Monday, November 29, 2010


I am grateful to my esteemed colleague Francisco Rubiales for pointing me to reports that the Frente Polisario in the Western Sahara may have been targeted by Al Qaeda.

Francisco, apart from being a much respected journalist, was the EFE correspondent in Cuba, Central America and Italy as well as being an advisor to the UN. Currently he also writes the very interesting Voto en Blanco blog.

Francisco reports that because of the frustration the Frente Polisario is suffering in its campaign for independence for the Western Sahara from Morocco and the lack of support from major nations it could be driven in to the hands of Al Qaeda.

Apparently some experts and think tanks dedicated to world politics in the USA and France have been discussing this possibility which if it happened would be a drastic and dangerous change in the Maghreb. It would also increase the instability in that part of the world that is of great strategic value.

Currently Al Qaeda is not a major force in the Maghreb. Its activities are confined to areas of Mali and Mauritania where it has staged a number of kidnappings – perhaps because it is short of funds. Naturally if it were to team up with an armed force such at the Frente Polisario that limited influence would be greatly increased.

Francisco says that many sectors of the Polisario and the people of the Western Sahara are now calling for a restarting of the armed struggle against Morocco. If it was a conventional war then Morocco would easily outnumber its opponents however if it because a conflict for which Al Qaeda is famed – guerrilla attacks, kidnappings and major strikes to attract the attention of the rich countries then the results could be terrible for Morocco.

Movements amongst Saharan veterans and reservists have already been detected. They have experience of past conflicts which would be invaluable in a renewed armed conflict with Morocco. Experts place the strength of the Polisario at around 70,000 – insignificant in a conventional war but scary if used in insurgency and guerrilla warfare.

The Polisario representative in Spain, Bucharaya Beyun, has declared before the media they have weapons and combatants sufficient for a war and many sections of the population in the Western Sahara are putting pressure on the organization to return to fighting Morocco.

Up till now the people of the Western Sahara have placed their hopes with the UN and the good offices of Spain and the USA to resolve the conflict. However if Morocco continues with its campaign of repression against El Aaiún and refuses to agree to a negotiated solution which allows for the self-determination of the Western Saharan people then the outcome could be terrible indeed.

Interestingly Abdeslam Maghraoui, a political science professor at Duke University who specializing in terrorism in North Africa, says there isn’t any indication that Morocco is a strategic priority for the Al Qaeda. According to the professor it has two minor networks in the country: the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group responsible for the 2003 Casablanca attacks and the 2004 metro bombings in Madrid; and the Salafiya al Jihadiya, which operates in medium-sized Moroccan towns.

However it appears Abdeslam Maghraoui agrees with the assessment of Francisco because he has stated that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb might find non-ideological support among disenchanted Sahrawi militants in Tindouf who don’t see an end to the dispute over the Saharan region.

1 comment:

Mike R said...

Al Qaeda has not got a foothold in Morocco as the regime stamps down on human rights and anybody who gets out of line including terror organisations. The West turns a blind eye to the lack of democracy in Morocco in exchange for its being a buffer between it and Al Qaeda.