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Al Qaeda passes out money in Mali!

Interesting Article: "Al Qaeda Africa Refuge Flourishes By Meshing With Locals" by RUKMINI CALLIMACHI AND MARTIN VOGL / Sokolo published Sunday, December 4th, 2011

An interesting article talked about al Qaeda's influence in Mali. With almost no resistance, al-Qaida has implanted itself in Africa's soft tissue, choosing as its host one of the poorest nations on earth. The terrorist group has create a refuge in this remote land through a strategy of winning hearts and minds, described in rare detail by seven locals in regular contact with the cell. While al-Qaida's central command is in disarray and its leaders on the run following bin Laden's death six months ago, security experts say, the group's 5-year-old branch in Africa is flourishing. From bases like the one in the forest just north of here, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is infiltrating local communities, recruiting fighters, running training camps and planning suicide attacks, according to diplomats and government officials. Let us look at how al Qaeda is following Hezbollah's game plan in Mali.

The following is an excerpt of the article, which portrays an excellent description of how they operate in Mali. In Sokolo, al Qaeda emerges from the forest and each time they do they go to lengths to exchange greetings, ask for permission and act neighborly, according to locals. Besides candy, the men hand out cash. If a child is born, they bring baby clothes. Even as the mother franchise struggles financially, its African offshoot has raised an estimated $130 million in under a decade by kidnapping at least 50 Westerners in neighboring countries and holding them in camps in Mali for ransom. It has tripled in size from 100 combatants in 2006 to at least 300 today, say security experts. And its growing footprint, once limited to Algeria, now stretches from one end of the Sahara desert to the other, from Mauritania in the west to Mali in the east. When the al-Qaida fighters showed up about 1 1/2 years ago with four to five jerrycans and asked for water, they signaled that they did not intend to plunder resources, according to locals in Sokolo. They stood out in their tunics stopping a little below the knees, small turbans and beards, a foreign style of dress associated with the Gulf states and bin Laden. They started to come every four or five days in Land Cruisers, with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders. At first they stayed for no more than 15 to 20 minutes, said the villagers, including herders, a hunter and employees of the Malian Ministry of Husbandry who travel to the area to vaccinate animals and repair broken pumps. If on Monday they took water from one well, on Wednesday they would go to another, always varying their path. They venture into the camps where the herders sleep at dusk and hand out cash to villagers who join them for prayers, bills of 10,000 West African francs (about $20), equal to nearly half the average monthly salary in Mali. Soon after they began taking water, one of the bearded fighters approached a shepherd at the pump to buy a ram. The fighters were looking to slaughter it to feed themselves. The shepherd offered it to him for free – too afraid to ask for money, said the man's friend. But the stranger refused to take the ram without payment, and immediately handed over a generous sum. AQIM grew out of the groups fighting the Algerian government in the 1990s, after the military canceled elections to stave off victory for an Islamist party. Over the next decade, they left a trail of destruction in Algeria. Around 2003, they sent an emissary to Iraq to meet an al-Qaida intermediary. Three years later, the insurgents joined the terror family, in what second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri called "a blessed union." AQIM in particular has perfected what analysts call a "kidnap economy," drawing on its refuge in Mali, according to diplomats, hostage negotiators and government officials. In 2003, the group kidnapped and transported 32 mostly German tourists from southern Algeria to Mali, where, according to a member of Mali's parliament, they struck a deal with local authorities that is still in effect today. The cell has also managed to recruit local fighters, including 60 to 80 Tuaregs, the olive-skinned nomads who live in the Sahara desert, according to a security expert. And villagers say they have seen black-skinned sub-Saharan Africans in the pickups speaking the languages of Mali, Guinea and Nigeria. One thing still stands in al-Qaida's way: Its hardcore ideology does not gel with the moderate Islam practiced by Mali's nomads. Most of them said they were afraid, caught between need for the money al-Qaida offers and wariness of its extremist beliefs. When bin Laden died, the members of the local cell went from well to well to ask people to pray for his soul, according to Amaye ag Ali Cisse, an employee of the Ministry of Husbandry who travels twice a month to the wells to oversee the vaccination of animals. This form of working with the locals has served several terror organizations well. For example, Hezbollah is at the forefront of this. Their tactics include the well documented actions taken after Israel pounded Hezbollah and southern Lebanon in 2006, where Hezbollah passed out money and assistance in the effort to rebuild structures and loyalty. Hamas in turn used the same tactics in Gaza City where bearded Hamas activists delivered envelopes with five crisp $100 bills to veiled women whose homes were damaged during Israel’s invasion of Gaza, the first of promised relief payments by the militant group. They have pledged $52 million of the group’s funds to help repair lives, the money divvied up by category. Hamas, which is believed to be funded by donations from the Muslim world and Iran, said the emergency relief would include $1,300 for a death in the family, $650 for an injury, $5,200 for a destroyed house and $2,600 for a damaged house. Imagine you're in a financial bind. You can't pay your electricity bill. Or your child wants to go to college but family finances don't stretch that far. Some men turn up at your apartment, pay your bills and negotiate future reductions with the power company. They foot the college tuition. They ask for nothing in return but gratitude. Welcome to the way Hezbollah has been operating in poor, Shiite southern Lebanon since the group was created, with Iran's help, in the early 1980s. In recent days, it has been handing out wads of cash to people whose homes were destroyed in the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah. Just business as usual. If al Qaeda is using this tactic effectively, it will be harder for the west to gain the support of the locals when the time comes for operations centered in these areas.




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