning from al-Shabaab leader Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr” on July 5 that “My message to the people of Uganda and Burundi is that you will be the targets of retaliation for the massacre of women, children and elderly Somalis in Mogadishu by your forces. You will be held responsible for the killings your ignorant leaders and your soldiers are committing in Somalia” (AFP, July 5).

After the bombings, Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahmud Raage described the attacks as “retaliation against Uganda” as he told reporters, “We thank the mujahideen that carried out the attack. We are sending a message to Uganda and Burundi, if they do not take their AMISOM troops out from Somalia, blasts will continue and it will happen in Bujumbura too” (Shabelle Media Network, July 12; Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 13; AFP, July 12).

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s resolve as AMISOM’s biggest backer to see the mission through is unlikely to be affected by the bombings, but the effect on support from a largely disinterested population will only begin to emerge after the official five day mourning period is over. For all of their military efforts in Somalia and now civilian losses at home, Uganda and AMISOM cannot turn the tide in favor of a transitional government that exists largely on paper. Most TFG parliamentarians and government leaders live outside the country, the president rarely emerges from the Presidential Palace, only blocks from the frontlines, and newly trained TFG troops desert with their rifles when they realize they are unlikely to be paid. Only a handful of tribal and religious militias with more interest in opposing the Shabaab extremists than preserving the TFG prevent AMISOM from being the lone defense of the TFG, a government that never found its footing and now survives only through foreign financial and military assistance.

More than 1,000 TFG troops are undergoing military training in Southeast Uganda by the European Union Training Mission (EUTM). The goal is to have 2,000 Somalis given basic training by the Ugandan army over the next year before receiving advanced training from the EU force. Salaries for the TFG recruits are being withheld until training is completed to prevent desertion (ABC.es [Madrid], May 31; El Mundo [Madrid], May 28; Nation Television [Nairobi], May 27).

Beyond the threat of al-Shabaab attacks, Bujumbura may soon find itself in need of its elite troops at home rather than in Mogadishu. Only six years removed from a brutal 12-year civil war, Burundi has endured almost daily grenade attacks in the capital and elsewhere in the weeks leading up to the re-election of sole candidate for the opposition-boycotted presidency contest, incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza (AFP, June 28).

Kenya responded to the attacks in Kampala by sending its elite General Service Unit to bolster defenses along its poorly secured 900 km border with Somalia (East African [Nairobi], June 14). The nation has received threats from al-Shabaab in the past for training TFG troops and harboring anti-Shabaab Somali politicians in exile. As part of its new policy on Somalia, Nairobi is urging the creation of a 20,000 man UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping force with full authority to combat al-Shabaab.


This article first appeared in the July 16, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Tribal Resistance and al-Qaeda: Suspected U.S. Airstrike Ignites Tribes in Yemen’s Ma’rib Governorate

Andrew McGregor

July 15, 2010

A small governorate of roughly 150,000 people, Ma’rib was once the heart of the great Sabaean civilization of pre-Islamic times, a land made prosperous by the construction of great irrigation works. Its wealth figured in the legends surrounding reputed rulers like Queen Sheba. When the Great Dam of Ma’rib collapsed in the 6th century, many of its people spread across North Africa and the region entered a long decline, enjoying a slight revival with the discovery of oil in the mid-1980s and the construction of a new dam funded by the late ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al-Nahyan. Political violence entered the region, however, and the ruined Awam (Moon) temple of Ma’rib became the scene of an al-Qaeda suicide bombing in 2007 that killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis (France 24, June 7).

maribAwam Temple in Ma’rib

Though Yemen’s reserves of oil (never substantial by Arabian Peninsula standards) are quickly diminishing, al-Marib remains home to vast oil and gas reserves, making it a hub for the regional energy industry that provides 90% of government revenues, with vulnerable pipelines connecting the region to export terminals on the southern coast. These pipelines were cut by attacks 60 times last year (Elaph, June 13).

