MENA & Africa Intel Blog: The Max Spotlight
The Max Spotlight blog offers the latest insight and analysis on pressing geo-political issues across the world, straight from Max-Security's intelligence division.
On September 21, al-Shabaab, the Somali-based al-Qaeda affiliate, gained international attention yet again, with the daring and devastating attack on the Westgate Mall in an upscale area of Nairobi. The targets of the attack—western visitors and affluent Kenyans— were ideal for the group’s intention of sending a bold message. This attack was not the group’s first major terror operation, nor was it the first time al-Shabaab orchestrated an attack far from its home base in southern Somalia. However, this al-Shabaab assault raised the stakes, highlighting the group’s advanced operational capabilities and expanding vision of militancy across the region.
While the Nairobi attack gained world attention, another al-Shabaab operation at the beginning of July slipped by relatively unnoticed. The July 1 attack on Kangabayi Prison, in the remote city of Beni in North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) freed 244 inmates. The prisoners were largely affiliated with al-Shabaab’s local partner, the Ugandan militant Islamist group, the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), who helped the Somali group to conduct the Kampala World Cup bombings in 2010, resulting in over 70 deaths. Local security forces claim that the ADF orchestrated the bold prison break with the help of al-Shabaab. Read more »
On October 21, Hamas officially claimed responsibility for building a 1.7km tunnel which was uncovered in Israeli territory on October 7. The tunnel extended from the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis to the vicinity of the Israeli community of Ein Hashloshah, and was meant to transfer Hamas militants into Israeli territory for the purpose of staging a mass-casualty attack or kidnapping. The claiming of the tunnel by Hamas comes during a period of mounting economic pressure against its Gaza-based government as a result of the closure of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, and the destruction of over 90 percent of the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza by the Egyptian military.
In September 2013, IDF Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman revealed that Israel had sent a delegation to Cairo in an effort to convince the Egyptian military to ease pressure on the Gaza Strip. Turgeman cited Israeli concerns that Hamas’ increasing isolation could lead to a collapse of a ceasefire with the IDF which has been in place since the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. The IDF is reportedly concerned that such isolation would weaken the ability of Hamas’ security forces to prevent rocket fire by fringe extremist groups, or that Hamas’ own military wing would resort to an escalation with Israel in an act of desperation.
Following the uncovering of the tunnel on October 7, the IDF abruptly halted recently-resumed shipments of concrete to the Gaza Strip, while Palestinian residents claimed to have received SMS messages from the IDF accusing Hamas of ignoring the dire economic conditions in favor of building combat infrastructure. In addition, an increase in IDF activity has been noted in the Gaza Strip border area, including limited penetrations and the uncovering of improvised explosive devices meant to target border patrols.
There are those who argue that Egypt’s infamous dictator Hosni Mubarak sealed his own fate long before the first activists pitched their tents in Tahrir Square in January 2011. They say the countdown really began in 2010, when Mubarak’s eldest son Gamal pitched a bold economic reform package to weather Egypt through the global economic recession.
At the time, Gamal was known to be next in line to succeed his father. The plan would have essentially taken the regime’s massive economic holdings out of the hands of the military-backed older generation and put it into the hands of Gamal’s loyal young business class within the ruling NDP party. After the Arab Spring engulfed the country, the Egyptian military unsurprisingly had little motivation to save the embattled Mubarak family, instead organizing his dismissal and eventually enabling the trial of Hosni and his two sons on corruption charges.
Numerous comparisons between Egypt and Algeria have since been made in the global pundit-sphere. Most have focused on their respective battles with political Islam, but few have given credit to Algeria’s aging President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for recognizing Mubarak’s mistakes and keeping his regime afloat amid the storm of regional political upheaval.
On the seven-year anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for an August 7 explosion in the Israeli-Lebanese border area, near the town of Labboune. That day, at least one explosive device injured four Israeli soldiers, who were accused by Lebanese parties and UNIFIL of crossing into Lebanese territory during a patrol in an un-demarcated area of the border.
