2notable in that it was carried out arther rom siteso previous AQIM operations and in the center o arelatively large Mauritanian town. In January 2011,a Tunisian gunman linked to AQIM threw a home-made bomb at the French embassy in Bamako, Mali.This was ollowed days later by the kidnapping o twoFrench nationals rom a restaurant in Niamey, Niger.The two were later ound dead ollowing a ailed res-cue attempt near the Malian border. In early February2011, three suspected terrorists were killed and eightMauritanian troops wounded when two explosives-laden trucks detonated in Nouakchott. Their objec-tive: to assassinate the Mauritanian president.Previously believed to be relatively weak andisolated, AQIM’s advances are the results o a pa-tient eort to cultivate deeper roots in remote re-gions o the Sahel. AQIM is now increasingly wellintegrated with local Sahelian communities andmany AQIM leaders have established direct collu-sive associations with government and security of-cials. Most ominously, AQIM groups are developingcooperative relationships with regional drug tra-fckers, criminal organizations, and rebel groups toaugment their resources and fnancing. As a result,AQIM can not only more ably conront and resistgovernment security services but also undermineSahelian states rom within.I more energetic steps are not taken to conrontAQIM’s new Sahelian strategy, the eventual estab-lishment o sanctuaries, mini “Waziristans,” in theregion is a real possibility. AQIM already operatesacross a region o several hundred thousand squarekilometers. Northern Mali, in particular, is becominga central redoubt. AQIM’s attacks and presence havethreatened vital economic activity. Once a populartourist destination, this region is now largely o lim-its to oreigners given the risk o kidnapping. Unor-tunately, eorts to conront Islamic terrorist groupsin West Arica are uneven, uncoordinated, and shortlived. A combination o security sector adjustments,development engagement, and international partner-ships is needed to comprehensively counter AQIM’sstrategy and uproot its expanding connections to Sa-helian communities.
A NEW DIMENSION TO THE THREAT
Contemporary dynamics among terrorist groupsin the Sahel trace their roots to Algeria’s political cri-ses during the 1990s. Among the many groups activethen, the Armed Islamic Group (AIG) became themost notorious Islamic terrorist organization in Al-geria. Its exceedingly violent strategy, however, costAIG the popular support it initially enjoyed. Even-tually a dissident branch called the Salafst Groupor Preaching and Combat (known by its Frenchacronym GSPC) eclipsed its predecessor, though itailed to recapture AIG’s initial reach or capabilities.Having made little progress on its own, in 2006–2007the GSPC announced its allegiance to al Qaeda. Op-erating under a new name, al Qaeda in the IslamicMaghreb shortly thereater executed a series o large-scale bombings and attacks in Algiers and northernAlgeria. However, under intense pressure rom Al-geria, it was unable to maintain a high operationaltempo. AQIM has since been most present and activein the western Sahel—a largely desert and sparselypopulated region that spans the borders o Algeria,Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and parts o Chad.Though active in various orms or many years,the strength, appeal, and reach o Islamic terroristgroups in West and North Arica have generallyebbed and lowed without achieving critical massor momentum. However, marked distinctions haveemerged between AQIM as previously constitutedin the Maghreb and the networks presently activein the Sahel. The earlier organization tended to op-erate in or base itsel near major cities and executeepisodic large-scale attacks. In contrast, acts currentlyperpetrated by AQIM in the Sahel are increasinglya mixture o criminal and low-level terrorist actions.While there have been periodic attacks in capital cit-ies, most incidents have targeted regions distant romgovernment outposts (see fgure). In this way, AQIM
Dr. Modibo Goïta is a Professor at the Alioune BlondinBeye Peacekeeping School in Bamako, Mali.
“the eventual establishment ofsanctuaries, mini “Waziristans,”in the region is a real possibility”