Like most of Yemen, the population of Ma’rib is largely tribal-based with a certain degree of de-facto independence from the state. Government is as much tolerated as respected. Most notable among the Ma’rib tribes are the Abidah, the Murad, the Jahm, the Jad’an and the Ashraf Ma’rib.

The Killing of Jabir Ali al-Shabwani

On May 24, what appears to have been an American unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fired a missile at a home in Ma’rib’s Wadi Abieda area (Yemen Post, June 19; Al-Quds al-Arabi, June 27). The home belonged to a wanted al-Qaeda operative, Muhammad Sa’id bin Jardane, who was wounded in the strike but managed to escape. However, the strike did not miss Ma’rib Deputy Governor Jabir al-Shabwani and his four bodyguards, who were all killed. Al-Shabwani had been negotiating Bin Jardane’s surrender for a week and had gone to his farm to finalize the terms (AFP, May 25).

Outraged by what they believed was a plot to kill a notable tribal leader, tribesmen of the Shabwani clan and the larger Abidah tribe began attacks on government facilities and military outposts. Tribesmen destroyed parts of the Ma’rib city center, even attacking the city’s air defense camp (Yemen Observer, May 29). A targeted assassination of a senior military officer carried out in Ma’rib several days later by members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) further inflamed the region as a military offensive sought revenge.

Al-Qaeda Activity in Ma’rib

According to security authorities, in the last three years al-Qaeda has killed 37 military and government officials in Ma’rib from a list of 40 targets. A new list has allegedly been compiled by the militants (Saba, June 13). AQAP leaders Nasser al-Wuhayshi, Sa’id al-Shihri and Qasim al-Raimi were reported to be in Ma’rib in June. Authorities speculated they were fleeing a government offensive in the Abidah region of Ma’rib (Yemen Observer, June 17). Later there were unconfirmed reports that AQAP leader Ali Sa’id bin Jameel was killed by a military bombardment (Okaz.com, July 4; Saudi Gazette, July 4).

Marib MapAQAP is believed responsible for the June 5 ambush and killing in Ma’rib of General Muhammad Salih al-Sha’if (commander of the 315 Brigade), though an AQAP statement denied responsibility, saying the murder was a government ploy to legitimize attacks on the local tribes (Marebpress.net; June 5; Yemen Post, June 19). Vowing revenge, government forces concentrated their search for suspects in the Abidah region of Ma’rib, focusing on Hassan Aridan and 28-year-old Hasan Abdullah Saleh al-Aqili, described as an al-Qaeda commmander in Ma’rib.

Twelve security men and 11 tribesmen were injured during a June 9 shootout with Abidah tribesmen at al-Aqili’s home in Ma’rib’s al-Madina district, but the militant and his followers escaped (Yemen Observer, June 9).  The fighting began after soldiers destroyed the homes of several al-Qaeda suspects and then began shelling the entire area, according to a local official (Xinhua, June 9).

Resorting to Traditional Mediation

At this point both sides resorted to the traditional Yemeni mediation methods that forever keep Yemen at the brink of disaster rather than falling off the precipice. Unable to allow Ma’rib’s energy industry to slip from its control, Yemeni authorities issued an apology for the airstrike and President Saleh formed a special president’s committee including leaders of the Abidah tribe to investigate (al-Hayat, June 9).

Eventually the Yemeni press published a statement from the late deputy governor’s father, Shaykh Naji al-Shabwani, apologizing for the Abidah tribe’s “moment of anger” following his son’s “assassination.” The elder Shabwani was invited to a personal meeting with the president and agreed to accept tribal mediation, thus helping defuse open rebellion in the region over the killing of his son. Addressing the belief in the Abidah tribe that Jabir Ali al-Shabwani was the victim of a plot at the highest levels, the shaykh added, “If the president was behind the killing of my son, then he should confess and I, on my part, will forgive him” (al-Masdar, June 6; al-Quds al-Arabi, May 31). Confessions, however, were not forthcoming, and there were reports that other Abidah shaykhs had rejected the arbitration. Even as progress was made on defusing this issue the government’s broad hunt for the killers of General Muhammad Salih was intensifying the violence in the region.

