Sub-Saharan Africa has long been one of those places on Earth that just invites trouble & conflict, dating as far back as 500 AD by then there was already an extensive network of trans-Saharan trade routes. But peace would not last for long through the discovery of the camel; this enabled tribes to expand the trade routes. This also helped the conquering Muslims penetrate these trade routes, and with that came change.

Now that we know the place has been a clusterfuck since the beginning of time, it will come as no surprise to everyone that this is kidnap central in this area. I know what you are thinking straight away terrorists; but to be honest, there is more to it than that. The old trade routes have served their purpose for drug trafficking, gun running, and human trafficking since long before the war on terror. And for once it’s not just terrorists, criminal gangs are the ones who run the smuggling routes and carry out the abductions. The terrorist organisations themselves are the big buyers, that’s not me saying that they don’t organize the abductions. Of course they do, but I believe we often overlook the criminal gangs operating in these areas. The smugglers are the key to identifying the routes which I have no doubt will house these missing persons, or at least they will hear or see something while on their way through the smuggling routes.

So why do I believe that it’s more criminal gangs and not the terrorists? The criminal gangs have been around a long time before the likes of AQIM. They used these routes to smuggle drugs from the coast of Africa up into Europe; also don’t be so quick to think that just because they have aligned themselves to the likes of AQIM that they share their ideology. A senior officer of the Algerian army intelligence services explained “It is difficult but we know that several smugglers chose to join AQIM to benefit from the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation,” (allowing armed Islamists who agree to surrender will be granted amnesty and reintegrated into society), basically if these thugs are caught they have an easy way out!

Moving on to my next point Abdellah Belakahal, an Algerian drug lord, he is well-known to the intelligence services as one of the five biggest drug traffickers in the region. Belakahal was believed to be born in 1977 in the district of Blahige in Hassi Gara, an oasis south of El Golea a region of palm groves and market gardening on the edge of the Sahara. Why is this man so important? Well Abdellah and his criminal gang were responsible for the abductions of two Italian men, Bruno Cacace 56, Danilo Calonego 68 and lastly a Canadian called Frank. These men worked as engineers for the Italian company Contratti Internazionali Costruzioni (CO.I.COS) based at the Ghat airport in southern Libya. Algerian authorities who have a good relationship with the Tuareg & Toubou tribes within the region, were prompted by Italian authorities to facilitate negotiations between the governments and the abductors.

 

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An image, believed to be Abdellah Belakahal, obtained from an Algerian security services database

 

“The Algerian security source reported the Belakahal group had threatened to surrender the hostages to AQIM or to an Islamic State cell” if the ransom was not paid. The hostage-takers also allegedly demanded in addition to the money the release of two prisoners, among them none other than Belakahal’s brother who is in jail for arms trafficking.”

Trans-Saharan Challenges: Smuggling, Terrorism, and the Struggle for a State (Part 1)

Read Next: Trans-Saharan Challenges: Smuggling, Terrorism, and the Struggle for a State (Part 1)

How does the story end?

“To Balakahal’s way of thinking, he has pulled off a major coup because he had shown to all the armed groups and smuggler barons in the region that he can kidnap foreigners.”

The only weakness for Belakahal was that two of his own men who took part in the abductions, both men known drug smugglers, handed themselves into the Algerian security forces a few days prior to the hostages being released so that they could benefit from the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which as you know grants these two fuck-tards amnesty for being Islamist fighters who chose to pussy out and give up. The two men who handed themselves in helped to bring about the end of the story. Once Algerian authorities received confirmation that the hostages were alive and well, Belakahal’s jailed brother was released on probation. From there the negotiation teams could place some money on the table the discussions stared at around 10 million euros but in the end, they agreed to 4 million euros. There were also other monies to be paid out totaling of around 1.5 million euros for Katiba El Ténéré (a Tuareg militia group close to the Libyan National Army which is close to the government in the east), armed Tabu groups who control the Ubrai region (an oasis close to Ghat) have paved the way for talks and for the two negotiations, a pair of Tuaregs, a Libyan public figure from Ghat, and an Algerian personality from In Amenas.

Now in comparison with James Foley’s $100 million ransom demand, this was a good deal as three guys would get to live and would have the opportunity to return home.  A Libyan military force did intervene on orders from the National Unity Government (NUG) but its mission was to bring the hostages from the place where they were released in the Ubari region to a town on the Libyan side and to protect them on their return. Make no mistake about it, the Algerian security services and the government of Algeria are the reason these men were found and negotiations could take place to end their ordeal. (Although other sources and news outlets have claimed it was a Libyan effort which freed these men, this was false information.)

Due to the Algerian authorities, their connections and good relationships with the Tuareg and Toubou tribes of the region, but also having a good database on the criminal groups in this area, led to the finding and locating of the abducted. Without them, the Libyan and Italian governments would have concentrated their efforts on locating the wrong group, mainly AQIM. I think we commonly jump the gun and overlook the criminal network that operates in this region. In the future I would like to see more concentrated efforts on locating the drug barons and other criminal entities who use the Sub Saharan smuggling routes. I believe this would help other agencies locate the actual terrorists and my even save those who have been held hostage for years.

In part two we will take a more in-depth look at the terrorist groups, criminal organizations  and the countries in which they operate.

Thanks,

Jay

Image courtesy of AFP