Al Qaida de Maghreb Islamique; Contrabande au nom de l’Islam
Mohamed Mokeddem (Casbah, 2010)
I picked this up in Algiers airport for 1200D (€12), having seen it mentioned on the forum. It’s in French and I surprised myself with how much I understood; perhaps have being familiar with the subject helped. But I dare say I missed many of the books nuances so what follows is a bit vague.
It kicks off with an account of the origins of the notorious and now dead Abou Zeid, real name Mohamed Ghader (pictured on the cover), as an impoverished member of the Arabic Ghader clan living near Deb Deb, close to the Libyan border. Here he sets himself up as a successful smuggler of low value goods from Libya while getting married and divorced a few times. He’s painted as a rather withdrawn and even sociopathic figure who gets caught, goes to prison, gets radicalised and proceeds to rise up the ranks as the GSPC relocate to north Mali around the turn of the millennium. The book them jumps around chronologically, referring to recent kidnappings of the Spanish and Austrians (all listed here) as well as brief profiles of hostage negotiators and intermediaries like the influential Ould Limam Chafi from Burkina and Malian Tuareg warlords Iyaf Ag Ghali and the late Ibrahim Bahanga (the former of who is on the march again in 2012). It covers the establishment of the GSPC’s rearward base in northern Mali and gives an account of the 2003 event when 32 tourists were grabbed in the Tassili N’Ajjer in southeast Algeria.
There’s a little new information here and an odd lack of place names and other details such the enigmatic escape route to Mali and, a few months later, the subsequent flight of the gang to Chad with the ransom money where they were caught by Tubu rebels after a lethal exchange with the Chadian army. Court testimonies of a few captured kidnappers follow. Then it seems accounts of later abductions are repeated, seemingly lifted from the Ennahar website which the author ran. The origins of AQIM’s links with Al Qaida are also detailed.
Overall it comes across as a bit of a hastily completed book – not helped by the fact that a chunk of pages in my copy (with the original ‘dollar bills’ cover) are misplaced. I can’t say I learned that much new of interest, apart from the origins of Mohamed Ghader. A bit more research and detail in that vein may have been made a better read.