A Ma’rib arbitration committee decided to take sworn oaths from Yemen’s leaders testifying that they had no prior knowledge of the airstrike that killed al-Shabwani. The state additionally agreed to pay blood money in the amount of one billion riyals (approximately 4.5 million dollars) (Al-Quds al-Arabi, June 27). The procedure effectively removed all responsibility from the Yemen government and left the United States solely to blame for the attack. Locally this also had the effect of relieving Yemeni officials of any personal responsibility, with all the consequences of tribal vendetta that would follow (al-Quds al-Arabi, May 31).
The Counterterrorist Offensive Meets Tribal Resistance

A leading member of the local tribal structure, Alawi al-Basha bin Zaba, secretary-general of the Alliance Council of the Ma’rib and al-Jawf tribes (al-Jawf is a neighboring governorate) told a London-based Saudi daily that the military operations in Ma’rib and their resulting collateral damage threatened to turn Ma’rib into “another Sa’dah,” referring to the simmering rebellion in north Yemen that has posed one of the Yemeni state’s most serious challenges. The operations in Ma’rib “will pull the tribes into confrontation with the state. We have warned of such a situation and said that it must be handled in a completely different way. ” Of particular offense was the practice of demolishing the homes of al-Qaeda suspects by firing mortars and Katyusha rockets from a range of some kilometers, inevitably destroying the homes of people with no relation to the militants. Bin Zaba saw a darker purpose behind such tactics; “Some officials might be seeking to push the tribes towards allying with al-Qaeda… Some officials and shaykhs are benefiting from keeping the situation as is,” he said (Elaph, June 13). The tribal leader suggests official reports regarding the presence of al-Qaeda in Ma’rib are exaggerated and designed to increase foreign aid to the state.

Fighting threatened to grow out of control as Yemeni armor began to roll into Ma’rib and tribal allies of the Abidah and the Shabwani clan began to pour into the region from neighboring governorates. Attacks were made against the local Republican Palace, military outposts and power stations. Pylons carrying electric power to Sana’a were brought down and al-Jad’an tribesmen blocked the road between Sana’a and Ma’rib. Gas pipelines were destroyed and technicians prevented from making repairs. When planes of the Yemeni Air Force began flying over the region the Abidah tribesmen responded by firing antiaircraft weapons. The Alliance Council of the Ma’rib and al-Jawf tribes described the government offensive as “terrorist acts” and warned that if political intervention was not forthcoming, “the tribes will abandon their responsibilities and allow al-Qaeda to take control of Ma’rib Governorate” (Ma’rib Press, June 11).

A June 12 meeting between shaykhs of the Abida tribe and Interior Minister Major General Mutahar Rashad al-Masri produced an agreement in which the tribe vowed to stop harboring al-Qaeda suspects, condemned sabotage and agreed to dismantle roadblocks and allow repairs to the pipeline (AFP, June 13). Al-Qaeda had different plans, however. In mid-June, AQAP released a statement in response to what it described as attacks on “women, children and brothers” in the Wadi Abidah region of Ma’rib. The group appealed to the shaykhs of Abidah and the shaykhs of Ma’rib to distance themselves from the “Crusader campaign” and President Ali Abdullah Saleh stated, “With permission from God, [we will] set the ground alight under the feet of the tyrant infidels from the regime of Ali [Abdullah] Saleh and his aides – the agents of America” (al-Jazeera, June 19). There has been speculation that the devastating June 19 AQAP attack on the Aden offices of the Political Security Organization (PSO) was intended as revenge for the assault on the Abidah region and was part of an effort to ingratiate themselves with tribal leaders who had agreed to expel al-Qaeda elements from their territories (Al-Ahali, June 22).

Destroying Ma’rib’s Main Pipeline

On June 12, a bulldozer was used to destroy the main pipeline carrying oil to the Hodeida governorate port of Ras Issa, the third attack on the pipeline in less than a month. Ministry of the Interior sources said the attack was the work of the Hatik sub-tribe of the Abidah, angered by the military offensive. Ministry of Defense sources claimed that the attack had actually been the work of Saudi AQAP deputy leader Sa’id al-Shihri (26sep.net, June 14; Okaz, June 16; Yemen Post, June 28). Al-Hatik leaders denied any participation in the attempt to break the pipeline (al-Taghyir [Sana’a], June 17).

