Photo Credit: APAl Qaeda has established a vast mountain stronghold in Mali’s lawless north, launching attacks and then melting into the rugged hills, which they vow will become an Afghanistan-style quagmire for North African governments and Western militaries, according to experts.
Like Tora Bora, the mountain labyrinth in Afghanistan where Al Qaeda evaded Western militaries for years under Usama bin Laden, Mali’s Tigharghar Mountain chain allows terrorists to strike within the region and then vanish when pursued, according to a new report by Stratfor, a Texas-based intelligence firm. Caves, tunnels and land mines have made the jagged mountains an impenetrable safe haven for the terrorists, who authorities say were behind last month’s attack on an Algerian gas plant and yesterday’s car bombing that killed six in Kidal, a key city in northern Mali.
The terrorist groups are believed to be behind a month-old insurgency in Mali, which the government is fending off with help from France, which seeks to protect the interests of mining and energy companies in the region. But experts believe the effort is part of a larger bid to destabilize northern Africa, where Al Qaeda is regrouping after fighting American-led Western allies for more than a decade in the Middle East. Extremists vow the mountain refuge will ultimately be worse for their enemies than the decade-long struggle in Afghanistan.
“They made the mountains’ terrain even more impassable by using land mines and improvised explosive devices and digging tunnels,” the report states. “The militants could already use the extensive network of caves in the mountains, the entrances to which are extremely difficult to spot; in fact, the only way to confirm a cave’s location is to observe militants entering and exiting the cave.”
Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Africa — Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM — has been a lurking presence for years in Mali, a country decimated by poverty and hunger. But political instability following a military coup last year has emboldened them to take over an enormous territory larger than France or Texas — and almost exactly the size of Afghanistan.
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