From Guerilla Fighter to Independence Politician: The Story of South Sudan’s Salva Kiir Mayardit

Andrew McGregor

November 30, 2010

With the January 9, 2011 Referendum on South Sudanese independence only weeks away, a long-time rebel commander turned politician stands to become the first president of a new African nation, a nation with abundant oil reserves but a highly uncertain future. Salva Kiir Mayardit, a Roman Catholic Rek Dinka from Warrap state in Bahr al-Ghazal province, fought in both of Sudan’s civil wars, finishing the second as chief military commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). [1]

Salva Kiir

Salva Kiir Mayardit


In 1967, a 17-year-old Salva Kiir joined the Ayanya Rebellion (1955-1972), an armed effort to establish a separate state in South Sudan. Following the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement that brought an end to Sudan’s First Civil War, Kiir was among those Anyanya guerillas who were integrated into the Sudanese Armed Forces or the Wildlife Protection Service (many other irreconcilable fighters went south to Idi Amin’s Uganda). He graduated from the Sudan Military College in Omdurman and went on to serve as a major in Sudanese military intelligence.

Having joined the renewed Southern insurgency in 1983, Salva Kiir’s skills and influence were recognized when he was made a member of the SPLA/M High Command Council, alongside notable Southern soldiers such as Colonel John Garang de Mabior (who emerged as SPLA/M Chairman), Lieutenant Colonel Karabino Kuanyin Bol, Major Arok Thon Arok and Lieutenant Colonel William Nyuon Bany. Of these figures, only Salva Kiir survives.

Kiir began to play an important political/diplomatic role in 1993 when he led the SPLM delegation to the OAU-sponsored Sudan Peace Talks in Abuja. Kiir took over as John Garang’s deputy following the death of William Nyoun Bany in 1996. He again led the SPLM delegation to the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) sponsored Sudan peace talks in Kenya that paved the way for the ground-breaking 2004 Machakos Protocol.

Increasing differences between Kiir and SPLA chairman John Garang in 2004 led to unsuccessful attempts by Garang to replace the popular military leader as commander-in-chief of the SPLA (Sudan Vision, July 8, 2005). There were in turn rumors that Kiir was planning to depose Garang and install veteran politician Bono Malwal in his place.

John Garang was Sudan’s foremost advocate of a united but democratic and federal Sudan that would incorporate Sudan’s many peoples into Sudan’s narrowly defined power structure, traditionally dominated by three Arab tribes of North Sudan. His vision on a “New Sudan” often placed him at odds with the rest of the SPLA/M leadership, many of whom advocated for an independent South Sudan. These divisions grew as the civil war showed few signs of ending and attitudes towards the North hardened. Garang became increasingly intolerant of internal challenges to his program and used force to maintain ideological discipline. However, Garang’s vision appears to have died with him in the helicopter crash that claimed his life in July 2005, only months after negotiating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the civil war. Unlike Garang, Salva Kiir is a separatist who quickly changed the official direction of the SPLM into an independence movement from a national unity movement, finding much support and little opposition for the change.

The CPA established a Government of National Unity (GNU) in Khartoum and a Government of South Sudan (GoSS) based in Juba, with the GoSS President automatically becoming first vice-president of Sudan. Since Garang’s death, Kiir has served as first vice-president of the Sudanese GNU and president of the GoSS.  Kiir was not everyone’s choice as the movement’s new leader, but it was important to follow the established line of succession for the SPLA/M to maintain its international credibility as a partner in the CPA and prevent the movement from shattering. The result was a unanimous vote on the part of the SPLA/M High Command Council to elect Kiir as SPLM chairman and commander-in-chief of the SPLA. He was reelected by unanimous vote in 2008.

Kiir is not a forceful speaker but has used other methods to establish his public presence. Like most Nilotic peoples of the South Sudan, Kiir is unusually tall by Western standards and cuts a distinctive and memorable figure in his typical black suit, red tie and broad-brimmed black hat (the latter innovation has since been adopted by many of Darfur’s rebel leaders).

Disengaging from the New Sudan

It was widely expected that John Garang’s appointment to first vice-president of the Sudan under the terms of the CPA would mark the beginning of a new approach to the crisis in Darfur, but his death and the subsequent takeover of Salva Kiir as vice-president instead marked the beginning of a more muted approach by the SPLA/M to the Darfur issue. The movement’s attempts to unite the fractious Darfur rebels have been largely unsuccessful and even the SPLA/M’s limited efforts to help forge a solution to the Darfur crisis have been discouraged by Khartoum. Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) recently demanded that South Sudan arrest Darfur rebel leaders who are resident in the South (Sudan Tribune, November 8). Salva Kiir has nonetheless encouraged the unification of the many Darfur rebel movements and his discussions with Dr. Khalil Ibrahim’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM – the strongest rebel group in Darfur) have proved especially worrisome for Khartoum.

John GaranLate SPLA/M Chairman John Garang Mabior

With Kiir uninterested in the national presidency, the SPLM decided to run Yasir Sa’id Arman, a northerner and longtime member of the SPLM leadership, for the presidency in the April elections. However, Arman and the other leading challenger, former president and Umma Party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, both decided to withdraw from the election citing irregularities. Following the withdrawal of the SPLM from the presidential contest, Kiir surprised many by saying he had voted to re-elect National Congress Party (NCP) chairman Omar al-Bashir as president of Sudan (Sudan Tribune, April 18).

Kiir has accused Khartoum of sending only 26% of Sudan’s oil revenues to the southern capital of Juba, rather than the 50% called for in the CPA (Sudan Tribune, October 1). Nearly 50% of the revenues that have reached Juba have gone to an ambitious rearmament program in the South intended to place the SPLA on a more even footing with the conventional forces of the SAF. Efforts have even begun to create a Southern Air Force.

Pardoning Thy Enemies

Under the terms of the CPA, the SAF and the SPLA became the only legal armed groups in Sudan. The many independent or pro-Khartoum militias operating in the South were given the option of disarming or joining one or the other legal armed forces. Naturally it became imperative for the SPLA/M to integrate these forces rather than allow pro-Khartoum armed groups to continue their existence in the South, but the process has been slow and even appeared to be failing in the last year as a number of SPLA commanders rebelled against Salva Kiir’s government in the aftermath of the April elections, which the dissidents complained were fixed in favor of Kiir loyalists.

In January 2006, Kiir’s negotiations with longtime anti-SPLA militia commander Paulino Matip Nhial resulted in the traditionally pro-Khartoum Bul Nuer commander joining the SPLA/M. The so-called “Juba Declaration” incorporating “other armed groups” into the SPLA/M was a major coup for Kiir and an important step in convincing remaining Nuer and other tribal dissidents to cooperate with the SPLA/M in the lead-up to the referendum. Paulino Matip was rewarded by being made Deputy Commander of the SPLA, with promotion to full General in May, 2009 (, May 31, 2009).

