“A disproportionate number of terrorist attacks … fail simply because ideological conviction is not sufficient to have technical and operation capabilities,” he says. “What this group is doing is they’re increasing their probability of success by hiring people who understand the terrain, and have the know-how.” 

*****

“Mokhtar (Belmokhtar) is one of the more innovative terrorist leaders,” Pham said. “He’s expanded into Mali and Mauritania and built this nexus of criminal activity which raises money for terrorist operations. Every time after he collects a ransom or some other funding, he plows that money right back into the organization by hiring even better people to handle the next operation, thus ensuring its success.” 

*****

     I found this to be very intriguing, just because this Mokhtar guy is doing some things that will undoubtedly be copied by others.  The ransom game, along with collecting passage fees in drug trafficking zones in Africa, is turning out to be very lucrative for AQIM. As more countries like Spain continue to pay ransoms, groups like this get rich and are able to do more kidnappings and terrorist operations. It is a terror/crime cycle that feeds itself and only gets bigger. Kind of like the whole piracy thing.

    With that said, close protection in these parts of the world should be a top priority of companies and countries that endorse the companies as they work abroad. Every payment made for ransoms, will only make these groups stronger.  So having a means to defeat these hired jijadist mercenaries that conduct these types of operations should be a top priority for companies. I say companies in general, because I could see this type of thing replicated throughout the world and by all types of terrorist organizations.

     Nothing new in the world of terrorism, but as you can see, every once in awhile you get an enterprising booger eater who has figured out a niche. Hopefully France is able to kill or capture this guy and put this group in check.  Spain and these other ‘weak kneed’ countries need to learn as well that paying ransoms will not make the problem disappear. Much like ransoms have done for the piracy game, it will only make these groups stronger, and things worse for westerners operating in these countries. –Matt

When Crime Does Pay: The Threat of an Emboldened al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

France’s War Deepens With Desert Al-Qaida Ally

An Al Qaeda affiliate getting rich in Niger

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When Crime Does Pay: The Threat of an Emboldened al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

September 23, 2010

J.Peter Pham, PhD

(the last paragraphs are posted)

……In this context, the resurgence of AQIM should be cause for grave concern—all the more so because the payment of ransoms and the release of jailed militants have given the terrorist group a considerable boost, not just in terms of material and human resources, but also in terms of prestige among extremists. Exacerbating the threat that an emboldened AQIM poses is that its leadership has shown itself to be rather pragmatic in their using the resources which come their way to “professionalize” their operations, that is, employing mercenaries like Omar le Sahraoui and others willing to work for hire for the terrorist organization irrespective of their ideological commitments. The six killed in the failed French raid on AQIM in July, for example, included three Tuareg, an Algerian, a Mauritanian, and a Moroccan. By using personnel who are either trained or who have superior knowledge of the geographic or social space in which operations are to take place, AQIM’s terrorist activities not only stand a greater chance of success, but in the event of failure and capture, authorities do not gain much by way of entry into or leverage with the terrorist group itself. Given how this threat has been evolving, it may turn out to be fortuitous that al-Qaeda’s franchise has provoked what is apparently a rather robust reaction from the French at this time, rather than later after it has had more time to consolidate its position.

Story here.

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France’s War Deepens With Desert Al-Qaida Ally

Sept. 21, 2010

Dana Kennedy

NICE, France (Sept. 21) — More than 80 French counter-terrorism troops in long-range reconnaissance planes are scouring a vast no-man’s land on the edge of the Sahara for seven hostages taken last week in Niger.

It’s the latest battle in what is beginning to look like a deepening war between France and a group that calls itself al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“France will do everything to free the hostages,” government spokesman Luc Chatel has told reporters, but the French Foreign Ministry said it had not yet received any proof that the hostages are alive or any demands for money from any group.

AQIM finances its operations and expansion by kidnapping European tourists, often with the help of local Tuareg people, an expert told AOL News. The group has openly stated its anti-French focus and warned that it could stage an attack. France has been on a high terror alert since last week in the face of the Niger kidnappings and reports that a female suicide bomber might blow herself up in Paris.

“They’re Islamic extremists who are ideologues but who know how to get mercenaries to work for them,” said J. Peter Pham, an expert on AQIM who is senior vice president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a New York-based think tank.

“France is in serious danger, but part of that danger comes from their allies like Spain who are giving in to AQIM and paying them ransoms in exchange for the return of hostages,” he said.

AQIM operates out of the Sahel region, a vast, semi-lawless expanse encompassing parts of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. The region, a transitional zone between the Sahara Desert to the north and the savanna to the south, is a traditional home to nomads, and more recently a haven of sorts for drug and weapons traffickers.

The seven hostages seized last week, five of them French nationals, are reportedly being held captive in northeastern Mali. They all worked at a French uranium plant near Arlit, Niger.

France’s military deployment, based in Niger’s capital, Niamey, comes just two months after a disastrous French raid on a remote location in Mali aimed at rescuing a 78-year-old French aid worker kidnapped on AQIM orders. Michel Germaneau was not found at the location where the French attacked and is believed to have either died before the raid or been killed after it.

Seven AQIM militants were killed in the attack, and the group released a statement saying France had “opened the doors of horror” and vowed to retaliate both in Africa and in France.

France’s first conflicts with the group now known as AQIM began more than 15 years ago during Algeria’s civil war, when armed Islamist rebels tried to overthrow the country’s secular government and make it an Islamist state.

Those rebels were part of a militia called the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which then evolved into the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat but had been reduced to relatively few fighters by the early part of this decade. Members cleverly re-branded the group by joining Osama bin Laden’s worldwide terror network.

One of the group’s most powerful leaders is the savvy, Algerian-born Mokhtar Belmokhtar, 38, known as the “one-eyed,” who spent time in jihadist training camps in Afghanistan. Belmokhtar is described as an ideologue and a business genius who outsources the kidnappings of European tourists to local bandits — and then collects the big ransoms paid for them by countries intimidated by the al-Qaida name.

“Mokhtar is one of the more innovative terrorist leaders,” Pham said. “He’s expanded into Mali and Mauritania and built this nexus of criminal activity which raises money for terrorist operations. Every time after he collects a ransom or some other funding, he plows that money right back into the organization by hiring even better people to handle the next operation, thus ensuring its success.”

Belmokhtar often hired a local, former Polisario Front fighter who uses the nom de guerre “Omar de Sawrahi” to carry out kidnappings.

“Spain only heard the name al-Qaida when they learned three of their people had been kidnapped, so they instantly kowtowed and apparently paid the ransom,” Pham said. He was referring to up to $5 million in ransom Spanish newspapers reported that the government paid for the return of three kidnapped hostages freed in August.

Pham said there is no evidence that Belmokhtar enriches himself through any criminal enterprise, adding that he “remains an ideologue through and through.”

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has urged the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, to increase the EU’s focus on the Sahel region, saying that the population there “must have another perspective than that offered by terrorists.”

For his part, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s archenemy, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, accused Sarkozy today of using the North African Islamist threat as a “ploy” to distract from bad publicity over his deportation of the Roma Gypsies and the Lillian Bettencourt finance scandal, the London Telegraph reported.

Story here.

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An Al Qaeda affiliate getting rich in Niger

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb says it kidnapped five Frenchmen and two Africans from a Niger uranium mine. The group appears to be cultivating revenue streams

By Drew HinshawSeptember 22, 2010

The Saharan chapter of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility Tuesday for the abduction of five Frenchmen and two of their African colleagues working at a Uranium mine in remote Niger.

Analysts say the announcement likely means the hostages have been transferred from local mercenaries to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a flourishing militant group that evolved from an earlier movement in Algeria. Analysts expect a ransom demand will be made.

The kidnappings are just the latest crime associated with Al Qaeda affiliates in the region. In July, a French aid worker seized by AQIM in Niger was murdered during a French rescue attempt. The rescue attempt was set up with feigned ransom negotiations.

That murder may be what motivated the Spanish government to allegedly pay a ransom to secure the release of three Spanish aid workers weeks later. The group was paid between 5 and 10 million euros and also secured release of militants in exchange for the Spaniards’ freedom, according to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy Vice President J. Peter Pham.

If true, AQIM may be morphing into a self-sustaining kidnap-for-ransom gang. Dr. Pham says the group may also be charging Latin American drug cartels “right-of-passage” fees for Saharan caravans of Europe-bound cocaine smugglers.

Pham says the group isn’t cut from the same ideological cloth as Osama bin Laden’s inner circle and that this Saharan band probably has little ambition to seize Niger’s uranium. But the group’s operational and financial successes could lead to bigger problems.

“Since 9/11, everyone has talked about the crime-terror nexus, but for the most part it’s mythological,” he says. “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has actually created it. “

When chased, the Saharan outfit has hidden in cocaine cartel safe houses in the desert, he says. Through mercenaries, the group has locked down ancient caravan routes from seaside Mauritania to the eastern brink of Niger. It’s fairly reasonable to assume they’re not letting cocaine transit those corridors for free, says Pham.

This Saharan Al Qaeda chapter outsources their dirty work to locals who’ve memorized the rocky landscape of villages and potential hideouts around the sites they target. That, Pham suggests, is why they’re succeeding where most militants flounder.

“A disproportionate number of terrorist attacks … fail simply because ideological conviction is not sufficient to have technical and operation capabilities,” he says. “What this group is doing is they’re increasing their probability of success by hiring people who understand the terrain, and have the know-how.”

Story here.