Recent events in Mali and Algeria are pushing me to take a crash course in politics and insurgency in North Africa --- but where to start?
It’s déjà vu all over again as yet another western leader decides to take on Global Jihadism© in one of its strongholds, in the process making life for the rest of us infinitely more exciting and no doubt leading to the introduction of even stricter airport security procedures. (We anticipate that this process will culminate in travellers forced to travel naked with only a toothbrush for company.)
As France deployed its troops to Mali to confront the local medievalists, the merde has hit the ventilateur, once again giving a sense of purpose to al-Qaeda’s local franchises’ nihilism. Who are those groups, how do they relate to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and why do so many of their leaders seem to have eyesight problems? To answer that question, we have prepared the following handy guide.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar --- The Masked Ones
Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s name is a subtle nod towards Jean Valjean, the central character in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. (Al-Qaeda’s dalliance with symbolism is legendary.) Belmokhtar is believed to be responsible for the recent hostage-taking operation in Algeria.
The one-eyed Islamist is also known as Mr Marlboro and The Uncatchable. His group, The Masked Ones, go under various names including Khaled Abul Abbas Brigade and The Blood Battalion.
The nickname Mr Marlboro comes from Belmokhtar’s cigarette smuggling activity. Other al-Qaeda groups have banned smoking in the areas they control. According to experts, this shows that al-Qaeda is learning from the European governments when it comes to implementing contradictory but lucrative tobacco policies.
Iyad Ag Ghaly --- Ansar Dine
Ansar Dine means Defenders of the Faith. (Actually, by dropping the definite article "al" from "Dine", it becomes "defenders of any faith", but we’re not going to volunteer to point this out to them in person.)
They are also referred to as "Helpers of Islam" in western media, no doubt due to shoddy translation by someone who thought they were the Muslim equivalent of Santa’s elves.
Ansar Dine’s zeal for Wahhabi urban planning, "out with the old", has attracted worldwide media attention. Their leader ag Ghaly was once "a great fan of cigarettes, booze, and partying", but he met some rotten apples during his stint as a diplomat in Saudi Arabia and they led him astray. His tendency for compromise has earned him the nickname "Mr Marlboro Lights" among other AQIM groups.
The cross-eyed Kheirou is assumed to be the leader of The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA).
Kheirou’s crossed-eyes are no laughing matter, his condition has led to many misunderstandings in the past, mainly of the "Who, Me?’ variety. He has accidentally promoted passers-by into positions of leadership within the organisation, and sent many of his followers to their death. Paradoxically, this has strengthened his own position because his actions were interpreted as ‘thinking outside the box".