Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie), and the rallying cry, in the recent largest global demonstration against “Islamic” terrorism in France. This was in sympathy and condolences to the satirical paper, Charlie Hebdo, and the families of the 12 journalists, working in the paper, who were executed by the terrorist Muslim Koauchi brothers.
The two; Sherrif and Said, French Muslims of Algerian antecedents, had also trained as Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen and possibility had been in fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
The third terrorist, the Malian, Amedi Coulibaly, adds to the interest of the group in Paris, all of whom were French citizens. Yet this paints a picture of the association with Al Qaeda and the Islamic terrorist groups in the Sahel region in North Africa. The three were killed in the shootout with the French Special Forces.
Coulibaly’s accomplice/companion/”wife”, Hayaf Boumedienne, reportedly still on the run, is also Algerian, like the Koauchi brothers. The duo was also connected to Coulibaly in a terrorist cell of which six suspected terrorist accomplices have been arrested and are under investigation.
It is apparent that further probing is going to reveal that all these terrorists, and others of their ilk, have been nurtured in the boiling pot of Islamic radicalism in the Sahel region in the North African Sahara desert. This is the meeting point where fighting groups, arms proliferation and drug smuggling has taken place, partly as a result of the fallout of the Libyan civil war in which Muammar al Ghaddafi was killed three years ago.
It is also the place where for a long time the Algerian Muslim jihadist group, the Salafist Army for Preaching and Combat has been operating in. A further development in this region was the mixture into it of the Malian Tuareg rebel groups that have wanted to form an independent state in northern Mali. These Arab and nomadic Tuaregs are mixed with the local ethnic groups like the Fulani and the Songhai (Coulibay would be from one of these) in this area. Gaddafi recruited many of them to fight for him in his Islamic Legion.
Another of these separatist groups in northern Mali was the Ansar Dine, linked to an Al Qaeda offshoot, AQIM – the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb – which seeks to impose sharia law in a unified Mali. AQIM had affiliations with Algeria.
The operation of these groups in the Sahel precipitated the coup in Mali three years ago. But while Ansar Dine had some interests in political power in Mali, AQIM looked more to the Al Qaeda jihadists in the Arab world.
France noted this increasing instability in the Sahel and Sahara region and was prompted to intervene in the Malian coup and the Tuareg separatism. Indeed, up to now there is a French military presence in northern Mali. Even the United States and the rest of the European Union (EU) has taken an interest in this region, especially since the drug smuggling aims at channeling drugs from South America through Europe to the US.
A few days ago, the EU Anti-Terrorist Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchon, in a press interview, noted the political and terrorist impact of this criminality. He called it the “radicalization of criminals”. It is arguable that this aims directly as a reference to Coulibaly and Boumedienne and that these and others have been cultivated by AQIM and the Salafists, respectively. Then it brought these two together in a marital union and a jihadist network of the ISIL – a deadly combination.
In the aftermath of Coulibaly’s attack at the Jewish supermarket in which he killed four people he had taken hostage, it was found that within his arsenal was a rocket launcher. How Coulibaly was able to smuggle this weapon to Paris is a wonder. But it points to a sophisticated network of “criminality” in the Sahel and the Sahara.
It is evident that these weapons have originated in Libya, or were captured by the Tuareg rebels from the retreating Malian army during the insurgency, or were a result of Salafist operations in Algeria. By his associations, it is undoubted that Coulibaly was able to criminally access them. Indeed in Paris, Coulibaly had serve a prison term for arms smuggling, which he must have learned in the Sahel and the Sahara.