North Africans vow to wipe out terror

2010-03-18 12:05

SEVEN north African states held talks yesterday in Algeria to plan a coordinated response to al-Qaeda following a dangerous rise in the terror threat in the Sahara-Sahel region.

They ended the talks expressing their “determination to eradicate terrorism”, according to a communique.

“We unequivocally condemned the payment of ransom and hostage taking and we underscored the obligation of each state to apply UN resolutions on the issue in their entirety,” said Algerian Minister for North African and African Affairs Abdelkadir Messahel
The statement called for an “integrated, coordinated and interdependent approach” to terrorism and strengthened cooperation between states in the region.

The conference “indicates our shared will to take adequate and suitable steps in a coordinated manner” in response to the terror threat “which has seen dangerous developments,” said Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci earlier.

An al-Qaeda offshoot in north Africa, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), along with other criminal groups, has exploited the vast spaces of the Sahara and Sahel to hide from authorities after launching attacks or kidnapping foreigners.

“Obviously, putting into place effective and multifaceted border cooperation between our countries is crucial,” Medelci said before he and his counterparts or their deputies from Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger began talks behind closed doors.
Algeria’s western neighbour Morocco, with which Algiers frequently has fraught relations, was conspicuous by its absence, with the foreign ministry in Rabat deploring the “exclusion”.

After calling for better border cooperation, Medelci condemned growing links between terror and criminal groups in the region which has seen a rise in weapons and drug smuggling.

AQIM, commanded from Algeria, carried out a number of brazen attacks in that country in 2007, including a suicide attack targeting the convoy of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that killed 22 and wounded more than 100.

The group’s sympathisers were arrested for shooting dead four French tourists in southeast Mauritania in December 2007.

In 2008 and last year, AQIM shifted tack and has since carried out multiple kidnappings, and in one case a killing, of Westerners, seeking the release of Islamist prisoners or money.

The threat in the Sahel is being taken very seriously after the death of British tourist Edwin Dyer in June last year, killed by AQIM after six months in captivity when London refused to yield to blackmail.

AQIM is still believed to be hiding two kidnapped Spaniards and two Italians in the northern Malian desert.

Medelci called for an “unwavering and unconditional commitment” against terrorism, following a recent row with Mali over the release of four al-Qaeda militants which AQIM had demanded in exchange for last month’s release of a French hostage.

Algeria and Mauritania recalled their ambassadors from Bamako after Mali released the four militants – two from Algeria, one from Burkina Faso and one from Mauritania – despite the fact Algiers and Nouakchott wanted to try their nationals on terrorism-related charges.

While calling “security and peace are a precondition to the development” of the Sahara-Sahel region, Medelci also reminded his counterparts of their obligation to help “those most deprived”.

The United States welcomed the efforts by the north African countries to improve counterterrorism cooperation.

“We hope the meeting will build upon ongoing efforts to strengthen regional cooperation and further consolidate collective action against groups that seek to exploit territories of these countries and launch attacks against innocent civilians,” US state department spokesperson Philip Crowley said.

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