As Kiir began preparing the South Sudan for the independence referendum (and the possible outbreak of hostilities following a vote for separation), a series of small rebellions and mutinies by SPLA/M generals and officers threatened to destroy any chance of a unified approach to the question of separation. Many saw the hand of Khartoum and its proven “divide and conquer” approach to any threat to central authority behind these rebellions. Though Kiir initially responded with force to these challenges, he ultimately turned to an amnesty in September 2010, which, combined with the seeming inevitability of a Southern vote for independence, succeeded in bringing nearly all the rebel commanders back into the fold. It was a bold gambit – before the decision many Southerners were calling for the utter destruction of the rebel commanders; after the decision, the families of loyal SPLA troops killed in combating the rebellions were outraged at the pardons (New Sudan Vision, October 11). The main individuals concerned in the amnesty were the following:

  • Lieutenant General George Athor:  George Athor, a Dinka tribesman, ran as an independent for governor of Jonglei State in the April elections after having failed to receive the nomination of the SPLM. Unhappy with his loss in the polls, Athor and his men began a series of heavy clashes with SPLA forces in late April through May. Athor threatened to take the Unity (Wilayah) State capital of Malakal while SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amun accused him of being a pawn of the NCP (Sudan Tribune, May 17; al-Hayat, May 14). Athor’s men are now reported to be rejoining SPLA forces in Jonglei under the command of Major General Peter Bol Kong (Sudan Tribune, November 9).
  • Major General Gabriel Tang: Tang led a pro-government militia in the civil war. After clashing with the SPLA in 2006, Tang withdrew to Khartoum, where his forces were integrated with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). An unannounced return to Malakal in February 2009 led to further clashes with the SPLA that left hundreds dead before Tang returned to Khartoum.Tang responded to the amnesty offer within days by flying to Juba and declaring his allegiance to the SPLA/M (Sudan Tribune, October 15).
  • David Yau Yau: A civilian from Jonglei, David Yau Yau is a member of the Murle Tribe and is tied to George Athor. Yau launched a small rebellion in Jonglei’s Pibor county after being defeated in the April elections. He was not named in the September 29 pardons, but is expected to follow George Athor’s lead (Miraya FM [Juba], July 5; Small Arms Survey, November 2010).
  • Colonel Gatluak Gai: A Colonel in the Prisons Service of South Sudan, this relatively unknown officer from the Jaglei Nuer led a short-lived rebellion in May-June against the SPLA/M in Unity State following the April elections. Several sources reported Missiriya Arab fighters amongst Gai’s force. The Colonel fled north after clashes with the SPLA and has not responded to offers of an amnesty (, November 18; Sudan Tribune, June 4;, June 30; Small Arms Survey, November 2010).

Preparing for the Referendum

Kiir’s decision not to contest the April 2010 Sudanese presidential elections in favor of running for president of the South Sudan was a clear sign the SPLA/M was no longer a national movement. With little real opposition, Kiir was returned to office with 93% of the vote. As president of the South Sudan, Kiir was automatically made vice-president of the national Sudanese government. In the ever-revolving world of Sudanese politics, Dr. Riek Machar, a Nuer warlord who spent many years dedicated to the destruction of the SPLA/M, was made vice-president of the GoSS.

Salva Kiir’s statement to supporters in Juba that he intended to vote for separation because the North had failed to make unity attractive was condemned by NCP official Rabie Abd al-Lati Obeid, who noted that the CPA “stated clearly that the SPLM with the National Congress Party should work together to achieve unity and to make unity attractive during the interim period…This is a clear violation of the CPA and it is against that agreement…” (Sudan Tribune, October 1; VOA, October 3).

After his return from recent meetings with UN and American officials, Kiir told a crowd in Juba:

Critically important is that the referenda take place on time, as stipulated in the CPA.  Delay or denial of the right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan and Abyei risks dangerous instability.  There is without question a real risk of a return to violence on a massive scale if the referenda do not go ahead as scheduled… We are genuinely willing to negotiate with our brothers in the North, and are prepared to work in a spirit of partnership to create sustainable relations between Northern and Southern Sudan for the long-term.  It is in our interest to see that the North remains a viable state, just as it should be in the interests of the North to see Southern Sudan emerge a viable one too.  The North is our neighbor, it shares our history, and it hosts our brothers and sisters.  Moreover, I have reiterated several times in my speeches in the past that even if Southern Sudan separates from the North it will not shift to the Indian Ocean or to the Atlantic Coast! (, October 4).

The most contentious issue Kiir must deal with is the future of Abyei, a disputed territory lying along the border of Kordofan (North) and Bahr al-Ghazal (South). A separate referendum to be held simultaneously with the independence vote will determine whether Abyei joins the North or the South. Most of the district’s Ngok Dinka are expected to vote for unification with the South, but the nomadic Missiriya Arabs of South Kordofan who pasture their herds there demand to be included in the voting. So far this issue has not been resolved and there are few signs the referendum will take place on time. Khartoum has said a postponement is necessary and Missiriya anger is threatening to create new violence in the already war-ravaged territory. Kiir has promised an SPLM government can provide services to the Missiriya, but cannot hand over the land to Missiriya control (Miriya FM [Juba], November 17). SPLM officials now speak of annexing Abyei if a referendum cannot be held, but only after making significant financial concessions to Khartoum.

Kiir has promised the Missiriya will continue to be allowed to graze their animals in an independent South Sudan: “Even if they come up to Juba, nobody will stop them” (Sudan Tribune, October 1). However, Kiir may find it difficult to back up such a promise under new attitudes to the presence of Arab nomads in an independent South Sudan. Many Southerners have fresh memories of the Missiriya’s role in the pro-Khartoum murahileen militias, accused by many Southerners of conducting widespread atrocities against the civilian population designed to break support for the SPLA/M during the civil war.


Though Kiir has managed to build a façade of unity going into the independence referendum, he has also surrounded himself with former rivals of questionable loyalty. Tribal tensions between Nuer and Dinka are never far from the surface and there is every possibility an aggravated dispute over posts, appointments and revenue sharing in an independent South could easily lead to a localized civil war, fueled by opportunists in Khartoum who would like to see the new state fail. As the vote grows ever closer there are indications that the leaders of the NCP, highly skilled at manipulating the international community, may attempt to force a postponement of the referendum on technical grounds. Kiir has said that the SPLA/M will not declare unilateral independence, but will instead press forward with the vote without the cooperation of Khartoum. The legality of such a step, not provided for in the 2005 CPA, would give Kiir’s opponents ample ammunition to disrupt the independence movement.


  1. The SPLA/M’s structure of a dual military/political command has served as a model for a number of other Sudanese rebel movements since its formation in 1983.

This article first appeared in the November 30, 2010 issue of the Militant Leadership Monitor

Former AQAP Intelligence Chief Describes Egyptian Role in al-Qaeda

Andrew McGregor

November 24, 2010

A Kuwaiti daily recently published a transcript of the interrogation of Shaykh Ibrahim Muhammad Salih al-Banna (a.k.a. Abu Ayman al-Masri), the Egyptian former intelligence chief of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who was arrested in early August (al-Jarida, November 4;, August 16). The interrogation, conducted by Yemeni authorities and copied to Egyptian security services, contained many details about the role of Egyptian militants in creating both core al-Qaeda and AQAP.

Muhammad al-ZawahiriMuhammad al-Zawhiri

As a member of the militant Tala’al al-Fateh (Vanguards of Conquest, a branch of Egyptian Islamic Jihad – EIJ), al-Banna found himself pursued by police in 1993 after the group attempted to assassinate Egyptian Prime Minister Atif Muhammad Nagib Sidqi. Al-Banna and a number of other militants forged travel documents and escaped to Yemen, where they found refuge with a community of EIJ members in Abyan led by Muhammad al-Zawahiri, brother of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Egyptians began organizing and moved to Amran governorate in northern Yemen, where Ayman al-Zawahiri arrived in 1994 to take over command of the group.

Using funds supplied by Ayman al-Zawahiri and later Osama bin Laden, the group began making large purchases of arms from Yemeni suppliers and a “chieftain of a large tribe in Darfur” who al-Banna identified as “Chief Dardiri,” but failed to identify the tribe. According to al-Banna, these arms were shipped by fishing boat to Yemen before being delivered to the group’s farm in Amran.

Al-Banna selected one of his Egyptian students, Abd al-Mun’im bin Izz al-Din al-Badawi (a.k.a. Abu Ayub al-Masri; a.k.a. Abu Hamza al-Muhaijir) to take over training recruits in intelligence work. As al-Badawi’s patron in al-Qaeda, al-Banna was able to recommend the young Egyptian intelligence expert as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq: “Abd-al-Muni’im had reached a stage when he knew what was happening inside the palaces of the Arab amirs, kings, and presidents. He was a powerful leader of the intelligence faction and Bin Laden used to call him ‘the legend’ due to his superior ability to find out news and gather information with utmost precision.” Al-Banna’s sponsorship and training of al-Badawi has been confirmed in the interrogation of other AQAP suspects (al-Watan [Kuwait], August 16).

Al-Badawi left for Afghanistan with documents forged by al-Banna in 2000. He would later succeed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq on the basis of al-Banna’s recommendation to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Badawi was killed during a joint Iraqi/American raid last April.

Al-Banna claims al-Qaeda established ties with Houthist rebel leaders in northern Yemen and “all the chieftains of the southern tribes,” as well as enlisting in its ranks “a very large number of Yemeni tribesmen, mujahideen and fugitives from Yemeni security.” According to al-Banna, the Houthists made “hundreds” of purchases of all types of arms from al-Qaeda.

Al-Banna says the number of Egyptians in AQAP decreased after Nasir al-Wuhayshi took command in 2006 following his escape from a prison in Sana’a. Al-Wuhayshi was al-Zawahiri’s choice as leader, due to his knowledge of the Yemeni tribes and his close ties to youth groups and adolescent mujahideen.

The fall issue of AQAP’s English language e-magazine, Inspire, contained an article by al-Banna entitled “Obama’s Ploy and the Peak of Islam.” After describing the 9/11 attack as “a virtuous act,” al-Banna went on to say President Obama is deceiving the American people and warned the latter, “We will not stop targeting you on your soil and elsewhere as long as you are occupying our land and bombing our homes and killing our children, women and elderly, and as long as you are supporting the Jews in their occupation of Jerusalem.” If al-Banna is the true author, the article must have been written before his arrest in early August.

Al-Banna’s apparent arrest and confession came despite the Yemen Interior Ministry’s earlier claim that he was killed in a missile strike on his vehicle in January, a claim quickly denied by AQAP (AFP January 16; al-Jazeera, January 18;, January 16).

There appears to be much in al-Banna’s interrogation report that is questionable. While providing an insider’s detailed information on many issues, al-Banna appears to know nothing of matters that might implicate him in any actual al-Qaeda operations subject to severe punishment. Though he asserts he and al-Badawi played major roles in recruiting, arming and training al-Qaeda personnel, al-Banna professes no knowledge of the 9/11 operation, saying, “I do not have any information about it and I do not know who executed it.” The Darfur arms connection sounds improbable, at best. Darfur tends to import rather than export arms, and it seem unlikely that a Darfuri tribal chief could contribute much to the “thousands of shipments” of “all types of light weapons, rocket launchers, hand grenades and land mines” that al-Banna says were forwarded to al-Qaeda command in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The well-stocked arms market of Yemen would seem a much more likely source for such arms.

Much of al-Banna’s confession seems to implicate the southern secessionists and the Zaydi Shiite Houthist rebels of north Yemen as willing associates of al-Qaeda, a claim long advanced by the Yemen government with varying degrees of acceptance. Al-Banna’s claim to have never actively participated in any operations or to have any knowledge of who was involved is likewise suspect.

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

Is Lebanon’s Hezbollah Equipped with New Iranian Drones?

Andrew McGregor

November 24, 2010

As Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) continue on what seems an inevitable path to a new round of open conflict, a report has emerged claiming Hezbollah’s armed wing has recently received a number of Iran’s most advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), courtesy of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) (al-Siyasah [Kuwait], November 6).

drone - iranIranian-made Karrar Drone

The report claims that sources close to high-ranking members of Hezbollah’s military force have revealed the movement has taken possession of three types of Iranian-supplied UAVs. These include Chinese-made drones, Iranian-made Ra’d (“Thunder”) drones and, most importantly, the Iranian-made long-range Karrar drones, introduced on August 22. According to the sources, these weapons are being kept in the Bekaa Valley of east Lebanon.

The Karrar (“Striker”) is a turbojet-powered drone capable of long-range reconnaissance and attack missions with a flight range of 1,000 km at low or high altitudes and a flight speed of 900 to 1,000 k/p/h, according to Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi (Defense Update, August 24). The four meter-long drone can carry two 115 kilogram bombs or a guided missile of 227 kilograms and can be deployed on the back of a truck to a ground-launch position where it can be fired with the aid of a jet-fuelled take-off system. Mobility is an important consideration for Hezbollah, all of whose territory is within easy range of Israeli aerial counterstrikes. The response time of Israeli warplanes to mobile missile launches during the 2006 conflict was typically less than ten minutes, leaving little time for launch crews and equipment to clear the area. The Karrar can be retrieved by its operators through the deployment of a rear-mounted parachute.

Iran opened two new production lines in February for the manufacture of Ra’d and Nazir (“Herald”) short-range, low-altitude UAVs with reduced radar-detection signatures. The Iranian Air Force also reports the development of its first stealth drone, the Sofreh Mahi (“Manta Ray”) (Press TV, February 8; Fars News Agency, February 8).

Israel is preparing a multi-level missile defense system, with the new Iron Dome system expected to provide a defense against short-range rocket attacks. The Iron Dome system, however, is very complex and training its military operators has proven a larger challenge than anticipated, causing a delay in deployment.  Its manufacturer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, has developed a cheaper and simpler version of the system called “Iron Flame.” This stripped-down surface-to-surface missile system can carry a variety of different warheads for various missions (Defense Update, November 10). The Israeli press quoted senior Israeli military sources as saying Iron Dome will now be deployed only in the case of massive rocket attacks from Gaza or south Lebanon (Jerusalem Post, November 8). The disparate cost between the complex Tamir interceptor missile used in the Iron Dome system and the cheap Qassam or Katyusha rockets it is meant to destroy is a major concern in deciding when and where to deploy Iron Dome.

Should reports of Hezbollah’s new drone be accurate, the question is whether these weapons have been supplied for Hezbollah’s use in retaliation against a new Israeli offensive or whether their deployment is intended to make them available in response to an Israeli or American strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. It is important to note that this latest report suggests that, as in the case of earlier Iranian supplies of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, the new UAVs remain under the control of the IRGC trainers assigned to their management and cannot be used without the direct authorization of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Syed Ali Hoseyni Khamene’i.

Al-Siyasah is a firm opponent of Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. It has reported in the past that the core al-Qaeda leadership is based in Iran and that Hezbollah is stockpiling Iranian-built chemical weapons (al-Siyasah, June 7, 2010; September 3, 2009). Neither allegation has been confirmed.


