Al Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb gaining ground

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The Al Qaeda terrorist group in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) Tuesday claimed responsibility for the abduction of a French and three Spanish nationals, respectively kidnapped in Mali and Mauritania late November, in an audio message sent to the Al Jazeera television network. This claim confirms the suspicions of many observers and embellishes the idea that AQIM is gaining ground in the Sahel.

Suspicions have once again been confirmed. Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is the brain behind the abduction of four Europeans kidnapped recently in Mali and Mauritania. The North African cell of the international terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s kidnapping of a French humanitarian worker, Pierre Camatte, who disappeared on the night of November 25 in Mali as well as three Spanish aid workers, who were attacked on the 29th of November in Mauritania.

AQIM, Tuesday, claimed responsibility for the two sets of kidnappings in an audio message transmitted by the Qatari channel, Al Jazeera. “Two units of brave mujahedeen removed four Europeans in two separate operations,” says the recorded voice of the extremist group’ spokesman, Abu Saleh Mohammad. He added: “France and Spain will be informed later of the legitimate claims of Mujahedeen.”

The spokesman went further to formally identify the three Spanish hostages, adding that one of them, Albert Vilalta, is the director of a tunnel. The other two Spanish hostages (members of the Barcelona Accio Solidaria NGO group), Alicia Gamez and Roque Pascual, were also named in the recording. The two were in a car when they were attacked and seized in November. Their aid convoy was attacked on the busy coastal road between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott, 170 km north of the Mauritanian capital.

Following their abduction, observers in Nouakchott had blamed the kidnapping on armed Islamist groups. They had suggested that there was a connection between Pierre Camatte’s abduction and armed islamist groups. The kidnapping had occurred a few days earlier in an area called Menaka, about a hundred kilometres from the Mali-Niger border.

Until now, no group had claimed responsibility for the abduction. The Spanish police, meanwhile, will not confirm the authenticity of the audio message until appropriate procedures have been followed. Nevertheless, Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Morratinos Tuesday said that the Spanish government has long suspected that a “terrorist organization is behind the abductions”.

Although this is the first time Spanish nationals have been removed on Mauritanian soil, it is certainly not the first attempt by the North African cell of al-Qaeda. In the past two years, Mauritania has been the scene of murderous activities for which the AQIM has claimed responsibility, including a suicide bombing, August 8, at the French Embassy in Nouakchott.

Isselmou Ould Sahili, editor of the independent Mauritanian Weekly, Tahalil, believes that the terrorists have particularly targeted “Europe and especially France and Spain” because of their “commitment in the fight against AQMI in the region.”

Since 2008, the north of Mali has become a landmark for groups engaged in the removal of Europeans in Mali and Niger. With this and other recent events, it is safe to assume that AQIM is extending its reach in the Sahel region. Canadians and Europeans abducted in the region have often been released, with the exception of a British national who was executed last June.

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