The three largest Islamist terrorist organizations in Africa are now coordinating their efforts in Islamist-controlled North Mali, says the head of the U.S. Africa Command. The development, led by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM], threatens the weak states of Africa's Sahara desert as well as Western interests in the region and beyond.
"Most notably I would say that the linkages between AQIM and [Nigeria's] Boko Haram are probably the most worrisome in terms of the indications we have that they are likely sharing funds, training and explosive materials that can be quite dangerous," said General Carter Ham. He also named Somalia's al-Shabaab as the other "most dangerous" group.
Although al-Shabaab lies much further away in Somalia, all of the groups benefit from a growing safe haven created by Islamist-sympathizing rebels in Mali, the general noted.
Ansar Dine, a terrorist organization closely affiliated with AQIM, joined with local rebels to seize 60 percent of Mali's territory from government forces. The united groups then declared the Islamic Republic of Azawad over their combined 250,000 miles of territory, and the Islamist elements imposed harsh sharia law over locals. Negotiators are now trying to woo Islamist elements of the rebel coalition away from al-Qaida, even as the fragile coalition of rebel forces clash.
Prime concerns for Western nations include destroying al-Qaida's kidnapping enterprise, and capitalizing on the challenges al-Qaida will face when governing reluctant populations. Since 2003, al-Qaida affiliated militants have kidnapped 53 people, raising over 120 million euros in ransom money. Stopping further kidnappings may put a strain on the Islamists' thin finances, which are now being used to fight Mali's army and pay troops and local governors.