Local sources told a pan-Arab daily that those who attacked the pipeline were tribesmen with no ties to al-Qaeda seeking revenge for an entire family that was killed by army shelling during operations in the Abidah region. The tribesmen were also angered by an attempt to arrest Shaykh Nasir Qammad bin Durham, who was accused of harboring al-Qaeda operatives. The shaykh evaded security authorities but his home was destroyed by artillery. The bulldozer attack on the pipeline was said to have created a huge fire with a smoke column that could be seen 40 km away (al-Hayat, June 13).

More violence broke out in Ma’rib as tribes began fighting over control of the local oil fields. Government forces did not intervene in recent clashes between the Abidah and the Bal-Harith that killed 18 during fighting over an oil field near the border with Shabwa governorate (Yemen Post, June 24; al-Tagheer, June 24).


A recent study of the political role of Yemen’s tribes stated that the often abrasive relations between the tribes and central government had been tempered by President Saleh’s attempts to improve the relationship. The tribes now dominate both parliament and the Shura Council, resulting in some tribal conventions being integrated into national legislation. However, the hereditary nature of tribal authority and the dominance of tribal chiefs have led to the exclusion of tribesmen from political involvement. An estimated 85% of Yemenis belong to tribes, most of which are well-armed. [1]

Despite evidence to the contrary, Ma’rib Governor Naji Bin Ali al-Zaidi prefers to maintain that al-Qaeda members in Ma’rib are not natives of the area, but are rather “strangers who are exploiting the hospitality of the Ma’rib people to hide and plan for their terrorist operations.” The governor points to the wild terrain and nomadic nature of the local people as draws for a terrorist group seeking safe havens. Al-Zaidi warns that al-Qaeda “are targeting the whole world through our province, because Yemen, several Arab and foreign countries all have interests in this province” (Yemen Observer, March 9). Regardless of the governor’s claims, there appears to be continued sympathy for local al-Qaeda members in the region. Recently two AQAP members wanted for attacks on military and security forces, Mansur Saleh Dalil (a.k.a. Salel Salim Dalil) and Mubarak al-Shabwani, surrendered to authorities in Ma’rib.  Attacks on security checkpoints quickly followed the death penalties handed down to the men on July 7 (Saba, June 15, July 11; Yemen Post, June 15).

By accommodating American requests for direct strikes against al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen, government authorities are left to deal with consequences that can quickly spin out of control in a highly volatile environment. There are estimates that the cost of lost oil revenues, repairs to the power supply and compensation to the tribes in Ma’rib will exceed the annual amount of U.S. aid to Yemen. The military response to the assassination of senior officers seemed to invoke the tribal principle of collective responsibility, with the counterterrorist offensive in Ma’rib making little differentiation between the guilty and the innocent. Coming at the same time as the airstrike that killed a noted Abidah leader, the rapid escalation in violence and its potential to spill into neighboring governorates provided a warning that some areas of Yemen are perilously close to breaking with the government and accepting an al-Qaeda presence. The heavy-handed military tactics that helped break the Houthi rebellion (at least temporarily) during “Operation Scorched Earth” will not necessarily work in other regions. Traditional mediation efforts appear to have subdued the violence, but the risk remains that in the current environment apologies, compensation and mediation may not be effective next time, particularly if the tribes are convinced to accept al-Qaeda operatives (their relatives and fellow tribesmen) as their protectors and avengers against a state they perceive as working for foreign interests.

1. See Adel al-Sharbaji et al., Palace and the Divan, the Political Role of Tribes in Yemen, Observatory for Human Rights/International Development Research Center. For a summary, see Yemen Times Online, April 7, 2010.

