Is French intervention bringing attention to terrorists in Mali?

France has sent troops into Mali. Will this create greater awareness of the growing threat of Al Qaeda or will we continue to ignore it? Photo: AP

NORTHERN MALI, January 17, 2013 – Call it ambivalence or apathy, but the jihadist insurgence in northern Mali has been virtually ignored by the global community for nearly a year.

Now following the January 10th attack by the Islamists on the Mali government’s northernmost outpost of Konna, former Colonial ruler France finally responded by sending troops into the region. Mali had been repeatedly requesting military assistance for months.

Thanks to French intervention, the world is suddenly paying more attention to a situation some people believe could pose far-reaching ramifications for increased terrorist activity in the West. As Oumar Ould Hamahar, an Islamist leader in Mali, remarked in a radio interview about the French bombing campaign, “France has opened the gates of hell. It has fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia.”

According to syndicated political columnist Charles Krauthammer, the African nation has become a “no man’s land.”

One thing the French mission in Mali highlights is the long history of the jihadist movement as well as concerns for broader terrorist activity in the West.

The roots of what is happening today in Mali can be traced to the 1850s when El Hajj Umar Tall conquered the kingdoms of Bambara to establish the Tukulor Empire. Using a type of Wahhabi Islam, which is a harsh form of Islamic law, it is said that Umar killed and made slaves of thousands of infidels during his reign.

Umar’s Islamic beliefs were much the same as the Sharia law that have been instituted in northern Mali since a series of coups by Islamist rebels divided the country in March of 2012.

Though Umar was killed in an explosion in 1864, it wasn’t until 1893 that the French were able to finally defeat the jihadists. For the past 120-years, Mali has lived in relative peace as a model of stability in Africa. Mali has been a democracy for 20 years.

In 1960 a nomadic group called the Tuaregs tried to establish their own state in Mali. The fifth attempt came in January of 2011, but when Islamist rebels took over the northern part of the country in March of 2012, the Tuaregs offered support to the Mali government.

Today, as analyst Juan Williams points out, “Mali is the center of terrorist activity in the world, shifting from Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

“Northern Mali is currently the largest al Qaeda-controlled space in the world, an area a little larger than France itself,” writes Peter Chilson in an article in Foreign Policy.

Timbuktu is no longer just a funny word or a place you hear in a limerick. Now it is part of the newest hotbed for Al Qaeda activity and the world isn’t laughing any more.

For ten months the Islamist rebels operated under the radar allowing them to establish a safe haven for Al Qaeda.

Awareness is growing but Islamic jihad in Mali raises serious concerns that require significantly greater capacity for understanding its complexities than we have exhibited in the past.

As recently as the fall of last year indications were, so we were told, that Al Qaeda had for all intents been decimated. Less than half a year later we are learning that they may be stronger than ever. Perhaps not in the same form. Perhaps with a different strategy. But in whatever form and whatever the tactics, Al Qaeda remains a viable and powerful terrorist threat to reckoned with.

Islamic terrorism is a global cancer that the West often treats much the same way physicians battle the disease. We find the location, isolate it, operate on it and remove it. But while we are focusing on one area, another pops up that we don’t notice, only this time it is larger and even more dangerous. Eventually we yield. That battle is over and the disease wins. If the West is the patient, the Islamists have the patience.

There are further concerns for the French and other western European nations, however. It has been well documented that several countries including Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, as well as France, have rapidly growing Muslim populations.

Part of the reluctance by France to become involved in Mali is the fear of terrorist retaliation at home. Already attacks have spread into Algeria as reprisal for French intervention.

The jihadists should have a distinct geographical advantage in northern Mali that could lead to a much longer and more involved confrontation that anyone wants. The desert region is a harsh, desolate environment familiar to the rebels. Individually, they are better equipped than the French to handle the extremes of temperature that frequently top 120 degrees for two-thirds of the year.

Only time will tell whether or not increased terrorism will become another aspect of the turmoil in Mali Strategically the threat of terrorism alone gives the Islamists a psychological edge. With the economic factors of a prolonged conflict, as well as the continued toll on human life for Western troops, we must find ways to be better prepared to deal with the situation.

We can no longer ignore the problem in northern Mali. Pretending it isn’t there will not make it go away.

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in CharlotteNCTaylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to SwitzerlandFrance and Italy for groups of 12 or more.

Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.

As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.






























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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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