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Jan 25, 2013 | 16:25 GMT

Jihadist Militants in Africa

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Jihadist Militants in North Africa

Numerous militant groups are active in North and West Africa, but al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is among the most notorious, particularly in the wake of the Jan. 16-19 hostage crisis at an Algerian energy facility by an allied group. Several factors have enabled al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to find havens in the Sahel and Maghreb regions, including the existence of an indigenous conflict, a local, largely Tuareg population to blend into, the jihadists' Algerian nationality and the presence of economic infrastructure manned by foreign personnel. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has operated in two main theaters: the Kabylie Mountains of northeastern Algeria and the Sahel region with a focus on northern Mali. In 2013, the group supplanted the latest iteration of an indigenous Tuareg rebellion and asserted control over a vast swath of northern Mali. It has since become the governing authority in cities including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, though French and African military intervention is degrading and disrupting this control. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and specifically Mokhtar Belmokhtar's jihadist organization, has carried out attacks in the Sahel region outside northern Mali. Its attacks typically have involved swift strikes or hostage taking, with none resulting in even short-term occupation of territory. It has kidnapped foreign nationals in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria, transporting foreign hostages to the Kidal Mountains in Mali, where they are held to extract ransom payments from the West or for use in prisoner exchanges. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb will likely look to Libya as a haven should their remaining strongholds, such as the Gao region in Mali where the Kidal Mountains are located, fall to foreign intervention forces.

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