Mali Pays the Price of al-Qaeda’s Asymmetrical Threat

Andrew McGregor

October 28, 2010

Over half the world’s kidnappings for ransom occur in Latin America, however, among these nations only Mexico and Colombia merit official U.S. travel advisories that mention the danger of kidnapping. Despite this, Mexico and Colombia continue to enjoy thriving tourist industries. Yet the African state of Mali, with only a handful of such kidnappings each year, has been afflicted with similar travel advisories, not only from the United States, but from other Western nations as well that have devastated a nascent tourism industry with enormous potential. The difference? Al-Qaeda.

Mali millitary 1Mali’s Military: Up to the Job?

With an economy based on agriculture and gold production, Mali is one of the poorest nations in the world. The development of a tourism industry based on the growing popularity of Saharan tourism (particularly in European markets) promised a new economic sector, a source of foreign currency and a potential solution to the unrest in Mali’s Saharan north, which is largely based on lack of economic opportunity. To the disappointment of Mali’s government, this growing economic sector has come to a halt due to the criminal activities of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), whose Southern Command now focuses on drug trafficking, smuggling and high-profile kidnappings for ransom. The tourism industry of some regions of the north is now operating at only 10-15% of capacity.

On October 15, Mali’s Minister of Tourism and Crafts, N’Diaye Ba, complained of what might be termed “the al-Qaeda effect,” or the disproportional damage caused by even the limited presence of Islamist terrorists:

While it is undeniable that some events that took place in the Sahel-Saharan strip incite prudence to avoid endangering the lives of visitors, it’s equally evident that a zero risk exists nowhere in the world… The use of the terrorist menace, which gives free publicity to the terrorists, seems like a fearful weapon to compromise all the prospects of development of a place, a region, a country (AFP, October 15).

Since al-Qaeda took advantage of Mali’s weak security infrastructure to establish bases in the vast desert wilderness of the country’s north roughly two years ago, Mali has entered a situation in which the presence of the terrorists prevents the economic development that would convince tribal elements in the north (particularly the Arab tribes and to a lesser degree, the Tuareg) from joining or doing business with AQIM units that are rolling in cash as a result of collecting enormous ransoms (estimates vary from 70 to 150 million Euros in total) based on their fearsome reputation.

International vs. Regional Solutions

Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré says that Mali is both “a hostage and a victim” of AQIM: “These people [i.e. AQIM] are not Malians. They came from the Maghreb with ideas that we do not know. The problem is the lack of regional cooperation. Everyone complains about their neighbor…” (Ennahar [Algiers], October 1). Mali’s government has declared a series of measures designed to deal with the concerns about its security:

• A rational occupation of territory by the state administration.

• Increased mobility on the part of troops for prevention and intervention.

• A social mobilization to reduce the influence of sects and criminal groups (AFP, October 15).

The G8’s Counter-Terrorism Action Group (CTAG) held a two day meeting in Bamako in mid-October to discuss the AQIM threat. President Amadou Toumani Touré told the meeting that security alone could not resolve the AQIM issue, saying that development of the Sahel region is necessary to undercut support for militant groups (AFP, October 14). Though the meeting was also attended by representatives of the African Union (AU), the UN, the EU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), its success was hampered by the absence of Algeria, which refused to attend due to the presence of Moroccan representatives (Le Républicain [Bamako], October 14; Ennahar [Algiers], October 13; AFP, October 13). Tensions between the two states remain high due to disagreement over the status of the Western Sahara.

Malian Colonel Yamoussa Camara said in the meeting that foreign forces should avoid operations in Mali and limit themselves to providing training and equipment to Mali’s armed forces to prevent the latter from losing popular support (AP, October 13). There were complaints in Mali in September that Mauritanian troops were operating against AQIM in the north of the country while Mali’s own troops were busy with parades celebrating the 50th anniversary of independence (Jeune Afrique, October 9). Colonel Camara’s remarks were echoed a week later by Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mourad Medelci who said foreign military operations in the area are undesirable. According to Medelci, “We are responsible for security, as the Sahel, of all who live in the area where the situation is worrisome…   Algeria has never said that countries that are not part of this area were not affected [by terrorist activities]. If these countries can provide assistance, they are welcome but they cannot establish themselves among us to bring the solution” (Ennahar, October 22).

Mali’s insistence that regional cooperation is the key to solving the AQIM dilemma must overcome significant distrust between many of the countries of the Sahel/Sahara region. Besides the seemingly intractable diplomatic conflict between Algeria and Morocco, there is also suspicion of the motives and activities of Libya’s Muammar Khadafy. Even inside Mali, there are misgivings regarding the sincerity of Algeria’s counterterrorism efforts; according to numerous reports circulating in Mali, the last words of Colonel Lamana Ould Bou (a senior Malian security officer investigating AQIM activities in northern Mali before being gunned down in his home last June by unknown assailants) were, “The Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité [DRS] is at the heart of AQIM” (al-Jazeera, August 29; Le Hoggar [Bamako], October 11). The Algerian DRS is widely believed to have infiltrated operatives into the DRS, with some suspicious Sahel observers even claiming AQIM is a false-flag operation run entirely by the Algerian intelligence service.

The question of allowing foreign military operations in Mali became more complicated when Mauritanian aircraft in pursuit of suspected al-Qaeda fighters killed two civilians near Timbuktu in September (Reuters, September 20). However, with little ability to control its northern region, Mali seems determined to avoid inflaming AQIM by allowing military forces of France (the former colonial power) to be based there (Le Monde, September 22). Mali does, however, accept military training from French forces and has a number of American Special Forces training teams stationed within Mali (see Terrorism Monitor Briefs, June 4). Nevertheless, based on the inability of Mali’s military to even refuel Mauritanian forces during a September 18 clash with AQIM in northern Mali, Algerian authorities have described Mali’s armed forces as “incompetent” (Jeune Afrique, October 15).

The Arlit Hostage Crisis

The latest crisis involves the kidnapping of seven Areva and Satom employees from the uranium mine at Arlit in northern Niger on September 15. The operation was carried out by the Tarek Ibn Ziyad katiba (military unit) led by AQIM commander Abd al-Hamid Abu Zaid  (a.k.a. Abid Hammadou) (Le Monde, October 11). Five of the hostages are French; the other two are from Togo and Madagascar. Heavy fighting between AQIM forces under Algerian commander Yahya Abu Hamam and Mauritanian forces was reported shortly after the abductions (Ennahar, October 15; Jeune Afrique, October 9).

Mali military 2The Arlit Hostages

While this latest group of hostages is being held in northern Mali, there are denials from all sides that France ever requested permission to base troops or aircraft involved in the search on Malian territory, though this may be a sop to Bamako’s sensitivity on the issue. The air component of the search is thus based in Niamey in neighboring Niger, while French Special Forces are awaiting deployment in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou. The Kidal airstrip in northern Mali would be useful in the search, but would have the disadvantage of exposing French forces to direct attacks by AQIM (Jeune Afrique, October 9; Air & Cosmos [Paris], September 29; Le Monde, September 22). Not surprisingly, one of AQIM’s reported demands for the release of the hostages is a commitment from Bamako that further French and Mauritanian military operations will not be allowed on Malian territory (L’Indépendant [Bamako], October 12). When and if the time comes for a military intervention on Malian soil to save the hostages, it is expected that Bamako will look the other way until the operation is completed.

Is Regional Security Cooperation a Mirage?

As a result of the Tamanrasset meeting, a joint Sahel information center (Centre de Renseignement sur le Sahel – CRS) was established by the intelligence chiefs of Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania in Algiers on October 7 to collect intelligence from the security services of the four nations and make it available to the new joint military operations center in Tamanrasset (L’Expression [Abidjan], October 7).
In April, Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania formed the Tamanrasset-based Joint Operational Military Committee, designed to provide a joint response to border security and terrorism issues. Ten days after the Arlit abductions, the committee (composed of the military chiefs of the four nations) met on September 26 to establish a coordinated response against the AQIM threat. The committee is currently headed by Malian Brigadier-General Gabriel Poudiougou, but there is little enthusiasm in Bamako for the new security center in Tamanrasset, which is referred to at the highest levels of the government as “an empty shell” (Jeune Afrique, October 15).

The absence of Chad, Libya and Morocco from the new cooperative security infrastructure will certainly hinder efforts to eliminate AQIM from the region. The leaders of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Mali and Chad held a consultative meeting on the sidelines of the Arab-African Summit in the Libyan city of Sirté on October 10, though this did not seem to ease the admission of new members into the four-nation Sahel security grouping. Mali’s efforts to broaden the group have been continually vetoed by Algiers. Earlier this month, however, Libya donated two much-needed Italian Marchetti surveillance aircraft to Mali to combat local unrest (AFP, October 4).

Despite the insecurity in its own northern region and the fact the Arlit hostages were seized in Niger before being moved to Mali, Niamey has been quick to identify Mali as the source of regional insecurity. According to Amadou Marou, president of Niger’s National Consultative Council (which is managing the country in the aftermath of February’s military coup), “Somalia got away from us and northern Mali is in the process of getting away from us”  (AFP, October 15).


International crime statistics alone will not solve Mali’s dilemma, nor will claims that it is the object of a “disinformation campaign” (AFP, October 15). So long as AQIM can conduct one kidnapping or hold one hostage on Malian territory each year, it will, in the current perception that there is no kidnapper as deadly as an al-Qaeda kidnapper, prevent the necessary economic development of Mali’s northern region. To enable development, Mali is left in the unenviable situation of having to establish almost complete security in a vast region with precious few security resources or having to turn to foreign military forces to aid in the elimination of al-Qaeda elements – something these same forces have failed to achieve elsewhere. Mali, however, cannot disclaim any responsibility or involvement in the rash of AQIM kidnappings. A sophisticated network of mostly Malian negotiators and mediators has emerged, with these middlemen making enormous profits through receiving a cut of the ransoms. Some mediators are even believed to participate in the kidnappings and then act as negotiators (Info Matin [Bamako], October 14; L’Indicateur du Renouveau [Bamako], October 14; Daily Times [Karachi] October 12).  There can be little doubt that, as with the Sahel/Saharan narcotics trade, some of these illicit funds are reaching senior levels of the political and military structure in Bamako. This does not make Mali unique among nations facing similar problems, but the lure of easy money in an impoverished nation represents a threat in itself.

One option being considered in the Malian capital to deal with the security threat is rearming and deploying Tuareg fighters (only recently disarmed after rebelling against the central government) to hunt down and eliminate al-Qaeda operatives. At present, Bamako faces a problem that is more criminal in nature than political or religious, but foreign intervention brings the immediate risk of escalation and an uncertain political future in the event of a popular backlash in Mali. Neither prospect promises a new era of stability, so Bamako will likely continue for now in its calls for a regional security cooperation that may be largely illusory due to the mutual suspicions of the Sahel/Sahara nations.

This article first appeared in the October 28, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Chadian Insurgency Collapses as Sudan Secures Western Border before Referendum in South

Andrew McGregor

October 28, 2010

The new friendship between Chad and Sudan has led to the complete collapse of the once powerful Chadian armed opposition, which was reliant on Sudanese bases and assistance. The collapse comes as part of a major security restructuring in the Chad-Sudan-Central African Republic region, one that will help enable Khartoum to focus on the South Sudan as the January 2011 South Sudan independence referendum draws near.
Mahamat NouriGeneral Mahamat Nouri

With last year’s rapprochement between Khartoum and N’Djamena came new joint border patrols that put an effective end to cross-border operations by Chadian rebel groups. Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) spokesman Abderahman Koulamallah acknowledged that the movement’s armed presence in Sudan was “a matter of longstanding concern for Sudanese authorities,” adding that UFR forces would leave their bases in Sudan voluntarily “because of the friendly ties that bind us” (Afrol News, October 4). Nevertheless, Khartoum encouraged their departure by expelling their leaders to Doha and restricting access to local markets. In these conditions, Koulamallah announced the willingness of the UFR to hold immediate and unconditional talks with the Déby regime, saying, “It is time that the leaders of the armed opposition and those in government meet as soon as possible. This is a new step since we are calling for a dialogue without condition. We believe that the reconciliation with Sudan was one thing and the reconciliation between Chadians is another. We are awaiting the Chadian government’s response” (Radio France Internationale, October 20).

General Mahamat Nouri, leader of the Alliance nationale pour le changement démocratique (ANCD) and the Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement (UFDD) coalition, opposed the disarmament of his forces, but could do little about it, after being expelled to Doha, other than offer the hope that his fighters would be granted refugee status rather than returned to Chad (L’Observateur [N’Djamena], September 30; PANA Online, September 7). There were fears in the ANCD that President Déby had demanded the extradition of some 30 ANCD leaders, though authorities in N’Djamena later denied this (Radio France Internationale, September 27). Timane Erdimi’s UFR agreed to disarm and return to Chad in mid-October, though some have vowed to establish new bases in the Central African Republic (CAR) (Afrol News, October 11; for Erdimi and the UFR see Militant Leadership Monitor, July 30).

There are reports that Chadian rebel Adam Yacoub, a former military commander in the UFR, has crossed into the CAR with fighters under his command (Sudan Tribune, September 27). Many UFR fighters had planned to move to the CAR, but the border was better patrolled than expected and hoped-for assistance from the Sudanese government in making the move failed to materialize (Afrol News, October 4).

With their leaders gone, discipline began breaking down in the remaining formations of opposition fighters. Near the North Darfur town of Kutum, Chadian fighters were accused of raping local women, terrorizing farmers, preventing the harvest from being brought in and threatening people with their weapons (Radio Dabanga, October 1).  In the Wadi Saleh district of West Darfur, Chadian rebels entered the town of Garsila with the intention of liberating two of their leaders who had been arrested after refusing to order the fighters to disarm (Radio Dabanga, October 21).

Many of the rebels have chosen to return to N’Djamena and take advantage of an amnesty being offered by President Idriss Déby. Most UFR fighters assembled in the North Darfur capital of al-Fashir to be returned in five batches with the cooperation of officials from the Chadian government and military (Sudan Tribune, October 12).

The UN’s Mission des Nations Unies en République Centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), which has provided security along Chad’s borders with Darfur and the CAR since 2007, ended military operations on October 15 in preparation for a full withdrawal by the end of the year at the request of the Chadian government (UN News Service, October 20). As the UN forces prepare to depart, regional solutions to the continued insecurity caused by groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are being developed. A mid-October meeting in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), resulted in a commitment from Uganda, Sudan, the CAR and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to create a joint operations center responsible for enabling the effective exchange of intelligence (Daily Monitor [Kampala], October 19).

Sudan is also forming a joint border patrol with the CAR to monitor the movements of Chadian and Sudanese rebels moving to the region. According to Colonel Fatah al-Rahim Abdalla Sulayman, the commander of Sudanese forces operating in the area, a military protocol has already been signed between Bangui and Khartoum with some elements of the new border force already active (SUNA, September 26; Sudan Tribune, September 27).

Minni MinawiMinni Minawi

The establishment of the joint border patrol with Chad gave Khartoum a chance to find a useful role for Minni Minawi’s faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which abandoned the rebellion in Darfur in 2006 to join with the Khartoum government. Since then, Minawi’s group has suffered from extensive desertions as it was put to work fighting former comrades and fellow tribesmen in Darfur. The joint border patrol had a recent success with the liberation of a kidnapped Chinese engineer who had been seized in northern Darfur by Chadian gunmen from Ennedi, close to the Sudan border (AFP, September 17; Radio France Internationale, September 15).

With the resolution of Chad’s long-standing dispute with Sudan and the dispersal of the armed opposition, President Déby has been displaying a newfound confidence that extends to risking the departure of French military forces in N’Djamena (Opération Epervier) by demanding rent for facilities used by the French. The French forces (which include three Mirage 2000 warplanes) have ensured the survival of the Déby government by providing intelligence and logistical support in the regime’s struggle with rebel forces. French military medical teams also provide free surgical and dental operations to Chadian citizens, but the entire force has the option of moving to Gabon if Déby’s demands prove excessive (Jeune Afrique, September 3). Legislative elections are scheduled to be held in Chad on February 5, 2011 with a presidential poll set to begin on April 3.

This article first appeared in the October 28, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Philippines Adopts More Mobile Sea-Based Strategy against Abu Sayyaf

Andrew McGregor

October 28, 2010

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are restructuring their campaign against Abu Sayyaf Islamist militants in Western Mindanao by adopting the fleet marine concept as a replacement for the Sulu Archipelago-based Joint Task Force Comet (Sun Star Network, September 15). The make-up of the Philippine Republic presents a special challenge to internal security forces, as it is composed of 7,000 islands and islets spanning 60,000 square miles of sea.

MindanaoThe commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), Lieutenant General Benjamin Muhammad Dolorfino, described the fleet marine concept as an opportunity to use the sea as a maneuvering space rather than an obstacle. The transfer of assault operations to amphibious units will help level the intelligence-gathering battle, which the AFP has been losing to the militants’ intelligence network. According to Dolorfino, “We are so easy to detect with our ground operations. The whole island instantly knows [we are coming] just by the sound of a six-by-six truck revving up” (Sun Star Network, September 15). Landings from the sea will help restore the element of surprise to AFP operations.

The seas and waterways of the southwestern Philippines were once plagued with Muslim pirates – now these are part of the operational zone of Abu Sayyaf, a notorious composite Islamist terrorist group/criminal gang with deep roots in Western Mindanao, specifically the Zamboanga Peninsula and the islands of the Sulu Archipelago (most notably the island province of Basilan). Abu Sayyaf is light on ideology but capable of striking with brutal effectiveness and a callous disregard for civilian lives, as seen in the February 2004 bombing of Superferry 14 in Manila harbor, killing 116 people.

Though Abu Sayyaf has been pressured by U.S.-supported Filipino troops for several years, they still have the ability to lash back, as was seen in a September 16 ambush in which militants under the command of Nur Hassan Jamiri and Long Malat Sulayman killed three soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Battalion. Later in the day, however, a government mortar team zeroed in on the militants, killing two, including Commander Sulayman (Manila Times, September 17; Philippine Star, September 18). Police and Air Force intelligence agents have also recently captured long-wanted militants Bidung Ismael (a.k.a. Ben Ismael) and Jul Ahmad Ahaadi (a.k.a. Jul Puti) (Philippine News Agency, October 15; Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 8). Three days earlier, the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police and the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations killed Sulu provincial leader Gafur Jumdail (a.k.a. Doc Abu) and two associates (Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 5).

Abu SayyafAbu Sayyaf Militants

October witnessed a pair of important training exercises conducted in the Philippines with U.S. military forces – the joint naval Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT – which included the first participation of U.S. and Philippine riverine forces) and PHIBLEX 11 (amPHIbious Landing EXercises), which rehearsed amphibious assaults (SunStar Network, October 13; Philippine Star, October 13; Manila Bulletin, October 10).

Created in 1950 for use against communist guerrillas, the 9,500 man Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) has already been active alongside the Philippines Army and police units in fighting against Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the southern province of Basilan, though they have been operating largely as infantry units (Manila Bulletin, March 21; ABS-CBN [Manila], December 19, 2008). The Marines are organized into three active-service brigades, a fourth reserve brigade, and a support and services brigade.

According to Rear Admiral Ernesto Marayag, current Marine amphibious assault operations are executed by small units carrying out “surgical strikes.” Marayag stated, “This is not the same as in the Saving Private Ryan film. We put in one or two teams or one company during the right time, under cover of darkness, because surprise is vital in any special operations” (ABS-CBN [Manila], December 19, 2008). Marine commander Brigadier Rustico Guerrero announced that 60 dogs of the military K-9 unit will also be deployed in hunting down ASG members (Pilipino Star Ngayon, September 8).

However, amphibious operations will be hampered by the absence of the surveillance and attack capabilities offered by helicopters – the Navy’s last helicopter crashed off Zamboanga nearly two months ago and the bidding for two new helicopters has been suspended due to suspected collusion between suppliers and defense officials (Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 5; Manila Standard, October 5). The Philippine Navy (Hukbong Dagat ng Pilipinas), to which the Marines belong, is in desperate need of modernization. Its 31 Second World War-era ships are generally conceded to be incapable of patrolling and securing the Philippines’ territorial waters (Manila Bulletin, July 27).

This article first appeared in the October 28, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Renegade Opposition Leader Predicts Oil War in Sudan

Andrew McGregor

October 21, 2010

In a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily, a leading Sudanese politician claimed a vote for secession by the oil-rich South Sudan in the upcoming January referendum will not be accepted by the Khartoum government, leading to a third round in the North-South civil war that has already killed over two million Sudanese since 1955 (Asharq al-Awsat, October 8).

HassaneneinAli Mahmoud Hassanein (Sudan Tribune)

Ali Mahmoud Hassanein, Deputy Chairman of al-Hizb al-Ittihadi al-Dimuqrati (Democratic Unionist Party – DUP), now lives in self-imposed exile in London, where he is organizing a broad coalition “whose primary objective is to topple the government of Omar al-Bashir.” Hassanein was recently in the United States, where he was seeking support for his new front. He rejects suggestions that he is participating in “hotel activism,” noting he had little choice but to flee Sudan after security officials warned him that he would be killed if he continued his political activities after being released from prison last year. In 2008 Hassanein was imprisoned on charges of attempting to overthrow the government after advocating al-Bashir’s trial by the ICC (Sudan Tribune, August 30). Prior to that, Hassanein was arrested along with 30 other opposition figures in July 2007 on similar charges (Reuters, December 29, 2008).

Hassanein is convinced that a vote for independence in South Sudan will soon be followed by al-Bashir’s military crossing into the South to occupy the oil fields:

There are two possibilities: either the Southerners will choose secession, or, if the referendum is cancelled or if its results are questioned, they will declare unilateral independence. In both cases, al-Bashir will declare, on TV in a national address to the nation, that the oil fields are in danger and that Sudan’s national security is at stake. He will then declare that he has ordered the armed forces to take control of the oil fields.

The veteran 76-year-old politician is a notable opponent of the Sudanese president, whom he describes as “a dictator and a criminal.” Hassanein’s hard-line approach to the Sudanese president and his insistence that the president be tried by the International Criminal Court (which indicted al-Bashir in July 2008) has put him at odds with the DUP leader, Sayed Mohammad Osman al-Mirghani, who is also the leader of Sudan’s Khatmiyya Sufi Order. Sayed al-Mirghani has favored cooperation with al-Bashir since 2005 after having led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an umbrella group of armed opposition wings. This political reversal has led the DUP’s deputy leader to criticize the role of Sudan’s traditional political parties in supporting the military/Islamist regime in Khartoum:

One of the reasons for establishing our movement was our belief that the traditional Sudanese political parties have failed to reflect the aspirations of the Sudanese people. They have been afflicted by inept leadership and have been dominated by certain families. This doesn’t just apply to the DUP, but all other traditional political parties as well.

Here Hassanein was certainly criticizing the DUP’s traditional rival, Sudan’s Umma Party, which is dominated by the descendants of the 19th century Mahdi. The DUP has always been the private preserve of the Mirghani family, leading to calls for Hassanein’s resignation from the party over his opposition to Sayed al-Mirghani. Hassanein, however, rejects such calls, saying, “I am a Unionist, I always have been, and I will die a Unionist.”

Hassanein believes Washington’s apparent improvement of relations with Khartoum is a temporary measure:

After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which was sponsored by the U.S., it became clear that the U.S. wanted Southern Sudan to secede. So, now as the referendum in the South is getting closer and closer, the U.S., as expected, is appeasing al-Bashir so that he will not endanger the new state in the South.

The DUP deputy also pointed out that the Southern administration will not relinquish the Southern oil fields without defending them and has been purchasing tanks, planes and weapons with the knowledge that al-Bashir will never let them go. He claimed, “Not only will there be renewed war in the South, but also in Darfur, the east and other parts of Sudan.”

President al-Bashir told Sudan’s parliament last week that he would “not accept” any alternative to Sudanese unity, though his remarks were later downplayed by the Foreign Minister (AFP, October 15). According to Hassanein, with 90% of Sudan’s export revenues coming from oil, al-Bashir and his followers have changed their priorities “from ideology to business and from Shari’a to oil. They have become largely preoccupied with oil companies, pipelines, refineries, explorations, exports and revenues.” Hassanein suggests that without oil revenues the government will go bankrupt, with an economic collapse leading to the political collapse of the regime.

This article first appeared in the October 21, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Schism in al-Shabaab Leadership in Somalia Follows Failed Ramadan Offensive

Andrew McGregor

October 21, 2010

Though denials have been issued, the failure of al-Shabaab’s Ramadan offensive, intended to rout Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) from Mogadishu, appears to have led to a major rift between the group’s Amir, Shaykh Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr”, and his deputy, Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur.”

Mukhtar Robow

Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur”

Though the rivalry between Abu Mansur and Godane goes back some time, it only burst into the open after Abu Mansur’s 1,200 to 2,000 fighters from the southern Bay and Bakool regions began to take heavy losses in the Ramadan offensive. Nearly all of Abu Mansur’s fighters are members of the Digil and Mirifle, known jointly as the Rahanweyn. There are reports of hundreds of deaths and desertions in the Bay-Bakool force, which was apparently pushed into the frontlines of the fighting by northern commanders. Abu Mansur downplayed complaints from his men that they were treated badly by other Shabaab commanders and failed to receive medical treatment when wounded until one of his commanders, Shaykh Ayub, went missing. Eventually Abu Mansur learned from Godane that the Shaykh had been badly wounded and was killed by members of al-Shabaab’s Amniyaat special forces unit (loyal to Godane) to ensure he would die a martyr. This proved the last straw for Abu Mansur, who ordered the withdrawal of his men from the battlefield in Mogadishu (Jowhar, October 8;, September 28; Suna Times, October 9).

There are questions within al-Shabaab regarding financial improprieties and the appointment of members of Godane’s northern Isaaq clan to vital positions within the movement. A three-day mediation between the two leaders in a hotel in the southern Somali town of Marka failed completely, leading to Abu Mansur’s withdrawal of fighters under his command from Mogadishu (, October 1). Godane was supported in the dispute by Shaykh Ibrahim Haji Jama “al-Afghani”, another Shabaab commander from the Isaaq clan, who was quoted as saying, “Mukhtar Robow is a transgressor. He is a tribalist. He is nothing. Let him leave” (, October 8;, September 28).

According to one report, Abu Mansur made five demands of the Shabaab leadership:

• The resignation of Abdi Godane as the movement’s leader.

• An agreement to allow aid agencies to operate freely in Somalia.

• The disbanding of the Amniyaat Special Forces.

• The launch of an investigation into the death of senior al-Shabaab commanders in the frontlines.

• The dismissal of any al-Shabaab commanders found to be responsible for these deaths (, October 8).

After TFG and AMISOM forces began making gains in the fighting, Abu Mansur’s forces returned to Mogadishu from the towns of Baidoa and Hudur in the Bay and Bakool regions (New Vision [Kampala], October 5;, October 12).  Apparently having made his point that the fighters from these regions were essential to al-Shabaab’s military success, Abu Mansur’s troops were able to help stabilize the frontlines in Mogadishu.

Abu Mansur is reported to have met in Mogadishu with Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of rival Islamist militia Hizb al-Islam, with the two discussing closer ties and a possible alliance against Godane (, October 10). Abu Mansur was al-Shabaab’s chief negotiator in unification talks with Hizb al-Islam earlier this year that collapsed at the last moment when Godane insisted that Shaykh Aweys’ movement be absorbed into al-Shabaab and operate under that name only. There is speculation that Abu Mansur’s negotiations with Hizb al-Islam were designed to bring the Hawiye clan (which dominates Hizb al-Islam) into his camp, thus creating a powerful coalition against the outsider Abdi Godane, whose Isaaq clan is largely based in breakaway Somaliland and plays a small part in the fighting in south Somalia.

Abu Mansur took to the minbar (pulpit) of a mosque in Mogadishu’s Bakara market on October 8 to deny the reports of the rift (Garowe Online, October 9; Shabelle Media Network, October 9). As if to refute the view of some observers that Abu Mansur is nothing more than a “nationalist in Islamist garb,” the Shabaab deputy leader used the presence of the media to send his greetings to Osama bin Laden, assuring him that al-Shabaab were the students of al-Qaeda. “We are sending a message to our group leader – al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – that we are still continuing fighting until we join our fellow brothers who were killed by American troops in other countries,” said Abu Mansur (IRIN, October 14; Shabelle Media Network, October 8; Garowe Online, October 9). He then followed his Mogadishu statement with another denial at the Dabaqeynka mosque in Baidoa, where he urged residents of the Bay and Bakool regions to join in the fighting. He described reports of the rift as a fabrication designed to sow suspicion in the ranks of the mujahideen (, October 13).

Abu Mansur’s very public style is at odds with Abdi Godane’s furtiveness. The latter rarely makes public appearances or statements and was widely ridiculed in Somalia after photos appeared on the internet of the Shabaab leader donning women’s clothing as a disguise. One of the major issues between the two men has been Godane’s insistence on banning humanitarian aid agencies from working in Somalia, a ban actively opposed by Abu Mansur and the main reason the latter was relieved of his position as al-Shabaab spokesman last year. Lately the al-Shabaab leadership has even warned Somalis against accepting medical help or pharmaceutical drugs from AMISOM forces, virtually the only source of medical aid for many Somalis caught in war-torn Mogadishu.

It appears the military stalemates in Mogadishu and in Central Somalia against the Sufi Ahlu Sunna wa’l-Jama’a militia have begun to take their toll on the Shabaab leadership, allowing clan rivalries to emerge that were successfully submerged in the movement so long as it continued to gain ground. Godane’s secretive style of leadership and absence from the frontlines does not play well with the Somali fighters under his command, which may leave him perilously short of armed support should Abu Mansur make a play for the leadership.

This article first appeared in the October 21, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Tribal Dispute Makes Oil-Rich Abyei Region Potential Flashpoint for Renewed Sudanese Conflict

Andrew McGregor

October 4, 2010

The future of the Sudan may lay in Abyei, a relatively small district on the border between Sudan’s North and South. Its status as part of either North or South Sudan will be determined in a plebiscite on January 9, held simultaneously with a referendum in the South that is expected to lead to the secession of the Southern provinces. Though the Abyei region is rich in high-quality crude oil, a conflict with the potential to ignite a new round of civil war may actually be fought over grazing rights.

Ngok DinkaNgok Dinka Leaders

Sitting atop the Muglad Basin, Abyei is one of Sudan’s most productive regions for high-quality oil production.  It is also home to the agricultural Ngok Dinka tribe, closely related to other Dinka clans in the South Sudan. However, for up to eight months a year it is also home to the nomadic Missiriya Arabs, part of the Baqqara (cattle-herding) Arab group that dwells in southern Darfur and southern Kordofan and takes its herds south for precious water and grazing during Sudan’s dry season (Asharq al-Awsat, August 6, 2009).

Abyei’s troubled status began in 1905 when the Anglo-Egyptian administration of Sudan transferred the “area of the nine Ngok Dinka chieftains” from the southern Bahr al-Ghazal province to the northern province of Kordofan. Relations between the Ngok Dinka and the Missiriya were amicable until the outbreak of the 1956-1972 North-South civil war, when the Ngok Dinka sided largely with the southern Anyanya separatist movement. When the war resumed in 1983, the Ngok Dinka again sided with the Southern opposition, this time in the form of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M).

Beginning in 1965, the Missiriya and other Baqqara Arabs were armed by Khartoum, forming mounted units known as the Murahileen. These militias raided the southern civilian population in SPLA-controlled territory, carrying out atrocities and kidnappings with a free hand. Though relations between the southern agriculturalists and the nomadic Arabs had always been uneasy, this strategy opened an irrevocable gulf between the two communities in the Abyei region.

Clashes occurred in the region in 2007 and 2008, when the town of Abyei was effectively razed to the ground by government-allied forces. The borders of Abyei were redrawn by an international arbitration tribunal in 2009 to neither side’s satisfaction, though the most productive oil fields were separated from a diminished Abyei and attached to the northern Kordofan province (RFI, July 22, 2009). The final status of the region is to be determined in a January 2011 referendum to be held simultaneously with the referendum on Southern independence, but a referendum commission has yet to be organized and there are still disputes regarding who is eligible to vote (Sudan Tribune, September 30; PANA Online [Dakar], September 24). With a vote for southern separation looking like a near certainty, the Missiriya fear that they will lose access to their traditional grazing lands. In this sense they are at odds with the National Congress Party of President Omar al-Bashir, which is willing to lose tribal grazing lands in favor of retaining oil fields.

As the plebiscite approaches and the question of whether the Missiriya will be allowed to vote on Abyei’s future remains unresolved, the rhetoric of Missiriya leaders has grown more incendiary. According to Missiriya chief Mukhtar Babo Nimr, “We will use force to achieve our rights and we will use weapons against anyone who tries to stop us from voting in the referendum… If they don’t meet our demands then we will set everything alight. If that leads to war then so be it” (Reuters, September 29). The Missiriya have prevented the demarcation of the new tribunal-ordered borders and the summer was marked by demonstrations organized by both the Njok Dinka and the Missiriya, as well as a number of attacks on villages by gunmen. Arop Madut Arop, a parliamentarian from Abyei, noted the southern peoples of Abyei “may take up arms. Their people in the SPLA/M may defect and go and join them and suddenly the northern army will also come in [and] within a few days, Sudan is back to war” (IRIN, July 8).

This article first appeared in the October 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Jihad in the Rasht Valley: Tajikistan’s Security Dilemma

Andrew McGregor

October 4, 2010

Efforts by Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon to solve his problem with Islamist militants through lengthy sentences for detained opposition members encountered a serious reversal on August 22 when 25 militants made a dramatic escape from a State National Security Committee (SNSC) remand center Tajikistan’s capital city of Dushanbe, killing four guards in the process.

Tajikistan has experienced little internal success since obtaining its independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. A devastating civil war followed from 1992 to 1997, which provoked the loss of most of Tajikistan’s ethnic Russian and European population, which formed much of the country’s professional and administrative classes. A peace and reconciliation agreement in 1997 promised a new era, but in recent years the regime has expelled most of the former armed Islamist opposition from their posts in the reconciliation government, adding to a wave of unrest fueled by corruption, economic failure and the revival of Islam after decades of Soviet repression.

The Jailbreak

The SNSC remand center in Dushanbe has its own security staff and is located inside a larger remand center operated by the Ministry of Justice. Though the escapees appear to have been in control of the SNSC facility for four hours, they nevertheless took Justice Ministry guards by surprise as they burst out of the SNSC building dressed in regulation camouflage uniforms. One car was commandeered by the fugitives, but it is unclear how the rest escaped through the city without hindrance (Avesta [Dushanbe], August 25).

Rasht Valley 2 Escape Planner Ibrohim Nasriddinov

According to one report, the escapees were able to arm themselves with 20 pistols, seven AK-47 assault rifles, one machine-gun and four grenades (Nigoh [Dushanbe], September 1). Most of the fugitives had been charged with plotting a coup against the state and had been handed stiff sentences of 15 to 30 years imprisonment by Tajikistan’s Supreme Court on August 20.  Unidentified gunmen who were believed to be part of the group of escaped prisoners fought a four-hour gun-battle with Defense Ministry outposts in the Romit Canyon (about 45 km from Dushanbe) on September 3 (Asia-Plus Online [Dushanbe], September 3; Itar-Tass, September 3).

Authorities believe the escape was organized by Ibrohim Nasriddinov, who was serving 23 years for murder and the planning of a terrorist act. Nasriddinov was caught on September 7 (Interfax, September 7). He is frequently identified as a former inmate of Guantanamo Bay although his name does not appear on the official list of prisoners (RFE/RL, August 7, 2007; Itar-Tass, September 7). There were reports that Nasriddinov was treated as a “privileged” prisoner, being allowed to move around the facility freely at night (Asia-Plus Online, September 2). Close relations between prisoners and guards coupled with understaffing (three guards for 90 prisoners) were cited as reasons for the success of the escape (Imruznews [Dushanbe], September 1).

The fugitives included 15 citizens of Tajikistan, five citizens of Russia, four citizens of Afghanistan and two citizens of Uzbekistan (Interfax, September 7; Khovar [Dushanbe], September 24). The two Uzbeks, Furkat Khalmetov and Khamidullo Yuldashov, were convicted of illegal border crossing and participating in an attempt to overthrow the government of Tajikistan, respectively (Itar-Tass, September 24).
A Dagestani escapee, Gusein Sulaymanov, was killed after wounding three policemen in a September 8 raid on a house used by militants (Interfax, September 29). Another escapee, Rahmiddin Azizov, a former Rasht Valley security officer, was killed in an operation in the Fayzobod district (Asia Plus Online, September 27; Interfax, September 29). Rahmiddin was serving a life sentence and was charged with belonging to a militant group led by his brother, Negmat (RIA Novosti, September 26).

Most of the fugitives were seized in last year’s Operation Kuknor (“Poppy”) and are alleged to have been former loyalists of Lieutenant General Mirzo Ziyoev, the military commander of the Tajik Islamists in the civil war who was given a high military rank and his own paramilitary in the reconciliation that followed the war (Itar-Tass, September 2). He was dismissed in 2006 and accused of having joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an assertion that was quickly denied by late IMU leader Tahir Yuldash (RFE/RL Uzbek Service, July 16, 2009;, July 16, 2009). Ziyoev was captured by security forces on July 11, 2009 and died later that day in crossfire between security forces and a group of militants (Millat [Dushanbe], July 23; al-Jazeera, July 16, 2009; IWPR, July 23, 2009).

Though some escapees were thought to be headed to the Afghanistan border, most were believed to be on their way to the eastern Tavildara district, where they were apprehended in a military sweep last year.

The Dagestan Connection

One of four Dagestanis involved in the escape, Magomet Ahkmadov was named as one of the three men who led the breakout by killing four guards and wounding two others (Interfax, August 24). The other leaders included Mirzomen Abiyev, Kazbek Dzhabailov, and Gusein Sulaymonov, who was later killed in a gunfight with police (Interfax, September 29).

Another Dagestani, Ahmad Sultanov, was sentenced to nine years in prison only days after the prison break for “circulating extremist ideas” and making calls for jihad. Sultanov is an alleged member of Dagestan’s Shari’a Jamaat, one of the most active armed Islamist groups in the North Caucasus (Itar-Tass, August 27).

The Ambush in the Kamarob Gorge

Using grenades and automatic weapons, an unidentified militant group ambushed a military convoy in the Kamarob gorge of eastern Tajikistan, about 260 km from Dushanbe, on September 19. The attack killed at least 28 soldiers and left many more wounded, leaving the government to suspect experienced guerrilla leaders like Mirzokhuja Ahmadov (a.k.a. “Belgi”), Abdullo Rakhimov and Alovudin Davlatov (a.k.a. Ali Bedak) of responsibility for the assault. Later reports put the death toll at 40 of the total 75 man detachment (RIA Novosti, September 20). The Tajik Defense Ministry insisted fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya were part of the ambush force (Itar-Tass, September 26).

Tajik security officials identified Abdullo Rakhimov (better known as “Mullo Abdullo”) as the main suspect, and a later video message from an IMU spokesman claimed responsibility on behalf of the movement, which has had little presence outside the northwest frontier region of Pakistan since 2001. Issued by Abdufattokh Ahmadi, the message said the attack was a response to several issues, including the closure of “thousands” of mosques, unreasonable detention of Muslims, a prohibition on headscarves, and government cooperation with the United States and NATO against Afghanistan’s Muslims (Radio Liberty Tajik Service, September 23;, September, 24).

Calls for the resignation of the Tajik defense minister followed criticism that the army consisted of poorly-trained and poorly-supplied workers and farmers, many of whom are young and without military experience (Farazh [Dushanbe], September 22; Chark-i Gardun [Dushanbe], September 22). Last June the United States announced it would build a $10 million Counterterrorism Training Center at Qarotogh in Tajikistan’s Shahrinav District, pending an agreement with the Tajikistan government. Both Washington and Dushanbe have made it clear that the center will train only Tajik soldiers and will not house American military personnel. U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, told reporters on September 1 that the United States had no intention of establishing a military presence in Tajikistan (Interfax, September 7).

Tajik Military Operations Following the Kamorab Gorge Ambush

Two days after the ambush in the Kamorab Gorge, government troops began searching houses in the Rasht Valley belonging to former members of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), the leading opposition front in the civil war. Security forces encountered resistance at the home of Mirzokhuja Ahmadov, where five of Ahmadov’s followers were killed in a gunfight. Security forces reported seizing assault rifles, grenade launchers, mines and three completed bombs containing nearly 20 kg of explosives (RIA Novosti, September 23). Ahmadov himself was not found at the scene and his whereabouts remain unknown. The former Islamist warlord was formerly head of the government’s organized crime unit in the Rasht Valley following post-civil war reintegration efforts. An attempt to arrest him in 1998 resulted in the shooting death of Oleg Zakharchenko, chief of Tajikistan’s OMON police unit, by one of Ahmadov’s men. Government officials have accused Ahmadov of sheltering Mullo Abdullo in his home since the latter’s return from Afghanistan (RFE/RL, September 28). The government attack reportedly prompted another former opposition commander, Shoh Iskandarov, to join the militants in the mountains (RFE/RL, September 22).

Rasht Valley 3Rasht Valley

The raid on Ahmadov’s residence came only a week after Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloev, Interior Minister Abdurahim Qahhorov and SCNS Deputy Leader Mansurjon Umarov met with Ahmadov and Iskandarov to assure them military operations in the Rasht Valley were intended only to apprehend Mullo Abdullo (RFE/RL, September 15). There were also rumors that the ministers had asked for the ex-warlords’ cooperation in hunting down Mullo Abdullo. The ambush in the Kamarob Gorge appears to have led to a turnabout in government policy. According to an Interior Ministry spokesman, two more members of Ahmadov’s group were detained without resistance on September 29, but many other suspected members of Ahmadov’s group might be released due to lack of evidence (RFE/RL, September 29).

The pursuit of the spectral Mullo Abdullo, who largely disappeared from view after reports he was captured by government forces in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province in 2002, and who may or may not have returned to the Rasht Valley last year, consumes much of the efforts of Tajikistan’s security forces and provides a convenient bogeyman for government use. Mullo Abdullo has not been seen in Tajikistan since September 2000, when a government offensive destroyed most of his group. Mullo Abdullo’s wife claims she does not know the whereabouts of her husband and does not believe he was responsible for the ambushed convoy (Asia-Plus Online, September 27).

Continuing military operations are being led by the chief of the Tajik General Staff, Ramil Nadyrov, and are reported to involve Tajik Special Forces and helicopter gunships (Itar-Tass, September 30; AFP, September 20). Rumors of Russian intervention in the form of troops or helicopters from the Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division base in Tajikistan began circulating after several alleged sightings in early September, but both Tajik and Russian sources denied the involvement of Russian personnel in the counterterrorist operations (Avesta, September 8; Itar-Tass, September 30). The 201st Division is permanently based in Tajikistan where it has been responsible for guarding the border with Afghanistan against militant incursions since 2001. While some Tajiks suspected Russian involvement in the hunt for the fugitives, others accused Russian or other “foreign forces” of engineering the escape (Farazh [Dushanbe], September 1; Millat [Dushanbe], September 1).

The mass escape, both alarming and humiliating, resulted in quick changes to the nation’s security leadership. Colonel-General Khairidin Abdurakhimov was relieved of his duties as head of the State National Security Committee (SNSC) “at his own request” and was replaced by Saimumin Yatimov, a former diplomat who became involved in state security matters in 2000 (Asia Plus Online, September 2; Interfax, September 7). All other top officials of the SNSC were dismissed, as well (Itar-Tass, September 2).

The Khudzhand Suicide Bombing

A rare Tajik suicide car-bombing on September 3 targeted a regional police unit in the northern town of Khudzhand (350 km north of Dushanbe), killing at least two policemen and injuring nearly two dozen others (Interfax, September 3; September 7; Asia-Plus Online, September 3; Avesta, September 3; Daydzhest Press [Dushanbe], September 9). Authorities blamed the IMU, but responsibility for the attack was later claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself Jamaat Ansarullah. The claim suggested the assailants were local in origin; “The operation was carried out in response to the killing and humiliation of our brothers and ordinary Muslims behind the walls of that God-damned place” (Kavkaz-Tsentr, September 8). A representative of Tajikistan’s Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) was hesitant in accepting the claim, saying “enemies of Islam” invent organizations with Arab names to tie Muslims to acts of violence. “As far as we know, there is no such organization even among banned religious organizations in our country. I even doubt that it exists in the world,” stated the IRP representative (Asia-Plus Online, September 11).

A September 5 explosion at a Dushanbe disco that wounded seven people was at first believed to be an attack by radical Islamists, but investigations revealed the blast was the result of “gross misconduct by visitors using pyrotechnics” (Interfax, September 7).

Taliban on the Border

On September 10, a Tajik border patrol encountered what they described as a large group of Islamist fighters, including Afghan Taliban, trying to cross the border from Afghanistan. A firefight lasting nearly 24 hours ensued, with the border police eventually driving off the Taliban incursion. Authorities claimed one officer and 20 Taliban were killed. Though only seven Taliban bodies were recovered, officials said the rest were observed being put into the river by their former comrades to be carried away. The battle took place roughly 210 km south of Dushanbe on the banks of the River Pyandzh and on a number of islands in the river occupied by Taliban fighters (Reuters, September 11; AFP, September 13).

Response from the Legal Islamist Opposition

In an effort to curb extremism, President Emomali Rahmon has asked parents to arrange for the return of their children studying at Islamic institutions abroad, claiming they were being trained as “extremists and terrorists” (Asia-Plus Online, August 30). The request proved highly controversial and brought pointed criticism from the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (the only legal Islamic party in Tajikistan) (Asia-Plus Online, August 26).

The IRP responded to the new violence by issuing a call for national unity and a halt in the process of destabilization (Ozodagon [Dushanbe], September 22). Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri said his appeals to the government to open discussions with the militant opposition had fallen on deaf ears and led to the current violence (Najot [Dushanbe], September 23). Kabiri maintains that moderates form the majority in Tajikistan, but both the secular government and the armed Islamist opposition are now dominated by extremists. The government has jailed more than 100 members of banned Islamic groups in the last year alone. Kabiri’s views on the violence were sought by assistant to the U.S. secretary of state on South and Central Asia Robert Blake during a recent two-day visit to Dushanbe (Vecherniy Dushanbe, September 7).


It is difficult to get a clear picture of the security picture in Tajikistan. Foreign press reports are quick to work al-Qaeda into their headlines, with reports suggesting all of Tajikistan’s militants are somehow operatives of that organization. Tajik authorities prefer to blame their troubles on a revival of the IMU in Tajikistan or alternatively to blame Islamist opponents of the government who have already been subject to a campaign of marginalization for some years. The possible emergence of new groups such as the Jamaat Ansarullah and the pursuit of shadowy figures such as Mullo Abdullo tend to confuse the picture even more. Along the frontier with Afghanistan there is the risk of fugitive militants escaping across the border to join the Taliban while other groups of Taliban are apparently trying to make their way into Tajikistan. Presenting its troubles in the framework of the “war on terrorism” allows the Dushanbe government to avoid discussions of official nepotism, corruption and inefficiency as factors causing unrest in the country.

The small number of militants active in Tajikistan does not pose an existential threat to the nation, as some have suggested. They have little influence outside the Rasht Valley and do not enjoy the levels of popular support the armed opposition had in the 1990s. However, economic stagnation and the continuing marginalization of all types of political opposition threaten to create the conditions in which militant groups could flourish, especially those offering an Islamic solution to Tajikistan’s problems in harmony with the nation’s ongoing grass-roots Islamic revival.

This article first appeared in the October 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

PKK Commander Suggests Kurdish Alignment with Israel against Turkey

Andrew McGregor

October 4, 2010

KarayilanMurat Karayilan

PKK Commander Murat Karayilan compared the situation of Turkey’s Kurds to the Jewish Holocaust in a public appeal to Israel to ally itself with the radical Kurdish nationalist movement against the Turkish state. The appeal was made in a recent interview with an Israeli journalist that was later broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 Television (Haaretz, September 22):

More than any other people in the world, I would have expected Israel to understand and identify with us. After all, you, who have experienced the Holocaust, massacres, expulsions and persecution, now see our people, the Kurdish people, experiencing that same fate. Everyone in this area – Syrians, Turks and Iranians – wants and is trying to destroy us, and you, of all people, are the ones providing them with the weapons to destroy us.

Karayilan was interviewed at a secret hideout in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, close to the border with Iran. With PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan confined to a Turkish prison, Karayilan has emerged as the effective leader of the Kurdish cross-border insurgency. Ocalan was seized in Nairobi in 1999, allegedly by a team of Israeli Mossad agents who turned the PKK leader over to Turkish security services (Daily Nation [Nairobi], February 27). Since then, however, there has been a general belief in Turkey that Israel has provided arms and training to PKK and Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq. An Israeli commando team involved in training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq was forced to withdraw in 2005 after their presence was made public, but recent reports indicate Israeli military trainers have returned to the region (Yedioth Ahronoth, December 1, 2005; Ynet, December 1, 2005; Arutz Sheva, February 5; Today’s Zaman, June 9).

Despite this belief, one of the PKK commander’s main concerns was the supply of Israeli-made Heron class unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Turkish military. The UAVs have been highly effective in locating PKK positions in difficult terrain for targeting by Turkish forces (see Terrorism Focus Briefs, April 1, 2008). Karayilan remarked of the change in relations:

Once we were friends. In the 1960s and 1970s, Israel went out of its way to assist the Kurds. We admired you. But since the 1980s, from the moment you tightened your relationship, and your military cooperation, with Turkey, you have been considered here to be among those who systematically assist in our oppression and eradication… It is clear and natural to us that there should be relations between Israel and Turkey. Why not? But why should these relations come at our expense, at the expense of our lives? I wonder if Israelis are at all aware of the use that is made of the weapons and training they provide to Turkey.

Israel has not made an official statement on Karayilan’s interview, but an Israeli diplomat requesting anonymity told a Turkish daily, “The Israeli position is known and clear. We see the PKK as a terrorist organization and we support the Turkish fight against terror” (Today’s Zaman, September 22).

Despite what seemed to be a vicious public disagreement between Israel and Turkey following the May 31 Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza, diplomatic and military officials worked behind the scenes to ensure economic and military ties remained relatively undamaged by the feud (Hurriyet, September 22; see Terrorism Monitor Briefs,  June 12). Karayilan, however, attempted to exploit the rift:

More than any other Turkish head of state, this prime minister, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, openly shows how he is tightening relations with Hezbollah and Syria. He hugs [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and praises Hamas. Are you sure this is your friend?

An important ministerial summit between Turkey and Syria is scheduled for October 2-3, with terrorism expected to be one of the principal topics of discussion. Turkey is intent on improving economic relations with Syria and has already received Syrian support on the PKK issue (Hurriyet, September 28). However, the May 31 incident brought an abrupt end to Turkish efforts to mediate between Syria and Israel. Turkish interior minister Besir Atalay is also expected to meet soon with his counterparts in Syria and Iran to discuss the PKK threat.

Only a few days before Karayilan’s interview was broadcast, three PKK members were reported arrested in the port city of Jounieh by Lebanon’s Military Intelligence on charges of spying for Israel (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, September 23). Lebanon has arrested over 70 people on suspicion of spying for Israel since April 2009 (AFP, September 24).

This article first appeared in the October 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor