West Fears 'African Afghanistan,' As Jihadis Find New Safe Haven

Article Summary
The rising number and influence of Malian jihadists increasingly concerns many Western countries. Hamid Yes reports that due to a lack of government control, the jihadists essentially have free reign in the north, where they have banned cigarettes, alcohol, and even televised sports events. 

According to a US official, many Tunisian, Moroccan and Mauritanian jihadists are joining the armed Islamic groups who control northern Mali. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country has reservations about participating in possible military action against al-Qaeda because Paris "does not want an African Afghanistan."

The US official told Reuters — which did not mention his name or position — that northern Mali "has turned into a safe haven for jihadists in the region."

A diplomat working in the region said that all of Europe is concerned about the jihadist threat in northern Mali. He said Europe "should admit that it is incapable of containing the threat in northern Mali and West Africa."

According to security reports, and to the British news agency, many networks that are linked to al-Qaeda — including the Tawhid and Jihad movement in West Africa — are currently established in major cities in Mali. These groups have abducted the Algerian Consul in Gao.

Furthermore, the Boko Haram group is active in Nigeria. Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) include about 500 fighters who control the entire northern region.

According to Ahmedou Oul-Abdallah, a Mauritanian diplomat and UN envoy to West Africa and Somalia, said that the region “is on its way to becoming a second Afghanistan, or rather a second Somalia. There is no doubt about that.” Moreover, many security experts and diplomats say that many foreign jihadists are flowing into the region, not to mention the illegal money transfers. This is particularly true for the Sahel region, which has become the largest hotbed of terrorism in the world.

To further complicate the situation, armed insurgents have controlled three runways in major northern Malian cities. Given the absence of any aerial weapons in Mali, these gunmen can smuggle whatever they wish into the country, be it drugs, weapons or terrorist refugees. Due to the severity of this situation, many pundits believe that the danger is likely to spill over.

Fabius described the situation as a “great source of concern,” saying, “It is imperative to avoid a second Afghanistan in Africa, in the words of the president of the African Union.” Fabius compared the activities in the northern cities to what is happening in Afghanistan. Ansar Dine members imposed gender segregation in schools, and many citizens have been flogged for drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Hundreds of people took to the street to protest a ban on watching football on television.

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Found in: sahel region, mali, arab maghreb, arab, al-qaeda, afghanization of sahel
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