This article first appeared in the July 15, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Calls for Resignation Follow General Basbug’s Public Discussion of Turkish Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Andrew McGregor

July 15, 2010

In a July 5 interview on Turkey’s Star TV, Chief of the Turkish General Staff Ilker Basbug made a number of controversial remarks regarding Turkey’s counter-terrorism strategy that have led to calls for his resignation, public criticism from the Turkish president and even a criminal complaint.

Basbug 1Chief of the Turkish General Staff Ilker Basbug

During the interview, General Basbug pointed out that the PKK has suffered enormous losses over the years from Turkish military counter-measures. Despite this, the movement still has about 4,000 active fighters. Basbug explains this by suggesting the PKK has benefitted from international political developments that have saved the movement each time it was on the verge of collapse. More important, however, is Turkey’s failure to properly assess the PKK’s resilience; “When incidents of terrorism subside or vanish in Turkey – we do not perceive this correctly. [We assume that] the terrorist organization is finished or that it has disbanded. In reality, the mountain cadres of the terrorist organization remained intact” (Anatolia, July 7; Milliyet, July 12).

The General outlined three essentials necessary for the continued operations of the PKK:

•    Human Resources – Recruits must be prevented from joining the terrorists, otherwise the constant attrition of PKK numbers will have little real effect.

•    Financial Resources – Basbug identified three main sources of PKK funding: the narcotics trade, human trafficking and extortion. All three sources are based on activities in Europe, leading Basbug to ask, “Is it not our right to ask these countries to take serious steps to control and to cut off the financing sources of the organization and to produce results?”

•    Safe Havens – The PKK continues to find secure spaces within Turkey as well as in neighboring countries like Iraq. Basbug complained that “powerful entities” in northern Iraq [i.e. the Kurdistan Regional Government] are not playing a part in eliminating the terrorists. He also pointed out that the PKK continues to receive logistical support in this region, making his boldest comments of the interview, “We are at a point where the time for talking is over. Turkey lost so many martyrs in the last two months. This causes heartaches to all of us. It is time – and getting late – for individuals, institutions, states, and entities in northern Iraq to fulfill the responsibilities incumbent upon them.”

Basbug also warned of deeper implications for international relations, even with its American NATO ally. He stated, “The PKK presence in northern Iraq may have a negative influence on Turkish-Iraqi relations in the coming period. To some extent, it may also have a negative effect on Turkish-US relations.” There is speculation within Turkey that the United States has cut back on its sharing of actionable intelligence with the Turkish military after Turkey voted against new sanctions on Iran in the UN Security Council. Allegedly, this has contributed to the success of several recent large-scale PKK attacks, but a spokesperson for the American embassy in Ankara denied any cutbacks in intelligence sharing (Hurriyet, June 20).

Also in the General’s sights were parliamentary deputies of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (Baris ve Demokrasi Partisi – BDP). According to Basbug, “They took an oath on the Constitution as deputies in Parliament, but then attended the funerals of terrorists… Either abandon your position as a deputy and go to the mountains [to join the PKK] or fulfill the responsibilities that stem from your oath in Parliament.”  BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas responded, “The Chief of General Staff is not in the position to give us orders. He committed a crime and should be deposed from office… Starting from now, Gen. Basbug is responsible for any possible undesirable incidents that may happen to BDP deputies” (Bianet, July 8; Today’s Zaman, July 7). One independent Turkish daily criticized the General’s remarks, saying, “While others are struggling to make the people come down from the mountains, the Chief of the General Staff takes efforts to direct the parliamentarians towards the mountains” (Taraf, July 8).

Basbug 2Gendarmerie Colonel Cemal Temizoz

Turkish jurists took offense at the General’s defense of Ergenekon suspects, including Gendarmerie Colonel Cemal Temizoz, who has been accused of leading a secret Gendarmerie formation in southeastern Turkey specializing in the torture and extrajudicial killing of Kurdish nationalists. According to Basbug, “Unjust accusations against officers, generals and non-commissioned officers disturbed me greatly. They are accused of membership in a terrorist organization. Colonel Temizoz is such an example” (Today’s Zaman, July 7). The remarks were interpreted as an attempt to put pressure on the judiciary in an ongoing investigation. Colonel Temizoz faces nine life sentences without the possibility of parole.  The Turkish Human Rights Association (Insan Haklari Dernegi – IHD) said the General’s comments should be interpreted as support for crime and criminals. In cooperation with a number of lawyers from southeastern Anatolia, the IHD filed a criminal complaint accusing Basbug of spreading hatred (Today’s Zaman, July 11).

