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» 23.09.2008 - Al-Qaeda calls for holy war in North Africa
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North Africa | West Africa

Al Qaeda presence in Maghreb-Sahel "exaggerated"

Algerian troops defiling in the north

© Afrodor/Wikipedia/afrol News
afrol News, 6 July
- Researchers hold that the threat of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and Sahel regions is willingly exaggerated by governments to legitimise strong armies, limited democracy and US military presence.

Researcher Muhammad Darif, in an interview with the UK-based 'Quds Press' this week, confirms what many analysts have held earlier. The so-called Al Qaeda in the Maghreb terrorist group is basically defined to Algeria and not a real threat to the region at large.

While Mr Darif confirms the existence of the terrorist group, he reminds that it is rooted in the Algerian civil war in the 1990s. The Algerian Islamist terror group "Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat" in 2006 sought contact with Al Qaeda and in 2007 was admitted as a regional member group.

Rather than questioning the groups existence, Mr Darif told 'Quds Press' the real question concerned "its size and whether it presents a threat to the existing regimes in the Arab Maghreb states or not."

The Moroccan researcher rather downplayed the terrorist group's regional size and presence, saying it was still mainly engaged in Algeria's vast territory. Only the strength of the Algerian army had led it to occasional border crossings.

Mr Darif told 'Quds Press' that Algeria's Al Qaeda group's "forced presence" abroad further had benefited from "existing tribal contradictions. Many cases of kidnapping of foreign nationals happened through tribal militias, which handed them over to Al Qaeda in return for huge amounts of money." Also, the talk about Al Qaeda establishing camps in several Sahel countries was a mere rumour, he said.

He further questioned who was benefiting from the exaggerations of the terrorist group's size and impact. Both regional governments and the US had an interest in this rumour, Mr Darif held.

"We know that many influential security and political agencies in the Arab Maghreb states utilise the card of terrorism, represented by Al Qaeda, for their own purposes," he said, pointing to the external pressure for democratisation.

"The scattered terrorist operations in a number of countries" had been used to explain that security needed to have a higher priority than democratisation and human rights, he told 'Quds Press'. Al Qaeda in reality however not was threatening the balance of power in any Maghreb or Sahelian state, he emphasised.

Finally, also the US government had an interest in the Al Qaeda rumours, Mr Darif held. In its ongoing efforts to re-establish a strong military presence in Africa, the perceived Al Qaeda threat strongly served to legitimise the establishment of new military bases in Africa among governments and the population.

Mr Darif is far from the first researcher to question the Maghrebi Al Qaeda group's importance. Earlier speculations have pointed towards Algerian authorities exaggerating Al Qaeda's impact in their quest for US and international support. More and more of the terrorist group's alleged operations outside Algeria have been called into question during the last few years.

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