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 
ministry says.

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.

Concerted effort

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 
source said.

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

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Kirim email ke