President Abdullah Gul joined in the condemnations of Basbug’s statements, particularly his decision to reveal details of Turkey’s counter-terrorism strategy previously discussed at classified meetings of the National Security Council (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu – MGK). Gul stated, “There is already an ongoing counterterrorism program. Talking about this does not bring any benefit” (Today’s Zaman, July 9).

General Basbug has also come under fire for publishing a speech on terrorism in the official Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) magazine Maarachot. The article underwent final editing after the IDF’s disastrous May 31 raid on a Turkish humanitarian aid ship in international waters that left nine Turks dead (Haaretz, July 5). Basbug is scheduled to complete his term as chief-of-staff on August 30.


This article first appeared in the July 16, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Defiant AQIM Challenges New Regional Counter-terrorist Command with Deadly Cross-Border Raid

Andrew McGregor

July 8, 2010

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) answered the formation of a multinational counterterrorism center in the southern Algerian town of Tamanrasset by ambushing a patrol of Algerian border gendarmes close to Tin Zaouatine, roughly 40 km from the border with Mali and 2000 km south of Algiers (El Watan [Algiers], July 1). At least 13 gendarmes were killed in the June 30 ambush, the worst Islamist violence in Algeria since the July 29, 2009 attack by militants belonging to the Protectors of the Islamist Call that killed up to 14 soldiers in the Mediterranean town of Tipaza (El Khabar [Algiers], July 30; El Watan, July 30).

South Algeria 1Tin Zaouatine

Security officials in the Malian capital of Bamako said two gendarmes were taken prisoner, one of whom was released to describe the fate of his comrades (al-Jazeera, July 1). AQIM followed up by releasing leaflets in the border region claiming responsibility for the ambush (Ennahar [Algiers], July 3). The leaflets said the attack was designed to mark AQIM’s “determination to fight against the regime of Algiers” and promised the movement would continue attacks “until final victory.” Only a day before the attack, Major-General Ahmad Gaid Salah, chief-of-staff of Algeria’s Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP), announced that the militants could surrender under the terms of the 2005 reconciliation accord or await their “certain death” (AFP, June 30).

South Algeria 2Groupement des Gardes Frontières Patrol in Southern Algeria

The ill-fated patrol was composed of members of the Groupement des Gardes Frontières (GGF). The GGF fall under the command of the ANP and have been recently outfitted with new all-terrain vehicles and sophisticated monitoring and surveillance equipment. Though quantities of arms and ammunition were removed by the attackers, the two armored 4×4 GGF vehicles were surprisingly burned rather than taken away. The attackers are believed to have slipped back across the border into northern Mali.

In a first sign of the regional cooperation promised by Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania through the April formation of a Tamanrasset-based Joint Operational Military Committee, designed to provide a joint response to border security and terrorism issues, there are reports Mali has invited Algerian forces to pursue the militants on Malian territory (Reuters, July 1; see Terrorism Monitor, April 23). The cross-border AQIM attack seems intended, at least in part, to test the political resolve of the new joint operations mechanism. Algeria’s President Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika recently took Mali to task at the G-8 summit in Huntsville, Canada for breaching an agreement not to exchange imprisoned terrorists for hostages, as Bamako did last February to free a French hostage. Bouteflika described the exchange as “direct support of terrorism” (Echorouk, June 26; al-Jazeera, March 2).

The dawn ambush is believed to have been the work of Abu Zaïd, a militant AQIM commander sent south by AQIM Amir Abd al-Musab Abd al-Wadoud to reinvigorate the Southern Command, which appeared for a while to be devoting more effort to cigarette smuggling than jihad.

This article first appeared in the July 8, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor