Looks like all those warnings about Libya's vast arsenal becoming the feedstock for Islamist extremist terrorism are coming true, and the huge expanses of wasteland in the Sahara Desert and surrounding areas are becoming a haven and training-ground for them. Der Spiegel reports:
Northern Mali is just one part of the vast hinterland in which the Islamists can hide. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius refers to the rocky and sandy desert, spanning 7,500 kilometers (about 4,700 miles) from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east, as "Sahelistan." The Sahel zone is larger than all of Europe and so impassable that no power in the world can fully control it. The French have deployed all of 2,400 troops to the region, the Germans have contributed two transport planes.
Sahelistan is the new front in the global fight against violent Islamists. Should other countries -- Germany or Britain, for example -- join the French with ground troops, it is quite possible that the West will become just as entrenched there as it has in the other front against global terror: Afghanistan.
. . .
The crisis in northern Mali and the ensuing bloodbath at the natural gas plant in Algeria are only two indications. In northern Niger, Islamists are targeting white foreigners, hoping to kidnap them and extort ransom money. In northern Nigeria, fighters with the Islamist sect Boko Haram attacked yet another town last week. They shot and killed 18 people, including a number of hunters who had been selling game there, and then disappeared again. Muslims consider the flesh of bush animals to be impure.
. . .
Islamism in the Sahel zone is backward and modern at the same time, ideologically rigid and perversely pragmatic. In Timbuktu, fanatics are cutting off the hands and heads of criminals, and yet the Islamists have become wealthy by taking over the cocaine and weapons business, as well as human trafficking operations.
Sahelistan's new masters are forging alliances with local insurgents and internationally operating jihadists.
. . .
Whether brutal military action, such as that which took place in Algeria, will deter Islamists is also disputed. The countries of Sahelistan are among the poorest in the world, and the region is regularly plagued by famine. "A young person from there has no chance of leading a good life," says deposed Malian President Amadou Touré.
The terrorists, on the other hand, are comparatively well off, offering young men a monthly salary of about €90 ($121). Each recruit also receives a Kalashnikov, daily meals and a modicum of power over the rest of the population.
. . .
After the collapse of the Libyan regime, most of the weapons and ammunition were stolen from Gadhafi's weapons stores, mostly by the dictator's former Tuareg mercenaries. Fresh supplies of ordnance aren't a problem either, now that Africa's Islamists are hoarding many millions of dollars.
A little over three years ago, Malian police officers made a strange discovery in northern Mali: a Boeing 727, parked in the middle of the desert, without seats but apparently equipped for carrying cargo. It was found that the plane was registered in Guinea-Bissau and had taken off from Venezuela.
The find confirmed the authorities' fears that South American cocaine cartels are sending large quantities of drugs to West Africa, sometimes using aircraft. Gangs that cooperate with the Islamists then take the drugs to the Mediterranean region. The business is said to have generated billions in profits.
Kidnappings are the Islamists' second financing mainstay. "Many Western countries pay enormous sums to jihadists," scoffs Omar Ould Hamaha, an Islamist commander who feels so safe in the western Sahara that he can sometimes even be reached by phone. Experts estimate that AQIM has raked in €100 million in ransom money in recent years.
There's much more at the link. Very interesting and ominous reading.
I've traveled in several of the countries mentioned in the report, and I can confirm that its description of them is basically accurate - albeit highly sanitized, probably because der Spiegel's readers would never believe the reality! In some of these areas, tribal superstitions have blended with Islamic theology to produce a home-grown fanatical mysticism that's almost unbelievably potent in the way it can take possession of uneducated, primitive cultures and the minds shaped and formed by them. It's the Islamic equivalent - although much more militant and violent - of so-called 'African Zionist' Christianity in southern Africa, blending Christian teaching with animism and traditional tribal African culture to produce a murky soup of beliefs that's almost impossible to untangle.
I think we're going to have problems in that part of the world for a long, long time . . . and I hope we can find out precisely what the Obama administration was doing in Benghazi last year. If rumors that it supported the so-called 'Arab Spring', and was arming Islamic terrorists by smuggling some of Gaddafi's arsenal to them, are proved to be correct, it'll bear no small part of the blame for what's happening in the region today.