First Published: 2013-01-27

 

Experts: Arab Spring is ‘Qaeda Spring’

 

Flow of foreign fighters into Syria, flood of arms across North Africa, war in Mali, terror attacks highlight jihadists' return in region rocked by Arab Spring.

 

Middle East Online

By Antoine Lambroschini – TUNIS

New geopolitical landscape

The flow of foreign fighters into Syria, flood of arms across North Africa, war in Mali and terror attacks highlight the jihadists' return in a region rocked by the Arab Spring, diplomats and analysts say.

The combination of factors, following the absence of Al-Qaeda and affiliates from the Arab Spring revolts, has led to France's military intervention against Islamists in Mali and the deadly hostage-taking at a desert gas plant in Algeria.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, appearing before Congress on Wednesday over September's attack on the American consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, warned of the new geopolitical landscape in the Arab world and North Africa.

"We cannot afford to retreat now. When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened," she said.

Clinton also highlighted "instability in Mali," saying it "has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria."

Russia went further, charging the Western military intervention in Libya was the root cause of the insecurity.

"Acts of terrorism have become almost daily events, the proliferation of arms is out of control, (foreign) fighters are infiltrating," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week.

"The impression is that Mali was a consequence of Libya and the hostage-taking in Algeria is a very worrying signal," he said.

Despite their support for rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Western powers have also started to voice growing concern over the influx of hundreds if not thousands of foreign jihadists onto the battlefields of Syria.

Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor at the Sciences-Po institute in Paris, said Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb existed before the Arab Spring as a "gangster-jihadist" organisation.

It combined Muslim "holy war" with criminal activities and was severely repressed by dictators in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt that were swept away in a wave of popular uprisings.

The new regimes have been struggling to come up with an alternative policy.

"For example, the release of Abou Iyadh was a big mistake. He was not a prisoner of conscience but rather a long-time collaborator of Al-Qaeda," said Filiu, author of "The New Middle East".

Abou Iyadh, the suspected organiser of a deadly attack on the US embassy in Tunis and Afghanistan veteran, was pardoned and has become a leading figure in the rise of Muslim ultra-conservative Salafists in the country.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has admitted his government "didn’t realise how dangerous and violent these Salafists could be," and warned of the perils of arms trafficking in North Africa since the fall of Libya's Moamer Gathafi.

The desert shared by Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Mali has long been a haven of smugglers but the presence of hardline jihadists has added a new dimension.

The hostage-taking at In Amenas gas plant highlighted the multinational dimension of the threat: the 32 assailants were of seven different nationalities entering from northern Mali, with reported logistical support from inside Libya.

Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis have pledged to coordinate their efforts to combat trafficking and terrorism, as the jihadists in North Africa adapt to the post-revolutionary realities of the region.

Mathieu Guidere, a French university scholar of Islam, said the rise of Islamic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt has forced jihadists to seek out new targets for their militancy.

"The political scene has been structured around an Islamic reference point" in North Africa, he said.

"So the most radical parties have tended to head south towards countries such as Mali, which has a Muslim majority and... a government claiming to be secular, Westernised and modern."

Guidere warned that France's intervention in Mali was a "strategic error" that could turn the country into another post-Saddam Hussein Iraq where Al-Qaeda flourished in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion.

 

Egypt declares three-month state of emergency in Sinai

Lebanon army attacks Islamists as violence spreads to Tripoli souks

Dozens dead in Huthi-Qaeda clashes in central Yemen

Punishment for sexual assault in Iran: Execution of victim!

European clubs step up campaign against winter World Cup in Qatar

Turkey keeps 24 people under observation after yellow powder scare

Russia denies Kerry claims: No agreement to train Iraq army

Germany offers to help Armenia forge peace with Turkey

Libya wakes up from ‘Dubai dream’ to face Somalia-like ‘failed state’

South Yemen separatists vow to intensify secession protests

Relatives of Iraq massacre victims: Blackwater guards should be killed

Ghannouchi makes it clear to Tunisia: It’s either political Islam or Daesh!

Deadly clashes erupt after army raid in northern Lebanon

200 Iraqi Kurd fighters to travel through Turkey to Kobane

Coalition strikes in Syria eliminate more than 500 jihadists in one month

Ahead of elections, new clashes remind Tunisia of need to fight terror

Saudi Arabia jails mothers for preparing sons to wage jihad

Jury finds Blackwater guards guilty of 2007 'massacre' in Iraq

Iraq Kurds approve reinforcements for Kobane

Israel classifies car crash as ‘hit and run terror attack’

Turkish woman arrested for stepping on Koran

Erdogan criticises US for airdrops on Kobane

Iraq schools provide shelter but late to open for classes

Syria air force shoots down two of three 'IS warplanes'

Egypt court rules on ‘Nasr City terror cell’

Fire from Egypt wounds two Israeli soldiers near border

By hook or by crook, settlers notch up property gains in East Jerusalem

Turkey envoy meets leader of parallel government in Libya

Israel arrests seven Palestinian fishermen off northern Gaza

Khamenei to Abadi: Iraq can beat 'Islamic State' without foreign troops

Saudi special court rules in cases of riots and terrorism

Libya army scores small victory in Benghazi

Only in Libya: Government calls for civil disobedience

Kasserine reaps bitter harvest from Tunisia revolution: Poverty and terrorism

Iraq Kurds set to vote on deployment of Peshmerga forces to Syria

Islamic State ‘share in US weapons’ embarrasses Pentagon

Alderton: Morocco unrivalled business gateway to sub-Saharan Africa

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests