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Terrorism, Mali: al-Qaeda's struggling to remain relevant

Wednesday, 25 November 2015 00:06
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Epos converses with Prof. Ricardo R. Larémont

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations


Last Friday, heavily armed gunmen fired indiscriminately at guests at Radisson Blue, a luxury hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali. At least 21 people were killed in the attack; dozens of people were trapped in the building for hours, before Malian and U.N. security forces launched a counterattack and rushed guests away. Al-Mourabitoun, an Islamist militant group, claimed it was jointly responsible for the attack, according to Mauritanian news agency Al Akhbar. The group announced it carried out the attack with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the news agency reported.

Al Mourabitoun said the attack was carried out in retaliation for government aggression in northern Mali. The group also demanded the release of prisoners in France. In the aftermath of the assault, many questions on the terrorist attack, on the reasons of it and on the current situation of terrorism in Mali and in the whole Sahel region raise up. EPOS has interviewed Professor Ricardo Larémont on the latest news about Mali. Professor of Political Science and Sociology at SUNY Binghamton, where he has served on the faculty since 1997, Larémont is a leading expert on political Islam, Islamic law, conflict resolution, democratization, and civil/military relations. His work focuses on North Africa and the Sahel, and he has written widely on the current geopolitical and security situation of these regions. In the following exclusive interview for EPOS, Professor Larémont answers questions on the terrorist attack in Bamako, talking about jihadism in Northern Africa and the future of the region.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Jihadist groups Al-Murabitoun and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have claimed responsibility for the attack in Mali's capital Bamako, in which more than 170 hostages were held by gunmen at the luxury hotel Radisson Blu. European people are not very confident with these two terrorist groups: who are they? What are they asking for? Could you please tell us more about them?

Ricardo Larémont: Al-Murabitoun is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar a long-term yet independent operative in AQIM. Belmokhtar is an effective terrorist operative and leader in the Sahel and he does not answer directly to any superior. He is not only competent from a tactical perspective, he is also a charismatic leader. The tactics undertaken by Al-Murabitoun in Bamako at the Radisson Blu hotel take place in a context in which Al-Murabitoun and AQIM are competing with ISIS for recruitment of new recruits, particularly from Europe. Al-Murabitoun and AQIM do not want to be perceived as less relevant or irrelevant than ISIS, which is presently more popular than Al-Qaida, and this leads to Al-Qaida’s renewed efforts to participate in terrorist attacks.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: What is the status quo of jihadism in Mali? How much rooted is jihadism in Mali and in the whole Sahel region?

Ricardo Larémont: The situation in Mali is complicated. On the one hand the Tuareg, who primarily reside in northern Mali and southern Libya, want either autonomy or independence from the Malian state. The Tuareg are Muslim but they mainly practice a brand of Islam that is more tolerant than their erstwhile allies in AQIM or al-Murabitoun. The Tuareg leaders, however, have entered into a marriage of convenience with their more rigorous “fundamentalist” partners in AQIM, al-Murabitoun, and MUJAO because by linking together they can more effectively challenge the Malian state. If the Tuareg, AQIM, and al-Murabitoun would effectively manage to destabilize the Malian state, however, a struggle would eventually ensue between the Tuareg who for the most part practice a more moderate form of Islam and their erstwhile allies, AQIM and the al-Murabitoun, who are more rigorous in their practice of a less tolerant form of Islam.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Was the attack in Mali linked to the attacks in Paris or the two episodes are independent from each other? Experts said the attacks were motivated by a quest for global supremacy by the two militant groups, ISIS and AQIM: what are your thoughts on that?

Ricardo Larémont: These were independent attacks. They were not linked. Isis has its agenda; AQIM has its agenda. They are competing forces that do not yet meet at this moment in time.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Both al-Qaeda and ISIS have raised millions by extracting ransom payments from France and other countries for the release of hostages. Could some of this money have returned to France and Northern Africa to finance the attacks?

Ricardo Larémont: Possibly, but I do not have access to the financial intelligence data that would provide a precise answer to that question.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Can the irredentist Tuareg rebels be related to the other African jihadists? Do they "work" together or are they fighting each other?

Ricardo Larémont: There is evidence that link the Tuareg to Boko Haram but Boko Haram has now formally linked itself to the Islamic State. We are in a period of time and struggle where ISIS and Al-Qaida are struggling to obtain the support of young Muslims in North Africa, Europe, West Africa, East Africa, and Asia and ISIS, at this moment in time, seems to be surging in terms of support from younger Muslims.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: In which way could African jihadist groups such as Al-Murabitoun and AQIM be related to terrorism in Europe?

Ricardo Larémont: The evidence supports the contention that at this moment in time ISIS is the major player in terms of terrorism in Europe. ISIS is the surging brand name; Al-Qaida is struggling to remain relevant.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Is radical Islamist fanaticism inexorably on the rise? Is it the main threat? Is it the enemy from now on?

Ricardo Larémont: The recent events in terms of the downing of the Russian plane in Sinai and the attacks in Beirut and Paris seem to indicate that ISIS is intent on extending its activities, particularly in Europe. The next step for Europe will be to become more sophisticated in intelligence collecting and policing of militant Muslims, fully keeping in mind that most Muslims are law abiding and not terrorists.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Will terrorism be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?

Ricardo Larémont: It will be a challenge but not the only challenge. The bridging of the gap of the poor and the rich in industrialized countries and developing countries, the effective government regulation of increasingly risk-oriented and  undisciplined financial markets, and the curbing of geopolitical aspirations by the United States, China, and Russia will still have to be checked in addition to the challenge of addressing terrorism.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: After the terrifying attacks in Paris, first, and Mali, later, what should be the answers of Africa and Europe considering the rise of Jihadism?

Ricardo Larémont: The most effective answers for Europe will involve the real rather than superficial integration of Muslims into their societies, economies, and polities. Their continued marginalization, and the failure of states within the European community to address their marginalization and the continued impoverishment of "indigenous Europeans" who have not benefited from globalization trends in the world economy mean that the larger question of the economic well-being of the laboring classes has not been addressed at the beginning of the twenty-first century. As Marx, Polanyi, and Pitteky said, the internal contradictions of capitalism that lead to extreme wealth among the few and widespread poverty among the laboring classes has not been resolved and this leads to unrest and civil conflict.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: As an expert of religions and conflicts, do you think that we are witnessing the famous "Clash of Civilizations" theorized by Samuel Huntington?

Ricardo Larémont: The "Clash of Civilizations" is spurious. Monotheists in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions know that the interior truth of religion recognizes that a human beings we are all threads that form a common cloth that leads to universal love, unity, and the transcendence of apparent difference. The problem is that most monotheistic believers are not conscious of this interior truth. They focus upon the superficiality of external differences, which leads to errors of analysis and understanding.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the interviewed’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 January 2016 11:16
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