Lebanese media outlets and politicians asserted that the IDF crossed both the technical fence and the international border, which do not coincide in some areas. Initial reports indicated that the troops were hit by a landmine which may have been a remnant from previous conflicts. The IDF has since declined to comment on the details of the incident, including whether or not troops entered Lebanese territory or whether the attack was intentional. Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah had prior knowledge of an upcoming Israeli incursion, leading their operatives to plant explosive devices. He ended with what would some consider an ominous warning: “This operation will not be the last; we will not be lenient with those who violate our land. Whenever we feel that the Israelis have entered Lebanese soil, we will act.” The truth about what actually happened on August 7 may forever be disputed, but it remains clear that Hezbollah still seeks to avoid a conflict with Israel — despite Nasrallah’s seemingly confident claim of responsibility. Read more »
On July 24, UN officials stated that the Egyptian military had destroyed approximately 80 percent of smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egyptian territory. Following the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, the Egyptian military set out to destroy hundreds of these tunnels as part of a broader effort to restore order in the Sinai Peninsula. With its main artery to the outside world effectively cut along with its ideological allies in Egypt ousted, Hamas has few favorable options to prevent its demise.
Tunnel closures have begun to impact daily life in Gaza, sparking rampant fuel and electricity shortages. Shortages of concrete have resulted in the firing of approximately 20,000 construction workers, while 90 percent of Qatari and Turkish-funded projects in Gaza have reportedly been suspended due to lack of supplies. In addition, three fishing zones in Egyptian territory have since been closed to Palestinian fishermen. The official border crossing at Rafah, meanwhile, has remained mostly closed since July 3.
Hamas has reached its most isolated point since it forcefully took control of Gaza in 2007, after enjoying years of popularity following the Arab Spring. After Mohammed Morsi’s election in 2012, Hamas shifted alliances toward the regional Muslim Brotherhood movement, improving relations with Qatar, Turkey, the Syrian opposition, and other Sunni-Islamist entities. This policy shift came at the expense of long-standing ties with Iran and the Assad regime, resulting in a reduction in financial and military assistance. Read more »
On July 27, Kuwaitis will vote in the nation’s third parliamentary elections since February 2012, and the sixth since 2006. This latest chapter in Kuwait’s exhausting political saga is the result of a June 16 court ruling that dissolved the previous parliament, but upheld the same contentious electoral law which brought it to power in the first place. Kuwait’s opposition movement had previously orchestrated a record-low voter turnout by calling to boycott the recent December 2012 elections, over their objections to that law.
Confusing to some, captivating to others, Kuwait’s political scene is at a crucial crossroads. Ahead of July 27 polls, Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah has displayed cunning prowess in defeating his opponents within this system rather than without. In this battle of wits, the biggest casualty promises to be Kuwait’s once-vibrant political system.
After three months of fruitless negotiations, the efforts of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to form a cabinet remain at square one. The parliament remains unable to fill a quorum due to a cyclical boycott by more than half of its members at any given time. Meanwhile, the March 8 alliance between Hezbollah, Amal, and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) has dissolved, with all parties trying to pull the latter’s influential leader Michel Aoun in their direction.
Impasses at Lebanon’s highest levels of government threaten to institutionalize a leadership vacuum at a time when the country is barely able keep the floodgates of violence from the Syrian war closed. Amidst this political tumult, Lebanon’s most potent political player, Hezbollah, is finding itself increasingly isolated.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s stepped up military efforts – new Russian anti-aircraft missiles; imported fighters from Lebanon and Iran; and lately, increased use of chemical weapons – are having their desired effect. Today, Syria‘s main opposition group announced it will not take part in peace talks even as the regime appears to be gaining in military strength.
Particularly disturbing are reports of the Assad regime’s increased use of chemical weapons. Since March, the trickle of reports has become a flash flood. What’s now clear is that Mr. Assad, absent outside intervention, is willing to make the use of unconventional weapons more conventional as he seeks to end his government’s military stalemate with rebels.