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

Cameroon Rebels Threaten Security in Oil-Rich Gulf of Guinea

Andrew McGregor

November 24, 2010

A hybrid criminal/separatist movement operating in the swampy peninsula of Bakassi is now targeting oil industry infrastructure in the Gulf of Guinea in its effort to shake off Cameroonian control of the region, which was administered by Nigeria until last year. Like neighboring Nigeria, Cameroon has suffered a loss in oil production as a result of the activities of coastal “pirates,” recording a 13% drop in production in 2009. Though much of Cameroon’s oil industry is still in the exploration stage, there are high expectations for further discoveries in the area. The Gulf of Guinea is a resource-rich area, with Angola, Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea already major oil producers. Ghana is expected to soon join their ranks as Washington estimates the Gulf of Guinea region will supply a quarter of U.S. oil supplies by 2015 (Reuters, May 19).

Bakassi 1Cameroon is the twelfth-largest oil producer in Africa, with estimated reserves of roughly 200 million barrels in the offshore Rio del Ray Basin, the coastal Douala/Kribi-Camp Basin and the Logone Birni Basin in northern Cameroon. Despite this, Cameroon’s production has dropped from a 2005 high of 94,000 barrels per day to a current 77,000 barrels per day.

Covering an area of roughly 257 square miles, Bakassi is composed largely of creeks and mangrove covered islands, making it hard to patrol and a haven for smuggling activities. The abundant fishing grounds off Bakassi provide a livelihood for most of the population, most of whom are “Calabar people” from Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State.

Violence on the Cameroon Coast

Fears of a Nigerian-style insurgency based on oil production increased with an attack on security forces near the offshore Moudi oil terminal (run by Franco-British Perenco) on the night of November 16. The attack, claimed by the “Africa Marine Commando,” left six dead, including three civilians, two members of Cameroon’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR – Rapid Intervention Battalion) and one of the assailants (Quotidien Mutations [Yaoundé], November 18; La Nouvelle Expression [Douala], November 18; AFP, November 18). Cameroonian security officials later said the attackers had been in contact with Perenco and the French Total oil firm for several days before the assault, demanding payment of a “security tax” to continue operations. Cameroonian officials have criticized the foreign oil companies for paying protection money to insurgents and bandits, just as local fishermen do (AFP, November 18). Boats that have paid the tax are given a small flag to indicate payment has been made.

The same Africa Marine Commando (AMC) also claimed responsibility for the abduction of six sailors from a Belgian ship anchored 40 km off Douala last September. An AMC spokesman said the hostages were moved to a camp on Nigerian territory and demanded the release of ten Ijaw fighters in a Cameroonian prison and the immediate opening of direct talks with Cameroon president Paul Biya (Le Jour [Yaoundé], September 29). The AMC, which appears to be a faction of the larger Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF) movement, also kidnapped seven Chinese fishermen in Cameroonian coastal waters who were later freed in exchange for an undisclosed ransom (Radio France Internationale, March 13).

In May, gunmen in light boats attacked two cargo ships in Douala harbor, kidnapping two Russian crewmen from one ship and looting the safe and abducting the captain of the second ship, a Lithuanian refrigerated vessel (Reuters, May 19). The security of Douala’s port is a major regional concern as Douala acts as the commercial lifeline for the land-locked Central African Republic and Chad, another major petroleum producer which runs its oil through the Chad-Cameroon pipeline to the Cameroon port of Kribi.

The gunmen operating off Cameroon’s coast have carried out several daring raids, including a September 2008 operation in the fishing port of Limbe, in which gunmen landed in boats before breaking into the town’s Amity bank, where they stole several million dollars, killed one person and wounded may others (The Post [Yaoundé], September 29, 2008).

A number of other notable incidents of politically-generated violence have occurred in Bakassi in recent years:

• On November 12, 2007, 21 soldiers were killed in the Bakassi Peninsula by gunmen wearing uniforms. The attack was claimed by the previously unknown “Liberators of the Southern Cameroon People” (IRIN, November 13, 2007; November 20, 2007).

• Ten hostages (six French, two Cameroonians, one Senegalese and one Tunisian) were seized by Bakassi Freedom Fighters under Commander Ebi Dari on the night of October 30-31, 2008 (Radio France Internationale, November 2, 2008; Jeune Afrique, December 2).

• Gunmen in a canoe killed a police officer in a motorized canoe off Bakassi in December 2009, with the BFF taking responsibility for the attack (Le Jour [Yaoundé], December 21, 2009).

The Dilemma of the Bakassi Peninsula

The complex issue of what nation Bakassi belongs to began with the decision of the Obong (paramount ruler) of Calabar to sign a treaty of protection with the British in 1884, thus making his territory (including the Bakassi peninsula) a British protectorate. Bakassi fell under the Nigerian colonial administration until 1913, when Britain ceded the territory to the neighboring German colony of Kamerun in return for navigation rights to Calabar, an important commercial center. German control was short-lived, with a combined British-French-Belgian invasion force taking control of the colony in 1916 after a year-and-a-half of stiff resistance from a tiny German garrison reinforced by local troops. After the war, most of the former German colony fell under a French mandate, with a smaller portion becoming “the British Cameroons.” This included Bakassi, as recognized in a 1919 treaty with the French. However, when the rest of the former British Cameroons voted by a 1961 plebiscite to join with the new nation of Cameroon rather than join Nigeria, Bakassi remained under Nigerian administration.

After several border clashes with Nigeria over Bakassi and a northern region near Lake Chad, Cameroon took the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1994. With special reference to the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913 and colonial era diplomatic correspondence between the two imperial powers, the ICJ ruled in favor of Cameroon in 2002, ordering Nigeria to transfer sovereignty over Bakassi to Cameroon, but without requiring any of the Nigerian residents in Bakassi to leave or change their citizenship. The details of the transfer of sovereignty were worked out in the Green Tree Agreement, which was assembled with the additional participation of the United States, Great Britain, France and Equatorial Guinea.

Popular and political opposition to the decision within Nigeria delayed the transfer of sovereignty, though the government neither ratified nor rejected the court’s verdict. In Bakassi itself, there was wide dissatisfaction with the decision in the English-speaking Nigerian majority. As one Bakassi native told a Nigerian daily:

The United Nations should realize that we have the right to decide where we want to be and the right to self-determination. We are Nigerians and here in our ancestral home. You can see some of the graves here dating back to the 19th century. How can you force a strange culture and government on us? We appreciate what the Nigerian government is doing but let it be on record that they have betrayed us and we will fight for our survival and self-determination (The Guardian [Lagos], August 18, 2006).


Left in a political limbo, it was unsurprising that many residents of Bakassi tried to take control of their own political future. In July 2006 the Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination (BMSD) joined with the Southern Cameroons Peoples Organization (SCAPO) and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to declare the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Bakassi, an unsuccessful attempt to found a new nation in the small peninsula that brought out few supporters. After the Nigerian Senate ruled the transfer of sovereignty was illegal in 2007, the three groups again declared the independence of Bakassi in July 2008, this time with BMSD declaring it would subsume all its activities under the “joint leadership” of MEND:

With the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the Bakassi Peninsula, which takes away our last line of defense as Nigerian citizens and exposes our people to perpetual and permanent bondage of exploitation, under-development and death, which characterized life in the larger Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea over the last 50 years of multi-national oil companies’ occupation with the connivance of Nigerian leaders, we are left with no other option than to defend our land and people by any means necessary (The Post [Yaoundé], July 31, 2008).

Noting that the Green Tree Agreement violated the Nigerian constitution and had failed to be ratified by the Nigerian Senate, many Nigerian politicians condemned the transfer and challenged its legality (This Day, July 29, 2008). Nigerian residents of Bakassi were given the option of moving to a “New Bakassi” some 30 km inside Nigeria, but the new settlement had no fishing, no roads and few services. Many Nigerians wished to move from Bakassi but remained there after hearing reports of conditions in the new settlement (IRIN, November 13, 2007). The current Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, has led an effort to overturn the ICJ ruling, which he says took no note of the opinions of the residents of Bakassi:

We expected that the government could have come to the people and called for a referendum so that the people would decide what they wanted for themselves. But I don’t really know why it had to be done that way. That decision was taken and part of my territory was ceded. I am not happy and my people are not happy about it. Because it [the decision] is now creating problems for my people. We cannot take care of them. We have been struggling with the relocation issue (Nigerian Compass, July 9, 2009).

The secessionist SCAPO movement had a different plan – including Bakassi with the Southern Cameroons in a secessionist “Republic of Ambazonia.”

Although the Cameroon government refused to acknowledge the political dimension of the violence in Bakassi by declining to identify the insurgents as anything other than “armed bandits,” the decision to hold the August 14, 2009, ceremony marking the transfer of authority in the Nigerian city of Calabar rather than in Bakassi was interpreted as an acknowledgement that Bakassi was far from secure (Reuters, August 13, 2008; Jeune Afrique, December 2, 2008).

Prior to the transfer of power the BFF announced a merger with another militant group battling the military in Bakassi, the Niger Delta Defense and Security Council (NDDSC), with the intention of setting Bakassi “ablaze” and crippling its economy if the handover went through (Africa Press International, July 21, 2009).

Most of the Bakassi militants disarmed on September 25, 2009, but only weeks later ex-rebels claimed Cameroon’s security forces took advantage of this to kill six Nigerians in Bakassi territorial waters as a warning to other Nigerians to stay out of Cameroonian territory. Complaints began to be heard from “Nigerian” residents of Bakassi that the Nigerian navy had abandoned them to “the Cameroonian gendarmes” (Next [Lagos], October 16, 2009). Several months after the transfer of authority, Dan Don Atekpi, the former leader of the disbanded Bakassi Salvation Front (BSF), announced that his movement would renew hostilities against Cameroon government forces in 2010. Claiming 20 Nigerians had been killed by “these heartless Cameroonians” in the first two months after the transfer, Atekpi stated: “We are being provoked to take up arms. We have no intention of doing so except for this unprovoked attack.” Atekpi was also concerned with the failure of the Cameroon government to pay former militants the daily allowance called for in the transfer terms or to provide skills training or other means of rehabilitation (Next [Lagos], January 14).

Secession in the Southern Cameroons

The two mainly English-speaking provinces that joined Cameroon by plebiscite in 1961 (known as the Nord-Ouest and Sud-Ouest provinces of Cameroon, or collectively as the Southern Cameroons) have also become secessionist hotbeds since the 1990s. The secessionist movements active in the South Cameroons usually include Bakassi in their plans for an independent state.

The Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) is a secessionist group that has adopted a peaceful approach to freeing Southern Cameroons “from the stranglehold of our oppressor – La République du Cameroun” (The Post [Yaoundé], October 8). The related SCAPO movement complains that the Cameroon government is interested only in the region’s oil and not the Southern Cameroonians or the Bakassians. SCAPO declared the establishment of an independent “Republic of Ambazonia” in August 2006.

Cameroon’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR)

The BIR was formed in 1999 as the Bataillon Léger d’Intervention (BLI), a special intervention force designed to eliminate foreign rebels, bandits and deserters (the “coupeurs de routes”) who were destroying the security of Cameroon’s northern provinces through cattle rustling, abductions, murder and highway robbery. As part of military reforms carried out in Cameroon in 2001, the unit took on its current BIR designation. BIR officers are selected from the graduates of the Ecole Militaire Interarmées in Yaoundé. The BIR commandos were sent to the coast in 2007 to assist the Delta Command in dealing with a rapidly deteriorating security situation (The Sun [Limbe], October 13, 2008).

Bakassi 2The Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR)

The BIR’s mandate has expanded from providing border security since its formation, however, the elite force has mutated into something of a Praetorian Guard for President Paul Biya, an authoritarian who has ruled Cameroon since 1982, sometimes hiring his own international observers to legitimize his victories in largely unopposed elections.

The unit’s reputation in Cameroon took a hit in February 2008, when roughly 100 unarmed civilians were killed when the unit was brought in to Doula and Yaoundé to put down protests against the high cost of living (IRIN, August 29, 2008). Several months later the BIR was again deployed in the cities to prevent protests against the elimination of presidential term limits and the granting of immunity to Biya for all actions taken while in office.


For once, oil is not the main source of the conflict, as Nigeria and Cameroon have agreed to share the revenues from any oil produced off the Bakassi coast. It is, however, an aggravating factor with local militants who complain of the inequitable distribution of oil revenues and the presence of large multinationals with little concern for the well-being of local residents. Bakassi remains largely underdeveloped and mounting insecurity will do little to change this state of affairs. In some cases there is resistance by the Nigerian population to use services such as hospitals provided by Cameroon, as it would be a sign of acceptance of Cameroonian rule (IRIN, August 8, 2009). Most important, however, is the growing perception in Bakassi of the BIR as a colonial-style occupation force with little, if any, local representation. The growing divide between the Anglophone residents of Bakassi and the new Francophone administration invites the spread of a Niger Delta style low-level insurgency that is willing to hobble the development of the oil industry in the Gulf of Guinea through kidnappings and armed attacks to achieve its political aims – independence or a return to Nigerian sovereignty.

Indonesia’s Controversial Special Forces Regain U.S. Support in Counter-Terrorism Struggle

Andrew McGregor

November 18, 2010

Elite special military forces have played a critical role on the asymmetrical battlefield of the war on terrorism. While applying sophisticated equipment, highly trained personnel, refined intelligence gathering and unconventional tactics to counterterrorism efforts, many Special Forces units have also been charged with secrecy, unaccountability and the use of illegal and extrajudicial measures in their operations. Indonesia’s Kopassus (Komando Pasukan Khusus – Special Force Command) Special Forces unit is a prominent example of an otherwise effective Special Forces group whose counterterrorism efforts have been compromised by alleged atrocities in its campaigns against Indonesian-based separatist movements.

Kopassus 1Unlike the Special Forces units of many Western nations that have seen only sporadic use on an operational level, Indonesia’s Kopassus has been highly active since its formation in 1952, particularly in operations targeting Indonesia’s many separatist movements. The unit had its origins in the conflict between the newly formed Indonesian national army (Tentara Nasional Indonesia –TNI) and counterrevolutionary forces of the self-declared Republic of the South Moluccas, who were assisted by two companies of the Korps Speciale Troepen (KST), a colonial Special Forces unit drawn largely from Calvinist Melanesians and best known at that point for their ruthless execution of thousands of men while putting down a 1946-47 rebellion in southern Sulawesi. Impressed by the KST’s fighting ability, Indonesian Colonel Alexander Evert Kawilarang asked Major Rokus Bernadus Visser (a.k.a. Mohammed Idion Djanbi, a Dutch soldier and Special Forces commander who had refused repatriation at independence and stayed on as an Indonesian citizen and convert to Islam) to create an Indonesian Special Forces unit along the lines of the KST. This force, the Kesatuan Komando Tentara Territorium III/Siliwangi (Kesko TT) eventually became Kopassus after a series of name changes. The unit’s red beret is derived from the red beret worn by Dutch Special Forces.

