Diplomat's Slaying Unlikely to Sway Algerian Military Strategy
By: Reda Chenouf Translated from El-Khabar (Algeria).
Moroccan expert on Islamist groups, Mohammad Zarif, linked the reported execution of Algerian diplomat Taher Touati by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) to the emerging industry of taking hostages in the region. He said that the move was a message directed to the Algerian authorities, as well as to Western countries, which refuse to pay ransom money to save the lives of their kidnapped nationals. Zarif opined that it is unlikely that Algeria will change its principal strategy in dealing with the issue of military intervention in Mali and paying ransoms for the release of hostages.
About This Article
Following the killing of a prominent Algerian diplomat, allegedly at the hands of an al-Qaeda-affiliated cell, Reda Chenouf interviews Mohammad Zarif, an expert on Islamist groups. Zarif explains how Algeria and the West are unlikely to begin negotiating with terrorist gangs.Publisher: El-Khabar (Algeria)
Maghreb Will Remain Safe Haven for Islamist Groups
Author: Reda Chenouf
First Published: September 3, 2012
Posted on: September 4 2012
Translated by: Naria Tanoukhi
Categories : Algeria Security
El-Khabar: What do you make of the news of the execution of the Algerian diplomat by MUJAO?
Zarif: Before talking about the reported execution of the Algerian diplomat, we should talk about the flourishing kidnapping industry in the Sahel region. Some researchers argue that MUJAO has split from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) because it did not benefit from the financial returns generated by kidnappings. MUJAO launched its operations by kidnapping three nationals from Spain, Italy and Algeria, and demanding 30 million euros for their release. The movement later kidnapped Algerian diplomats and demanded approximately 15 million euros. This group wants to give credibility to its threats. It has reduced its demands and is no longer asking for ransom money in exchange for the diplomats, but rather is now asking for the release of al-Qaeda members who have been arrested recently in Algeria. This group is well aware of the strict position held by the Algerian authorities regarding the payment of ransom.
MUJAO wants to save face, and thus set a deadline for the execution of the Algerian diplomat. In the event of his execution, it would be sending a message to Spain and Italy — from which it has demanded a ransom for the release of their nationals — that the European nationals will meet the same fate as the Algerian diplomat if the group’s demands are not met soon. Obviously, the execution mainly targets Algeria and Western countries.
El-Khabar: In your opinion, will the execution of the Algerian diplomat change the facts on the ground?
Zarif: I do not think that Algeria will change its principal strategy because of the assassination of one of its diplomats. The Algerian government supposedly has a fixed strategy on this issue and should not fall into the trap of ransoms or military intervention. A [potential military] intervention in Mali would have consequences. Some Western countries, even neighboring countries, want to internationalize the issue. There are ways to deal with this issue, and military solutions are off the table at the moment. However, President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré has recently received representatives from MUJAO and the Ansar al-Din Islamic group. The best solution is to play on the contradictions of these groups, and he could have also taken advantage of the Tamanrasset meeting held by regional countries. Algeria is well aware that it will be targeted by these groups, which are trying to pressure it through kidnappings, but Algeria cannot change its strategy. People are dying in the process, but this should not affect Algeria’s principle strategies, especially with respect to the security situation.
El-Khabar: Based on the logic of profit and loss, what will MUJAO gain from the execution of the Algerian diplomat?
Zarif: The logic of this group is the same as that of al-Qaeda. Those running the hostage-taking industry do not want to lose the revenues being generated by it. They are sending a message that in case their demands are not met, those countries will lose considerably. They are using execution as a bargaining chip. Although the execution of the Algerian diplomat directly targets Algeria, it is implicitly aimed at the West. The group is also trying to embarrass the Algerian regime domestically, by giving the impression that it underestimates the lives of its citizens as opposed to Western countries, which pay out ransoms to kidnappers in order to save the lives of their citizens.
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