When al-Qaeda was in control of Afghanistan in 2001, it destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan amidst an international outcry of condemnation. Over the past weeks, the same scene happened, this time in Timbuktu in the north of Mali where an extremist group vandalized Islamic sites placed on the world heritage danger list of the UNESCO.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-RA84eWGmWfY/Ty2oQLiwyfI/AAAAAAAAATU/o25MtZksOl4/s1600/west-africa-map.gifFatou Bensouda, the new Attorney General of the International Criminal Court in The Hague described the destruction as a "war crime".

So has al-Qaeda become the new threat to moderate Islam in Africa? "This is only the beginning," says Mosa Ag tar, an official from the newly-born but unrecognized State of Azawad in northern Mali.

Means of war

In an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the spokesman of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), said this extremist group in northern Mali is using religion as a means to wage war and to impose its ideology on locals, but that they are facing resistance from the moderate Islamic community.

"The Touaregs and the entire population of Azawad will not submit to a form of Islam that is far from the true meaning of their faith. The majority of the populations practices moderate Islam, and rejects the violent interpretations of those extremist groups".


There are three main extremist groups active in northern Mali. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, enlisted as a terrorist group internationally, Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa, a splinter of al-Qaeda, and the Ansar Al Din movement led by Iyad Ag Ghali al Azawadi, and manned primarily by extremist from neighboring countries. According to local media in Mali, the leader of Ansar Al Din has tight relations with al-Qaeda.

But changing his flag from black to white recently could be seen as a cosmetic attempt to distance himself from al-Qaeda.

The spokesman of the MNLA told RNW that back in April when the movement announced a unilateral independence of Azawad, there was a short rapprochement between his movement and Ansar Al Din but that it was short lived because independence is not the aim of Ansar Al Din. Instead they "seek to radically change and seize control of the society".

Extremist movements such as Ansar Al Din adopt a strict understanding of Islam. They are against religious sites and tombs like in Timbuktu and consider it heresy.

Attempt to change

The national movement says the recent destruction of the African Islamic heritage in Timbuktu is only the beginning of the extremist attempt to impose a new reality on the ground. "What happened in Timbuktu is only the beginning. We warned the international community several months ago because we saw the danger coming and that jihadists are employing their networks to provide the region with a group of Jihadi Salafist".

The spokesman warns that the extremists know no borders and that they are a threat to the entire region. "When they strengthen their position in Mali, they are likely to use this power to destabilize neighboring countries, especially Mauritania, Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso". He even does not rule out attempts to launch terrorist attacks in Europe afterwards.


Source: Radio Netherlands International.

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