Despite being the elite force of the TNI, Kopassus has earned an international reputation as a major violator of human rights, with both local and international rights organizations producing ample documentation of abuses (including torture, kidnappings and targeted killings) committed in Papua, Aceh, East Timor (where they armed and organized murderous pro-regime militias) and even Jakarta during the May 1998 riots which witnessed the murder of ethnic-Chinese Indonesians and the gang-rapes of ethnic-Chinese women.

U.S. support and aid to Kopassus was banned in 1999 but restored last July, possibly because the Indonesians had threatened to turn to China for military training and assistance (Asian Sentinel, July 23). A 2008 proposal by the Bush administration to resume U.S. training for Kopassus forces went nowhere after State Department lawyers determined such training was prohibited by the “Leahy Law,” a congressional provision that prohibits U.S. military assistance to foreign military forces that routinely violate human rights.

Kopassus 2Kopassus Sniper Team

According to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the restoration of military aid to Kopassus will be a gradual process, enabled by “the ongoing professionalization” of the TNI and “recent actions taken by the Ministry of Defense to address human rights issues” (Asian Sentinel, July 23; Detikcom [Jakarta], July 22). Kopassus members will be vetted individually before being allowed to participate in U.S. military training. According to Kopassus commander Brigadier General Lodewijk Freidrich Paulus, Indonesia and the United States “need each other because we have the same outlook on anti-terrorism. Both parties can support each other” (Antara Online [Jakarta], March 25).

This process may be complicated by the recent leak of an Indonesian intelligence report that revealed Kopassus had drawn up a list of civilian “enemies” and churches to be targeted in Papua (Jakarta Post, November 11). [1] Papua, the largely Christian and Melanesian western part of the island of New Guinea, has been home to a simmering independence movement since it was annexed by Indonesia while preparing for independence from the Netherlands in 1963. A further complication is presented by the posting of a ten-minute video of Indonesian troops burning the genitals of two Papuan detainees on YouTube in October. [2] In an unusual development that may have been prompted by the desire to avoid jeopardizing the renewal of U.S. training and aid, authorities admitted the antagonists in the video were Indonesian troops and suggested court martials might be in order (Jakarta Globe, October 22). Local insurgents of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM – Free Papua Organization) have targeted the massive gold and copper mining operations of American firm Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold in Papua, which are guarded by personnel of the Indonesian army. The renewal of Freeport McMoRan’s concession was one of the topics discussed during President Obama’s visit to Jakarta earlier this month (Jakarta Globe, November 4).

With its main base in West Java, the 6,500 man Kopassus force consists of five groups with different responsibilities:

  • Groups 1 and 2 are Para-Commando groups responsible for special operations, unconventional warfare, reconnaissance and counter-insurgency operations.
  • Group 3 (Sandhi Yudha) is dedicated to combat intelligence.
  • Group 4 is a training unit.
  • Group 5, known as SAT-81 Gultor, is responsible for counterterrorism operations, hostage rescue and protection of national and foreign dignitaries. Members of the roughly 200 man Group 5 are drawn from the best qualified troops in groups 1 to 3.

Kopassus training is extremely arduous and the development of special military skills is encouraged. Officers must be able to speak a foreign language and enlisted men and NCOs must speak at least two local languages of the more than 700 spoken in Indonesia.

Australia’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) conducted a joint counterterrorism exercise in Bali with Kopassus in September, the latest in a series of annual joint exercises since Australia lifted its own ban on cooperation with Kopassus in 2005 (Jakarta Post, September 28; The Australian, October 18).


1. For the 25 page report, see

This article first appeared in the November 18, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Somali Islamists and Congo-Based Rebels Threaten Security in Burundi

Andrew McGregor

November 18, 2010

Shaykh Fu’ad Muhammad Qalaf “Shongole,” a leading member of Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist militia, told a gathering in Mogadishu on November 4 that Bujumbura and Kampala would be the target of al-Shabaab attacks if Burundi and Uganda did not immediately withdraw their troops from Mogadishu (Sunday Vision [Kampala], November 6; Garowe Online, November 4). Al-Shabaab forces have been strongly pressured in recent weeks by a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) offensive supported by Burundian and Ugandan troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Burundi 1FNL Leader Agathon Rwasa

A more immediate threat comes from the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL – National Liberation Front), formerly known as the Parti pour la libération du peuple hutu (PALIPEHUTU), a Hutu rebel movement formed in 1980 in Hutu refugee camps in Tanzania. Agathon Rwasa, leader of the FNL, is a former Hutu militia leader who took control of the party in 2002. Rwasa fled Bujumbura in July after the opposition accused the government of rigging local polls in May. Rwasa later claimed in an audiotape that he had feared for his life in Burundi, but is believed to be preparing a new round of armed opposition to the Tutsi-dominated government of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza from bases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (Daily Nation [Nairobi], August 1).

FNL members who remain engaged in the political process deposed Rwasa as party leader in late July, saying the FNL had “lost a lot by pulling out of the electoral process” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], August 1). Rwasa was replaced by Emmanuel Miburo as the party’s new chairman.

Security appears to be breaking down in the Burundi capital as well as along the northwest frontier with the DRC. On the evening of October 25 one group of gunmen attacked a police post in the capital while another group attacked the guards of intelligence chief General Adolphe Nshimirimana (AFP, October 26). Though observers saw Rwasa’s hand behind the attacks, Burundian authorities lay the blame for all such attacks on “unidentified bandits.” The renewed violence has raised fears that a new civil war could be in the offing – Burundi suffered a thirteen year conflict between Hutus and Tutsis that claimed 300,000 lives from 1993 to 2006. Rwasa’s movement was involved in two notorious atrocities – the 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre of 21 civilians on a bus and the 2004 Gatumba massacre of 152 Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsis).

Burundi 2General Adolphe Nshimirimana

Despite the careful language used by Bujumbura, a senior government official recently told the French press that Rwasa was reorganizing and rearming in the Sud-Kivu province of the DRC and had reached terms with a Hutu rebel movement led by Rwandan genocidaires active in the eastern DRC, the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR). There are also suggestions that Rwasa may be cooperating with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), best known for its mass atrocities in northern Uganda. Rwasa’s deputy described the allegations as an attempt to “demonize” the movement (AFP, October 22).

The army has also engaged armed gangs in the Rugazi Commune of Bubanza Province (Burundi’s provinces are divided into “communes” and further sub-divided into “collines”), a stronghold of the FNL (AFP, November 10;, November 11). The Rukoko Marshes and the neighboring Kibira forest near the border with the DRC have also been the sites of repeated engagements between insurgents and government forces (AFP, November 2). The marshes are only a few miles north of Bujumbura and have become largely depopulated due to attacks on the civilian population by gunmen (AFP, September 18). FNL fighters also clashed recently with troops of the DRC south of Bukavu, the capital of Sud-Kivu province (AFP, November 6; Net Press [Bujumbura], November 9; RFI, November 9).

This article first appeared in the November 18, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Mali-Mauritanian Joint Counter-Terrorist Patrols Begin in Sahara/Sahel

Mali-Mauritanian Joint Counterterrorist Patrols Begin in Sahara/Sahel

Andrew McGregor

November 11, 2010

Malian troops rendezvoused with Mauritanian forces roughly 50 miles north of Timbuktu last week as the two nations began joint counter-terrorism patrols in northern Mali designed to eliminate the presence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s southern command. It is the first time Malian troops have joined their Mauritanian counterparts, who conducted operations with French military support in northern Mali in July and September of this year. The new patrols are expected to cover both sides of the common border in the Sahara/Sahel region.

