Coup d’état in Mali: the concerns of Algiers

Algeria, a country “brother and neighbor” of Mali, denounced the military coup against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, expressing, this Wednesday, August 19, its “firm rejection” of any unconstitutional change of government. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also affirmed that the African Union doctrine on respect for constitutional order “cannot be subject to any violation”.

Algeria, which said it was following the situation in Mali with “great concern, called on” all parties to respect the constitutional order and to return to reason for a rapid exit from the crisis “. She recalled, in this regard, that “only the ballot box is the way to gain power and legitimacy”.

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Exterior front

Algiers condemned the coup d’état of March 21, 2012 against Amadou Toumani Touré using the same terms. But, beyond an attachment to the constitutional path, the northern neighbor is worried about the evolution of the situation in such a fragile Mali.

During the 2012 coup, which disrupted a Malian army already tested on the ground, armed groups, especially jihadists, seized the opportunity to settle in the north of the country and strengthen their presence in this area. When the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) proclaimed, in April 2012, the “independence” of Azawad, Iyad Ag Ghali’s Ansar Dine group was at the height of its power.

“Sanctuarized” for the different armed groups, the north of Mali, stuck to the southwest Algerian border, constituted, for Algiers, which is waging a long war against armed Islamism, a new external front against terrorism. For nearly thirty years, many Algerian terrorist leaders have found refuge there, including jihad veterans, such as Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid.

As of April 2012, when the Movement for Uniqueness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) attacks the Algerian consulate in Gao, Algeria finds itself in the center of the unrest. The group then kidnaps seven Algerians, including the consul, who will die in captivity following a chronic illness, while another diplomat, Tahar Touati, will be executed by his captors. The other hostages could be freed two years later thanks to the Algerian foreign intelligence services (the ex-DDSE).

Read also Malian crisis: the warning shot from neighboring countries

The Tiguentourine trauma

And it is also from this rear base that one of the worst terrorist attacks against Algeria has been carried out in recent years. On January 16, 2013, the Tiguentourine gas complex, near the Libyan border, was attacked by the new organization of Belmokhtar, The signatories by blood, whose convoy started from northern Mali, passing through Libya, before to melt down on the Tiguentourine base and factory, taking Algerian and foreign employees hostage.

The operation ends with the intervention of the Algerian army, which prevents the flight of the attackers with their hostages to their fallback zone, in northern Mali, and also prevents the terrorist project from blowing up the gas complex. The toll is heavy: 37 hostages are killed, including an Algerian, and 29 terrorists are eliminated.

This large-scale extraterritorial attack, combined with unrest in neighboring Libya, prompted the Algerian authorities to deploy considerable armed forces throughout the country’s vast southern borders and deeply traumatized decision-makers in Algiers, aware that the northern Malian quagmires and Libyan would not stop at the borders.

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The Algiers accord in difficulty

And this danger remains relevant: on February 9, 2020, a suicide bomber car bomb killed a soldier in an Algerian army barracks near the borders with Mali in the region of Timiaouine. The assailant allegedly came from Malian territory.

At the same time, Algiers used all its diplomatic weight – and also through its networks with the various parties in northern Mali – to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion in the Algerian capital between the authorities in Bamako and the “groups” of northern Mali. This is how the Algiers agreement was signed in 2015 between the Malian government and the predominantly Tuareg ex-rebellion. But this agreement, which targets the pacification of northern Mali and the political settlement of security issues is experiencing delays: this week, the UN directly accused senior officials of the Malian army and intelligence of threatening and delaying the application. of the Algiers peace accord.

Read also Malian crisis: the political response deadlocked?

How to dry up the northern Malian maquis

Algiers diplomatic activism is coupled with another more discreet axis which aims to drain the northern Malian terrorist maquis without intervening directly on the ground. In August 2018, for example, and far from the gaze of the media, the Algerian Saharan city of Adrar (1,400 kilometers south-east of Algiers) welcomed notables from eleven tribes in northern Mali in order to find a way to counter the rise of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims founded by Iyad Ag Ghali and bringing together several jihadist leaders and movements. Observers of the jihadist scene have also noted that, since 2017, the number of terrorists who surrendered to the Algerian army has been around a hundred: all from the katibas (phalanges) of northern Mali, they benefit from the procedures of the laws of Algerian amnesty which has emptied the maquis in the north of the country since the beginning of the 2000s.

“Our men there maintain permanent contact with the relatives and families of these elements, who end up being convinced that they have no way out, stuck as they are between the French operations and our hermetic borders”, we explained, in the summer of 2018, an Algerian intelligence officer. These surrenders were also possible thanks to an agreement made between Algiers, Paris and Bamako by opening “secure tracks” and allowing “direct contacts” with those who want to go from northern Mali.

But these discreet operations and these diplomatic efforts have not for all that calmed this new front in the war against terrorism: with the chronic instability of Mali, the increasing weight of Islamist and other armed groups, the Malian powder keg remains a risk for Algiers. Even if the situation is different compared to 2012, with the deployment of Barkhane and the presence of the UN Minusma, the Sahelian soft underbelly risks giving rise to further terrorist perils threatening the entire region. Algeria first.

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