January 29th, 2013
11:09 AM ET

Don't elevate Northwest Africa's thugs

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By Fareed Zakaria

According to the U.S. Treasury, the average ransom for a Western hostage held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2011 was $5.4 million. This sort of terrorism pays richly in this world, not the next.

Moktar Balmoktar leads one of several groups in the region that are loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda. Iyad Ag Ghaly leads another…Ghaly is a larger-than-life figure who has spent long years fighting not for Islam but for the rights of his ethnic group, the Tuaregs. He created Ansar Dine, which means “supporters of religion” when he was passed over for leadership of the main Tuareg rebel movement. Ansar Dine soon became an effective and brutal militia.

What conclusions can we draw from all this? These groups are largely composed of local thugs with longstanding, local grievances that often have very little to do with global Islamic jihad. Terrorism is good business for them.

While their own causes have lost support at home, they have latched on to the al Qaeda brand in the hope of enhancing their appeal and, perhaps crucially, gaining greater global attention.

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Topics: Africa • Terrorism • What in the World?

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Chukwuemeka

    Many countries in Africa are made up of different people who represent nations, an example is Nigeria which is made up of the northern and southern protectorate. These regions are made up of about 200 nationalities that never were consulted before the British colonial masters lumped them together. We are caught up in a system were people of different minds are forced to coexist. This is the problem of most African countries and would persists until the people sit at a common table to renegotiate their common union.

    January 29, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Fareed, these "thugs" you mentioned have apparently posed such a threat to peace and stability that the Obama administraiton has decided to set up a drone base in the region for ISR activities: Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

    January 30, 2013 at 8:02 am | Reply
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    July 10, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Reply

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