Mali-MauritaniaMali-Mauritania (BBC) 

According to a Malian officer attached to the new force, “Today we are in the Malian desert. Tomorrow, together we can, we will go into the Mauritanian desert. The problems of Mali are the problems of Mauritania and the problems of Mauritania are those of Mali” (AFP, November 4).

Mali’s army chief of staff, General Gabriel Poudiougou, arrived in Mauritania on November 4 to discuss military cooperation between the two nations, which have had serious differences in the last two years over the appropriate response to AQIM’s growing operations in the Sahara/Sahel region (Sahara Media, November 5; AFP, November 4). Mauritania has been criticized in some quarters for acting as a Western proxy, especially on behalf of France and the United States, both of which have been involved in training Mauritanian troops. Mauritanian President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz denounced those who “have been echoing the propaganda of the enemies, accusing us of waging war by proxy… All these rumors, all this false propaganda, will only reinforce our determination to defend our country and preserve its independence and sovereignty” (Ennahar [Algiers], October 24).

The patrols start as four AQIM members were reported killed in an attack carried out by Arab tribesmen from the Timbuktu area, allegedly a well-planned response to the AQIM assassination of Lieutenant Colonel Lamana Ould Bou, a Malian intelligence officer and a leader of Mali’s Bérabiche Arabs (AFP, November 4).  The clash would mark an important setback for AQIM, which has worked hard to establish links with the Bérabiche community, though Malian security forces deny the encounter took place. Mauritanian troops have been trying to win over the loyalty of local tribes through the distribution of tea, sugar and medicines (AFP, November 7).

France’s Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE – French external intelligence) and various French Special Forces and Air Force units are deeply involved in the ongoing search for five French nationals and two African employees kidnapped from the French uranium works at Arlit in northern Niger. The men were taken by AQIM in mid-September and are believed to be held at AQIM bases in northern Mali. Though the French are ready to act once the hostages are located, Paris also hopes to avoid a direct military confrontation with AQIM. According to French armed forces chief-of-staff Admiral Edouard Guillaud, France, the region’s former colonial power, “should be careful not to provide AQIM with the enemy it needs to exist and prosper” (Le Monde, November 4).

This article first appeared in the November 11, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Al-Qaeda Usurps Yemen’s Aden-Abyan Army

Andrew McGregor

November 11, 2010

In an effort to create insecurity in Yemen’s south in anticipation of a major Gulf region sporting event to be held in the area, the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has announced the creation of its own Aden-Abyan Army, even though the name has been used by a separate militant organization since the early 1990s (al-Malahim, October 11; al-Watan [Sana’a], October 15). The announcement was made in an audiotape issued by Qasim al-Raymi (a.k.a. Abu-Hurayrah al-San’ani), AQAP’s military commander.

Aden-AbyanQasim al-Raymi

Al-Raymi, a former associate of Osama bin Laden, was one of 23 convicted militants who escaped in February 2006 from the Political Security Organization’s (PSO) high security prison in Sana’a (see Terrorism Focus, February 7, 2006). Authorities announced his death three separate times, in August 2007, December 2009 and January 2010.

Yemen’s existing Aden-Abyan Islamic Army (AAIA) was established in the early 1990s by Abu Hasan Zayn al-Abadin al-Mihdhar. After al-Mihdhar’s execution in 1998, the leadership of the movement passed to Shaykh Khalid Abd al-Nabi (a.k.a. Khalid Abdulrab al-Nabi al-Yazidi), but the militant movement has been relatively quiet since Shaykh Khalid obtained a pardon from the government in 2005 (al-Hayat, October 11, 2005; see also Terrorism Monitor Brief, August 5). In a recent interview Shaykh Khalid was guarded on the question of AAIA’s current status, stating, “I cannot say definitively whether [the AAIA] actually exists and is effective or anything else” (al-Quds al-Arabi, July 9).

The AAIA and the new Aden-Abyan Army take their name from an apocryphal prophecy by the Prophet Muhammad that predicts an army will arise from Aden-Abyan in the last days to fight for victory in God’s name. According to the AAIA leader, “No one can say he represents the army of Aden; when God wills, the army will inevitably emerge. As to when this will happen, only God knows” (Asharq al-Awsat, September 26).

The stated aim of AQAP’s new Aden-Abyan Army is to liberate the holy places of the Arabian Peninsula and “purge its land from the Crusaders and their apostate agents [i.e. the Saudi royal family and the Saleh regime in Yemen]” (Yemen Post, October 14). More specifically, the announcement is regarded as a threat to an upcoming international football tournament.

The Gulf 20 Football Championship is scheduled to be held in the volatile Aden-Abyan region between November 22 and December 5. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has pledged 30,000 soldiers and police will form “three belts of security around Aden, Abyan and [the neighboring governorate of] Lahij” (Arab News, October 12; Saba Net, October 23). AAIA’s Shaykh Khalid Abd al-Nabi has denied reports that he was paid by the governor of Abyan to mediate with local jihadi groups to ensure calm during the Gulf 20 championship (Asharq al-Awsat, September 26).

In what may have been a demonstration of AQAP’s seriousness, two bombs killed three people at Aden’s al-Wahda sports center on the same day al-Raymi’s statement was released (Arab News, October 12). No official claim of responsibility was made, but authorities arrested 19 suspects, some of whom are thought to have ties to AQAP.

The AQAP commander cited mujahideen victories in Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Iraq and Somalia in his statement, but also boasted of AQAP’s failed operations, including the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Prince Muhammad bin Nayif and the failed Christmas Day airliner attack by inept “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (for Bin Nayif, see Terrorism Monitor, September 17, 2009). Al-Raymi also described American airstrikes in Yemen (such as the July attack that killed the deputy governor of Ma’rib) as “counterproductive to the Americans and in favor of the Servants of Allah, the mujahideen” (Yemen Observer, October 14).

In his statement, al-Raymi described the formation of two wings in AQAP: one to carry out operations outside of Yemen and another that will engage Yemeni forces in an internal “war of attrition and exhaustion” (, October 18; Yemen Post, October 14). According to al-Raymi, AQAP’s financial restraints prevent the organization from accepting all “the brothers who arrived to join us.” He urges them instead to prepare for an eventual role by pursuing studies of Shari’a and technical fields such as chemistry, physics and electronics. Al-Raymi’s description of difficulties in accepting recruits was at odds with a July 29 statement from AQAP field commander Muhammad Sa’id al-Umdah Gharib al-T’aizzi who claimed “an army of 12,000 fighters is being prepared in Aden and Abyan” (al-Malahim, July 29).

This article first appeared in the November 11, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Mauritanian Defense Minister Discusses Joint Military Operations with France

Andrew McGregor
November 4, 2010

Mauritanian Defense Minister Hamadi Ould Baba Ould Hamadi recently described the new offensive posture his country is taking in regard to the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in an interview with an Algerian daily (El Watan [Algiers], October 28, 2010). Noting the vast size of Mauritania and the difficulty of securing a territory that is two-thirds desert, Ould Hamadi said authorities now believe that “a defensive and static strategy is not efficient. This is why we have opted for an offensive defense against terrorism, which consists in not allowing the setting up of terrorist operational and logistic bases at our borders.”

