After Arab Spring no-show, jihadists make comeback
Two years after the so called 'Arab Spring' revolutions, a significant new
geopolitical landscape is developing in the Arab world and North Africa with
the emergence of radical and Islamist movements
AFP , Sunday 27 Jan 2013
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
-- New Regime Struggling For Alternative --
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
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 "didnít
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
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
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.