On May 26, rebel fighters and civilians in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta, Qaboun, and Jobar reported that numerous residents suffered from respiratory problems, nausea, and other symptoms of chemical nerve agents. Three people were reportedly killed in the suspected attack while at least 70 others were reported injured. Recently-posted video footage from the area portrayed both Syrian rebels and military troops fighting with gas masks. Read more »
While many pundits continually debate a timeframe for Assad’s downfall, the regime is on the offensive, pushing back their estimations. In recent weeks, Assad’s forces have succeeded in securing several tactical victories, mainly in Damascus, Idlib Province, and around Homs, all the while preventing additional rebel gains around Deraa. Overall, those tactical developments are likely to further secure the capital’s northern and southern flanks and supply lines to other government-controlled cities while furthering the process of isolating and eliminating opposition strongholds around Damascus. The rebels, therefore, will not be taking Syria’s capital anytime soon.
Syrian military and loyalist gains in Damascus are likely to continue in the near term, as tenuous advances in Homs and Idlib provinces and the continued holding of strategic areas in southern Syria will inhibit rebel efforts to bring more fighters and supplies to the four Damascus fronts. While not given the publicity it deserves, much of Assad’s recent successes in the Homs region could be credited to Hezbollah’s increased intervention from Lebanon. This intervention has furthered tensions in Lebanon, but burgeoned Assad’s strength between Damascus, the Alawite stronghold of Latakia, and Homs. It now appears that both Hezbollah and Syrian government troops are set to enter the main rebel-held town in the area, al-Qusayr. Rebel fighters inside Damascus, meanwhile, are increasingly finding themselves isolated and outgunned. They are left mostly defending positions determined following the stalling of their last capital offensive that began in November 2012.
The latest regime offensives in Damascus were a likely answer to rebel gains near Jordan and Israel, and thus meant to preempt another rebel attempt to ride their momentum for a push into the heart of Damascus. By taking the initiative, regime troops and loyalist militias have become increasingly able to isolate opposition bastions in the capital’s outskirts. Layered defenses in the capital, barrages of indirect fire, long supply lines, and local opposition to rebel gains are also likely contributing to the opposition’s general inability to move beyond their initial strongholds.
On April 18, President Ahmadinejad held a rally at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to celebrate Iran’s recent tourism industry successes. In the days prior, Ahmadinejad’s political opponents, including within Iran’s clerical leadership, warned that the president would use the venue to campaign for his main political ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
Although a number of government officials were present at the rally, Mashaei did not make an appearance and no reference was made to the upcoming presidential elections. Mashaei’s possible candidacy for presidential elections in June 2013 has been a point of contention between the president and the clerical leadership, the latter maintaining that Mashaei’s secular leanings are a threat to their influence.
Reports indicate that attendance at the stadium, which can accommodate 100,000 people, ranged between 40,000 to 70,000 for Ahmadinejad’s rally. Many state-owned media outlets had refused to cover the event, although the IRNA news agency gave the highest number of 70,000.
The inability of Ahmadinejad’s camp to fill the Azadi stadium was coupled with an egress of supporters toward the end of the ceremony, as few people remained to hear the president’s final remarks. Reports further indicate that many of the attendees had been transported to the stadium from outlying areas, despite the president’s generally stronger support from the capital’s residents. Furthermore, scuffles between attendees and stadium employees over food distribution are indicative of possible incentives promised by Ahmadinejad’s camp in exchange for attending the rally.
Ten years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq’s inter-sectarian political experiment is in jeopardy. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite State of Law coalition remains in control, yet his government has come under excruciating pressure. In recent months, a wave of anti-government Sunni Arab protests, Cabinet boycotts by Shiite Sadrists, Sunnis and Kurds, coupled with rising sectarian violence and the steady withdrawal of Sunniministers, have threatened the longevity of Iraq’s political experiment. But despite rising sectarianism, perceived marginalization of Sunnis and jihadist violence, there are indications that Iraq’s Sunni tribal leaders are hesitant to abandon the political process and thrust Iraq into another war.
The March 29 Baghdad car bomb attacks targeting Shiite mosques underscore persistent efforts by Sunni jihadists to force this war. By increasing violence and radical sectarianism, Sunni jihadists are aiming to weaken the central Shiite-led government, force a Shiite-militia response, and Sunnis to take up arms against the state at a time of instability across the region. Despite counterinsurgency efforts by the Iraqi security forces and military, they remain largely unable to deter or prevent militant attacks, such as the coordinated mass assaults witnessed in the capital on March 13. Jihadists can largely strike at will.
In addition to rising violence, persistent Sunni protests over a variety of issues continue to exacerbate sectarian tensions. Their demands vary from further rights, an end to the country’s terrorism and de-Baathification laws, to autonomy. Above all, protesters demand an end to the perceived marginalization of the Sunni community. It is hard, however, to see how such a perception will dissipate given mounting sectarian violence across the region.
Additionally, recent al-Maliki measures against Sunni ministers, on top of postponing local elections in Sunni-majority provinces and the continued targeting of local candidates, have only compounded Sunni restiveness. According to reports, at least 11 candidates for upcoming elections have been assassinated. Political candidates remain a high-level target for Sunni jihadists aiming to settle scores, deter cooperation with the government and weaken the traditional leadership of Iraq’sSunni community.
If such a strategy increasingly materializes, Iraq’s Sunni political leaders could be pressed to fall in line and replace the ballot box with an AK-47 to advance communal interests.
Read more »
“Deal with your friends as if they will become your enemies tomorrow, and deal with your enemies as if they will become your friends tomorrow.” It’s a proverb passed along through Kurdish generations — and a telling pretext to the Kurdish strategy in today’s conflict in Syria. In recent weeks, this once dormant player has awoken from its slumber, and may just provide Syria’s desperate rebels with a much needed boost to break their deadlock with the Assad regime.
Reports indicate that YPG militiamen and Syrian rebels have agreed to share control of the strategic Sheikh Maqsood District of northern Aleppo, cutting off regime supply routes to a hospital, prison, and other key positions. Rebel fighters entered the district largely unopposed on March 31. On April 6, the Syrian military bombarded Kurdish neighborhoods in northern Aleppo, killing 15 people in a likely response to this new arrangement. The following day, Kurdish militiamen attacked a Syrian military checkpoint in the city, killing five troops.
Further east, Syrian military units attacked a checkpoint manned by Kurdish militiamen in the northeastern city of Qamishli on April 4. Hours later, militiamen from the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) attacked two Syrian military positions on the outskirts of Qamishli. The attacks resulted in a number of deaths on both sides and marked the first such incident to occur in the predominantly Kurdish Hasakah Province since the Syrian military withdrew from the region’s urban centers in the summer of 2012.
The month of March 2013 has witnessed an increase in tensions between local Tunisian Salafist networks, the newly formed government of P.M. Laarayedh, and the country’s secular/liberal societal factions.
On March 26, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) issued a warning on social media towards P.M. Laarayedh, after he condemned Tunisia’s Salafist minority as responsible for recent violence in an interview with French media that same day. The post featured a threat to topple the government from Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, a prominent jihadist founder of AST suspected of orchestrating the September 11, 2012 riots at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Following those riots, Abu Iyad was targeted for arrest at the al-Fatah Mosque in Tunis, but escaped after his supporters confronted security forces.
Iyad’s warning came days after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a new message calling on jihadists across the region to to join its ranks and take up arms against French assets as well as Western-sympathetic local governments in the Arab World. The message included a specific call towards Ansar al-Sharia members in Tunisia, which was reportedly received positively by the group.
On March 27, the Tunisian government announced that it would take measures to curb the flow of Tunisian jihadists to the conflict in Syria, citing concerns over their return to the country to engage in militant activity. Reports indicate that thousands of Tunisians are currently participating in both the Syrian and Malian conflict. In Syria, Tunisian nationals are estimated to comprise 30-40 percent of all foreign fighters. The majority of Tunisian jihadists fighting in Syria hail from outlying communities in the west and south of the country, primarily the town of Ben Guerdane, located near the Libyan border. Multiple Tunisian nationals also participated in a deadly raid against Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility in January 2013.
Following the 2010-11 Tunisian revolution, Salafist-jihadist elements have increased their activity substantially. Following the ousting of the Ben Ali regime, previously strict anti-Islamist policing policies were forgone, while the ensuing security vacuum enabled the establishment of training camps and weapons smuggling networks in outlying areas. Training camps near the Libyan and Algerian borders are currently meant to facilitate the indoctrination and transfer of Tunisian nationals to conflicts elsewhere in the region, including in Syria, Mali, and Algeria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 22 and offered Israel’s apology for the 2010 ‘Mavi Marmara’ incident. In that incident, nine Turkish nationals were killed by Israeli Special Forces who raided the Marmara as it sailed to the Gaza Strip as part of a larger flotilla. The incident resulted in an unprecedented crisis in the relations between the two countries, with Turkey demanding an official apology before restoring ties between the two nations.
The recent development was reportedly mediated by the US administration, and particularly by Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Israel on March 19 ahead of President Obama’s visit. The President himself was present at the time of the conversation between the two leaders on March 22, shortly before leaving to Jordan.
Netanyahu apologized for operational mistakes that led to the loss of life, and pledged to compensate the families of those killed via a humanitarian fund. He also stressed that Israel has lifted certain limitations on the entry of civilian goods to the Gaza Strip in the time that passed since the incident. Those three have issues constituted Turkey’s demands for reconciliation since the incident.
By May 2012, the global jihad network would rear its ugly head in Tanzania once more, after a bombing attack occurred in the Kenyan capital, targeting a prominent shopping district. While blame was placed squarely on Somalia’s al-Shabaab, the arrest of a German national in Tanzania in connection to the attack largely went unnoticed. The man, reportedly of Turkish descent, had undergone training in al- Qaida camps in Pakistan.
Read more »
On March 6, Syrian rebel fighters in the Golan Heights region released footage of a UN peacekeepers’ convoy which they claimed to have detained. The incident occurred near the Israeli border, with approximately 20 Filipino troops detained and taken to a rebel-designated “safe area.” Intentional or not, the young, unsuspecting rebels speaking in the video may have set in motion a chain of events which may lead to a dangerous deterioration on the once-peaceful Israeli-Syrian border, with no turning back.
The convoy was seized by over 30 rebels after it allegedly entered a rebel combat zone near the UN-designated demilitarized zone which separates the Israeli and Syrian borders. In the video, rebels accused the UN force of assisting the Assad regime, while demanding the Syrian military withdraw from the nearby village of Jamla in exchange for their release. The rebels claimed to be part of the Yarmouk Brigade, a unit which includes radical jihadists and has taken part in recent fighting in the Golan Heights. The UN force has insisted that the troops did not enter a combat area.
There are currently over 1,000 foreign troops operating in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) which has been in place in the Golan Height’s demilitarized zone since 1974, as part of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria. Croatia recently withdrew all of its 100 troops from the UNDOF over concerns for their safety after it was reported that Croatian weapons were being delivered to rebel forces.
The seizure of UN troops was likely committed irrespective of the orders or policies of prominent opposition commanders or officials, both in Syria and abroad. Syrian rebels in the area likely sought to draw media attention to their plight, despite the long-term risks of loss of support from the international community. Read more »
On February 26-27, nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 resumed in Kazakhstan after an eight month deadlock, concluding with a pledge to continue talks in March and April, respectively. On March 18, technical experts from both sides will meet in Istanbul, while high-level talks will be held weeks later on April 5-6 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Following the conclusion of talks, chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili issued notably positive statements, calling the talks “a turning point,” and that a newly enhanced proposal offered by Western powers was “more realistic,” likely in reference to the previously rejected proposal offered in June 2012 talks in Moscow.
The proposal reportedly offered by Western powers included an easing of sanctions on the trade of gold and other precious metals, in exchange for halting uranium enrichment to 20% levels. In an unprecedented move, the West dropped a longstanding demand that Iran close its heavily fortified enrichment facility at Fordow, while offering to allow Iran to keep a small portion of its 20% enriched uranium stockpile instead of transferring it to a third country for conversion. The proposal did not include any lifting of sanctions on Iran’s energy sector.
Since Israel’s brazen airstrike on Syrian territory Jan. 30, Israel’s enemies have yet to retaliate. Syria, Iran, and their proxy, Hezbollah, together comprise the region’s heavily-armed fighting force, and yet remain unwilling to make good on pledges to respond with aggression to any Israeli force.
Even Syria’s enemies have begun to take notice of the nonresponse, exploiting the Assad regime’s inaction for their own propaganda purposes. In Turkey, where relations with Israel are seriously strained, President Ahmet Davutoglu asked: “Why didn’t [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad even throw a pebble when Israeli jets were flying over his palace and playing with the dignity of his country?”
Depending on whom you ask, Israel either hit sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in Syria that were en-route to the Lebanese border and Hezbollah (this is the US and Israeli explanation), or it hit a symbolic military research center northwest of Damascus (the Syrian version). But at this point, speculation over which targets were hit, where they were located, or what exact purpose they served is irrelevant.
What is relevant, is that Israel clearly retains the strategic high ground against its enemies, with full knowledge that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are bogged down in the swamp of civil war, economic sanctions, or diplomatic isolation.
The Israeli strike against Syria has to be looked at in the context of last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel – when Hamas fired some 1,500 rockets from the Gaza Strip, including longer range Iranian-made missiles that reached Tel Aviv for the first time. Israel successfully protected itself with its anti-missile system, called Iron Dome. The Syria strike shows that the last round in the Gaza Strip emboldened the Israeli military to go after Hezbollah, a far more fearsome enemy.
Knowing that its Iron Dome system was battle tested, Israel was able to confidently deploy the anti-missile system near Israel’s strategic industrial centers in Haifa prior to the attacks on Syria. Tanks and troops had been moved to the border with Syria, backed by a political establishment that had spent months coordinating with regional and international allies through back channels to gain support for such action. Read more »
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s a lesson that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), likely learned when he sparked a firestorm within the Syrian opposition after declaring his willingness to enter into negotiations with the Assad regime on January 30. As part of his stated conditions, al-Khatib demanded the release of 160,000 political prisoners being held by the Assad regime and the renewal of expired passports for Syrian dissidents abroad.
Until al-Khatib’s remarks, the SNC’s official stance had been to reject all negotiations with the Assad regime unless the embattled dictator agrees to relinquish power. It this comes as no surprise that other SNC officials and their backers in the region were quick to denounce al-Khatib’s statements as unrepresentative of the coalition’s policies. On February 5, the Coalition came together to issue an official rejection of al-Khatib’s proposal, even after it had been softened to include demanding that Assad cede power as an outcome.
Their outrage did little to stop al-Khatib from reiterating his willingness to negotiate during a security conference in Munich, where he also met with Russian and Iranian officials.
The locally-based Syrian-based National Coordination Committee, which initially organized non-violent protests, offered its support for al-Khatib, reiterating its stance that a political solution must be found to end the conflict. The Assad regime has yet to offer an official response, although a regime source described the development as positive.
By now the name Mokhtar Belmokhtar is familiar to anyone watching security-related events unfold in Saharan Africa. Since a January 16 raid executed by his “Masked Brigade” in Algeria, which led to the deaths of dozens of hostages, the one-eyed smuggler extraordinaire’s picture has been broadcast across TV and computer screens worldwide. As Western policymakers continue to adjust their strategy in the war on terror, it is important to understand Belmokhtar’s accomplishment in its true context: a victory of a thriving jihadist operational network.
As it turns out, the Masked Brigade’s attack was not, as reports originally indicated, a reprisal for French intervention in northern Mali. In fact, Western security officials recently stated that the attack was planned before January 11, when France intervened. This instead was simply intended to be a standard kidnap-and-ransom mission – a fundraiser and terrorist attack rolled into one.
However, northern Mali does play a role in the attack’s execution. The region has become a sanctuary for militants from Nigeria to Somalia who need free range to learn from experienced veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Belmokhtar’s men trained for and planned their attack in northern Mali. They raised funds by ransoming kidnap victims and smuggling drugs, as well as Belmokhtar’s trademark product, Marlboro cigarettes. They also smuggled fighters and weapons, many of which came from the caches of Libya’s former dictator, Moammar Ghaddafi.