Mauritania Defense MinisterMauritanian Defense Minister Hamadi Ould Baba Ould Hamadi

The Defense Minister said the September 17 joint military operation with France that attacked AQIM suspects in neighboring Mali was an example of Mauritania’s new approach:

According to our information, the terrorist groups were regrouping to attack us. We effectively benefited from French logistic support that has enabled us to conduct our offensive attack. We will repeat this sort of operation whenever we can, and we will not wait to be attacked and then retaliate. When we have information about the existence of operational bases, we will do our best to destroy them.

Though the September operation was carried out to muted opposition from Algeria, the most powerful country in the region and a firm opponent of military intervention by “former colonial powers,” Ould Hamadi indicated that Mauritania would address its security concerns in its own way despite the recent creation of a number of multilateral security mechanisms in the Sahel/Sahara region. According to Ould Hamadi, “Consultation does not mean that when you feel that an attack is coming you wait for consultation with other countries. Threat imposes a daily vigilance, and we are obliged to react when we are faced with a threat.”

The Algerian position on foreign intervention was echoed by Jemil Ould Mansour, leader of the Islamist opposition Tewassoul party, when he said, “We all agree to condemn terrorism and fight it vigorously, but we do not agree on coordination with foreign countries, especially when they have a colonial past in the region” (AFP, October 28, 2010). His remarks came during a five day national forum on terrorism held in Nouackchott (October 24-28, 2010). In his opening remarks to the forum, Mauritania’s president, Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, expanded on his government’s new security policy:

We have transferred the battle circle to the strongholds of the aggressors, away from our borders in order to, on the one hand, prevent them from launching their shameful operations in our populated regions and, on the hand, with the aim of carrying out our global development programs in an atmosphere of security and peace (Maliweb, October 27, 2010).

The forum was boycotted by most of the opposition parties, who complained of being invited only at the last minute (PANA Online [Dakar], October 25, 2010).

September’s Franco-Mauritanian operation, which resulted in the death of two Malian women, proved an embarrassment for Mali’s president Amadou Toumani Touré. Malian troops had an almost negligible role in the operation, which was carried out close to the city of Timbuktu. Malian spokesmen at first denied any knowledge of the foreign military intervention, but by late October the president had acknowledged being informed of the operations, even claiming the mission “was largely supported, if not accompanied, by the Malian Army” (Radio France Internationale, October 25; Le Soir de Bamako, October 27, 2010).

Nevertheless, Mauritania is trying to distance itself from being seen as a security proxy for France and the West. Ould Hamadi confirmed that the government was seeking to upgrade Mauritania’s arms and military equipment, but tried to emphasize the limited French military role. He stated, “There is no French base in Mauritania, nor will there be, not for France, nor for other countries.” In an effort to not be seen as the West’s ally in the “War on Terrorism,” President Abdelaziz has explained several times that Mauritania is “not engaged in an open war against al-Qaeda or any other person,” suggesting instead that Mauritanian military operations are directed at “armed criminal bands” (al-Jazeera, October 9, 2010). According to an AQIM statement, however, the president is an “agent of France” and the Mauritanian army is “acting in the way of infidels and crusaders who kill innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq” (Ennahar [Algiers], September 21, 2010).

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

Tuareg Rebels Joining Battle against al-Qaeda in the Sahara?

Andrew McGregor

November 4 2010

On October 14 former Tuareg rebels under the command of Ibrahim ag Bahanga attacked a heavily armed convoy of cocaine smugglers roughly 60 miles from the northern Mali town of Kidal. Some 12 people were killed in the clash in which the Tuareg fighters received “material support” from the Malian army, according to a local government official (Reuters, October 18; Jeune Afrique, October 18; Afrique en Ligne, October 20). It is unclear whether the Tuareg fighters were acting under their own initiative as a kind of demonstration of their potential in combating AQIM and narco-traffickers, or whether the action was officially sanctioned by the Bamako government, which has so far been reluctant to rearm the Tuareg. The traffickers were alleged to be running a shipment of cocaine from Morocco to Egypt across the sparsely populated Sahel region.

Ag BahangaIbrahim ag Bahanga

Ag Bahanga is a noted smuggler and rebel commander who is a leading proponent of transforming former Tuareg rebels into armed units tasked with expelling al-Qaeda operatives from the Sahel/Sahara region. Though his proposal was given a sympathetic ear in Algeria, the long-time rebel is little trusted in Bamako and continues to operate from self-imposed exile in Libya. Ag Bahanga’s proposal has elicited little sympathy from Mali’s press. One commentator noted that “in the recent past Bahanga has demonstrated proof of his inconsistency and his warlike inclination by swearing peace one day and indulging in atrocities the next day” (Info Matin [Bamako], October 20). Another commentator complained that Ag Bahanga’s “renewed patriotism” was “hard to understand” and rearming the Tuareg could turn Mali into “another Afghanistan” (Nouvelle Libération [Bamako], October 12).

Nevertheless, the Tuareg attack came only days after Ag Bahanga was reported to have met with Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré on the sidelines of the October 10 African-Arab summit meeting in the Libyan city of Sirte to discuss the reintegration of Ag Bahanga and his men into the Malian army (Nouvelle Libération [Bamako], October 12).

According to former rebel spokesman Ahmada Ag Bibi (now a parliamentary deputy in Bamako), “AQIM wants to dirty the image of our region. We aren’t going to accept that. [AQIM fighters] often seek shelter on our land, and we know the terrain. If we were armed we could easily take care of them… We’re just waiting for the Malian government to give us the green light to chase al-Qaeda from our desert” (AFP, October 10).

The 2006 Algiers Accord between Bamako and the Tuareg rebels provides for the establishment of Tuareg military units under officers of the Malian regular army, but like many aspects of the accord, these provisions have never been implemented. There are indications now, however, that such units may be formed soon – according to an authority in the Kidal administration, their establishment may be only weeks away (Afrique en Ligne, October 20; Ennahar [Algiers], October 10).

A small number of Tuareg are believed to be working for AQIM as drivers and guides, though there are also unconfirmed reports that a Tuareg imam from Kidal named Abdelkrim has become an amir in the AQIM organization (Libération [Bamako], October 31; Jeune Afrique, October 9). Though direct Tuareg participation in AQIM activities may be limited, there are signs, nonetheless, that the massive influx of cash into the region from AQIM-obtained ransoms has had an indirect benefit to the Tuareg and Arab tribes of the region. In the town of Kidal, expansive new villas and shiny 4 x 4’s have begun to appear in a region almost entirely devoid of development (Libération [Bamako], October 31).

A veteran Tuareg rebel, Iyad ag Ghali, has been designated as the government’s official mediator with AQIM forces in northern Mali (Le Républicain [Bamako], October 4). An AQIM katiba (military unit) led by Abd al-Hamid Abu Zaid is believed to have established bases in the rugged Timetrine Mountains of northern Mali (once a refuge for Tuareg rebels) and is currently believed to be holding French and African hostages there who were kidnapped from the French-owned uranium operations in neighboring Niger (Le Monde, October 18).

Many Malian politicians complain that they have been excluded from the decision-making process in regard to the security of northern Mali. Such decisions are now made exclusively by the president, himself a former military commander in the north, and a small group of senior officers, including General Habib Sissoko, General Kafougouna Kone, Brigadier Gabriel Poudiougou and Colonel Mamy Coulibaly (Jeune Afrique, October 9).

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