…Al-Qaeda has based itself in northern Mali for 10 years, as part of an alleged secret agreement with Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), the president of Mali who was deposed in a military coup in March 2012 as northern cities were falling to Tuareg rebels.
During ATT’s presidency, AQIM amassed an outrageous fortune in Mali – collecting up to $250m in hostage ransoms from Western governments for more than 50 European and Canadian hostages kidnapped over the past decade, usually from neighbouring Niger.
At this moment there are still European hostages being held by al-Qaeda in northern Mali pending delivery of a $132m ransom.
The ransom negotiations, which were carried out under the auspices of the presidency, were confirmed by the Wikileaks cables to be a goldmine for the Malian VIPs involved – with each receiving his cut of the jackpot including, according to a former Malian official with knowledge of the deals, the president himself…
…According to numerous northern residents, AQIM fighters have been circulating openly in Tuareg towns, not for the past year, but for the past 10 years; shopping, attending weddings, and parading fully armed in the streets, in front of police stations and military barracks.
Colonel Habi ag Al Salat, a Malian army commander who defected in 2011 to join the [secular Tuareg rebel movement] MNLA, was one of the first to notice the Algerian fighters from the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) entering Tuareg towns of the far north such as Aguelhoc, which was under his command.
But when Habi warned his army superiors they told him to stand down and leave the men alone because they were “not enemies” of Mali. When the GSPC changed its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, following a pact announced by Ayman Al Zawahiri, that policy did not change.
“Mali opened the field to al-Qaeda – to roam among the camps and villages, to build relationships with the people,” says Habi.
“Local people benefitted up to a point from the trickle down of money flowing to al-Qaeda by way of Mali. And this ensnared many of our youths who are unemployed. Mali facilitated al-Qaeda, providing them complete freedom of movement among our families because they believed the presence of this group would impact the Tuareg struggle against the governing regime which has been going on for 50 years”…
…Meanwhile the Tuaregs have a sinking feeling: The fear that they are the ones who will be killed in any coming war, in the name of fighting al-Qaeda.
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