Wednesday, April 21, 2010
20:01 Mecca time, 17:01 GMT
Sahara states move against al-Qaeda
Four Sahara desert countries are set to open a joint command headquarters in
the south of Algeria to counter a growing al-Qaeda threat, the Algerian defence
The command headquarters for Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger will be based
in Tamanrasset, about 2,000km south of Algiers, the Algerian capital, it said.
The announcement on Wednesday followed a meeting last month of senior officials
from regional governments that the US hailed as a step towards confronting
Western countries say that unless the region's fractious governments join
forces to combat al-Qaeda, the Sahara could become a safe haven for
"terrorists" like Yemen and Somalia.
The defence ministry did not give details about what powers the joint
headquarters would have.
But a senior military source in Niger said Saharan states had decided to move
towards running joint operations against al-Qaeda.
"We have decided to strengthen our intelligence co-operation against all forms
of insecurity and, therefore, plan to move towards joint military operations
against terrorism, kidnappings and the trafficking of drugs and weapons," the
Mohamed ben-Madani, editor of the London-based Maghreb Review, said it would
not be easy to police the region, also known as the Maghreb.
He said the move had come "too late because al-Qaeda and the Tuareg in the
Maghreb have established their bases" in the region.
"They have penetrated the security services in all countries and there is very
little they [authorities] can do to control [them]," ben-Madani told Al Jazeera.
Security experts say better regional co-operation is key to containing al-Qaeda
in the Sahara because its fighters often evade capture by slipping from one
country into another.
Spate of attacks
Greater co-operation could also mean a larger role for Algeria, the region's
biggest economic and military power - a development Western diplomats say they
are keen to see.
Al-Qaeda fighters last year killed a British man, Edwin Dyer, who was kidnapped
on the border between Niger and Mali.
They also shot dead a US aid worker in Mauritania's capital last June, and
carried out a suicide bombing on the French embassy there in August that
injured three people.
Two Spaniards are believed to be in al-Qaeda's hands after they disappeared in
November last year from a humanitarian aid convoy in Mauritania.
An Italian husband and wife who were seized in Mauritania last year were last
week freed in Mali.
The success of the command headquarters will depend on how regional governments
steer clear of the conflicts and rivalries that have in the past derailed
attempts at co-operation, an Algerian security analyst said
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