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Cable reference id: #08BAMAKO371
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Reference id aka Wikileaks id #150182  ? 
SubjectBerabiche And Aqim In Northern Mali
OriginEmbassy Bamako (Mali)
Cable timeThu, 17 Apr 2008 11:36 UTC
References06BAMAKO1243, 06BAMAKO1244, 07BAMAKO960, 08BAMAKO239, 08BAMAKO960
Referenced by08BAMAKO462, 08BAMAKO623, 09BAMAKO399
Extras? Comments
Hide header C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAMAKO 000371 SIPDIS SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/08/2018 TAGS: PREL [External Political Relations], PTER [Terrorists and Terrorism], PINS [National Security], PINR [Intelligence], ML [Mali] SUBJECT: BERABICHE AND AQIM IN NORTHERN MALI REF: A. BAMAKO 00239 B. 06 BAMAKO 01243 C. 06 BAMAKO 01244 D. 07 BAMAKO 00960 Classified By: Political Officer Aaron Sampson, Embassy Bamako, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) ¶1.(C) Summary: This cable provides an overview of the Arab Berabiche and Kounta communities of northern Mali. International observers often focus on the Tuareg and their disparate rebel movements when tracking AQIM's use of northern Mali as a safe haven. Malian Berabiche, however, are likely of greater interest due to inherent social, language and cultural ties with AQIM members from southern Algeria. Indeed, the Libyan government has reportedly used several Berabiche, including the Malian army Major Lamana Ould Bbou, to contact the AQIM cell in northern Mali currently holding two Austrian hostages. ¶2.(C) Summary continued: Like the previous cable on Malian Tuaregs (Ref A), we identify some of the key local decision makers within each group of Malian Arabs. A deeper appreciation of northern Mali's complex social dynamics should improve our ability to understand and interpret events in the north. Identifying important local decision makers will also provide potential future points of contact. This cable is not intended to advocate for a so-called "tribal" analysis of events in northern Mali as the decisions of specific actors - such as Major Lamana - likely hinge less on increasingly fluid ethnic associations than on individual calculations of risk, profit and future gain. End Summary. ---------------------- Malian Arabs and Moors ---------------------- ¶3.(U) Arabs account for roughly 10 percent of northern Mali's population of approximately 1.2 million people. Tuaregs likely account for more than 50 percent of northern Malians and Songhrai around 35 percent. There are three main groupings of Moors/Arabs in Mali: the Berabiche, the Kounta and the Telemsi Arabs. Although there are slight differences in meaning, the labels "Arab" and "Moor" are often used interchangeably. The Berabiche, Kounta and Telemsi speak Hasaniya, a variant of Arabic spoken from Western Sahara through Mauritania and into northern Mali. They are generally Malikite Sunnis who adhere to the quadriyya Sufi brotherhood. While the term "Malian Arab" covers all three groups, it glosses over significant internal differences between them. . ¶4.(U) In May 2006 Malian Kounta and Berabiche split over internal leadership questions when the Kounta organized what was billed as an all-Arab meeting in the town of Gossi, south of Timbuktu, following Mouammar Qadhafi's tumultuous visit to Timbuktu one month earlier. Worried that the Gossi meeting would be dominated by the Kounta, Mali's Berabiche leaders refused to attend and instead organized a rival conference in Timbuktu. The two competing conferences produced two organizations: the Kounta-dominated Coordination of Malian Arab Communities (CCAM) led by Mohamed El Moctar, now the Malian Minister of Culture; and the Union of Malian Arab Communities (UCAM) led by Lamine Tahar, a prominent Berabiche businessman from Timbuktu. ¶5.(U) Tensions amongst Malian Arabs also flared following the July 2007 legislative elections. Only two Arab candidates, Mohamed Ould Matali and Danna Moulaye, ran for National Assembly seats. Matali, a Telemsi Arab from Bourem running as an incumbent, lost his seat to a non-Arab. Moulaye, a Berabiche from Timbuktu, failed to qualify for the final round of voting. Neither Matali nor Moulaye had the unified support of Arab populations in their respective constituencies. ¶6.(C) As a result, Mali's 147 seat National Assembly currently has no Arab members. The same holds for the High Council of Collectivities (HCC), which serves as Mali's largely ceremonial 75 seat second house of parliament. By way of comparison, there are 12 Tuaregs in the National Assembly and many more (including former and current rebels Iyad ag Ghali and Ibrahim Bahanga) in the HCC. This lack of representation, along with quiet observations by some Arab leaders that Mali seems to reward those who take up arms against the central government like ag Ghali and Bahanga, may BAMAKO 00000371 002 OF 003 have influenced President Amadou Toumani Toure's decision to appoint Mohamed El Moctar as Minister of Culture in October 2007. ---------------------------- The Kounta and Telemsi Arabs ---------------------------- ¶7.(U) The Kounta, who are centered in the region of Gao, are traditionally regarded as nobles and religious leaders although any residual authority they may have had over the Berabiche or Telemsi Arabs has been diminished to the point of being non-existent. The Kounta often present themselves as moderators between Malian Tuareg and Malian Berabiche. This may be due partly to the Kounta's noble status and partly to their physical geographic location between the Tuaregs of Kidal and the Berabiche of Timbuktu. The Kounta are not divided into fractions like the Tuareg or the Berabiche. ¶8.(U) Notable Kounta leaders include: -- Sidi Mohamed Ould Haytel, local Chief in the town of Imelach -- Naghma Ould Sidi-Aghmar, businessman in Gao -- Mohamed Ould Idriss, local politician in Gao -- Baba Ould Sidi Elmoctar, Chief of the Kounta in the region of Kidal ¶9.(U) Telemsi Arabs are also located in the Gao region and were once regarded as subservient to the Kounta, but are now independent of Kounta dominance. Telemsi Arabs are also not divided into fractions but form one group. Key Telemsi leaders include: -- Mohamed El Moctar, current Minister of Culture and president of the CCAM -- Mohamed Ould Matali, former National Assembly Deputy from Bourem -- Mohamed Ould Laghwinat, businessman in Gao -- Mohamed Ould Meydou, Malian Army Colonel ------------- The Berabiche ------------- ¶10.(U) Malian Berabiche live throughout northern Mali, from the Mauritanian frontier to Kidal. The majority of Berabiche are likely in the Timbuktu region. There are as many as 35 different Berabiche fractions. In Mali the Berabiche are traditionally traders. They have controlled, for instance, the salt trade from the mines of Taoudenni for generations even though most of the actual salt miners are ethnic Songhrai. Key Berabiche leaders include: -- Ould Najem Sidi Mohamed, Imam and local Chief in Timbuktu -- Lamine Tahar, businessman, UCAM president and prominent businessman in Timbuktu -- Dinna Ould Sidi Mohamed, businessman in Timbuktu -- Danna Moulaye, retired military nurse, based in Timbuktu -- Lamana Ould Bdou, ex-rebel member of the Armed Islamic Front for the Azawad (FIAA), Major in Malian Army --------------------------------- Typecasting Tuaregs as Terrorists --------------------------------- ¶11.(C) Tuareg rebels like Iyad ag Ghali and Ibrahim Bahanga are often portrayed by the international press and others as potential AQIM allies or recruits. This is due in part to Tuareg leaders' dabbling with Dawa al Tabligh - a fundamentalist movement from Pakistan and India that swept through Kidal in the 1990s but apparently lost its appeal once Malian Tuaregs fully understood Dawa's austere belief system and its incompatibility to Tuareg traditions. It is also due to the implication of Tuaregs in northern Mali's lucrative gun and drug trade, and ag Ghali and Bahanga's proclivity for attacking the Malian military. ¶12.(C) While certain Tuaregs are clearly providing logistical services to AQIM, there is little evidence that this support is motivated by anything beyond economic gain. There is no indication, for instance, that Tuareg smugglers or bandits have any religious or ideological links with AQIM. What they share is an interest in trafficking weapons, drugs and anything else passing through the Sahara. Malian Tuaregs generally regard AQIM as a foreign extremist group trespassing on Tuareg land. The Algerians who form the BAMAKO 00000371 003 OF 003 backbone of AQIM do not speak the Tuareg language of Tamachek and share no cultural ties with Malian Tuaregs. The Tuareg rebel Alliance for Democracy and Change's (ADC) decision to attack AQIM twice in 2006 (Ref B), and AQIM's subsequent decision to withdraw - at least temporarily - from Tuareg zones to areas controlled by the Berabiche (Ref C) illustrate both the absence of religious/ideological ties between AQIM and the Tuareg and the need to focus on potential links between AQIM and certain Berabiche. ---------------------- The Berabiche and AQIM ---------------------- ¶13.(C) The Berabiche receive relatively little attention, at least in comparison to Malian Tuaregs. This may be because the Berabiche comprise only a very small portion of the overall northern Malian population. Unlike the Tuareg, the Berabiche have also not drawn attention to themselves by attacking the Malian military - even though zones inhabited by Malian Arabs remain as underdeveloped and neglected as Tuareg enclaves like Kidal. Since the end of the "Tuareg" rebellion of the 1990s - which involved Berabiche and Arab factions - Malian Arabs have preferred to work with the central government, thereby preserving their commercial interests. Like the Tuareg, however, certain Berabiche are actively involved in northern Mali's drug and gun smuggling business. ¶14.(C) The Hasaniya spoken by Malian Berabiche is different from Algerian Arabic, but as Arabic languages, are more compatible linguistically than they are to Tamachek, which is related to Berber. In addition to linguistic links, Malian Berabiche are culturally closer to southern Algerian Arabs, like Moctar bel Moctar who is an ethnic Chaamba, than they are to non-Arab Tuaregs. This does not mean that Malian Berabiche are more receptive to AQIM's message, although the potential is likely higher with the Berabiche than with the Tuareg. It means, rather, that Berabiche operators like Major Lamana have a comparative advantage over their Tuareg counterparts when it comes to commericial exchanges and arrangements with AQIM. ¶15.(C) Given this comparative advantage, it is not surprising to hear contacts report that Libya is relying on Berabiche, not Tuareg, to negotiate with the AQIM cell holding two Austrian nationals in northern Mali. Three names that have surfaced as Berabiche go-betweens are Dinna Ould Sidi Mohamed, Abdurahmane Youba and Major Lamana. Both Sidi Mohamed and Youba are "businessmen" based in Timbuktu. Lamana is an officer in the Malian DGSE (Director General for State Security) who was recently implicated in a northern Mali cocaine deal worth approximately USD 450,000. Lamana is believed to have fed information to criminal and terrorist organizations in the past and is also believed to enjoy the protection of DGSE Director, Col. Mamy Coulibaly (Ref D). If Libya or another nation eventually meets AQIM's ransom demands for the two Austrians, Mali's Berabiche intermediaries will likely receive a cut. If Lamana is involved, some of this money will presumably make its way back to Col. Coulibaly. --------------------------------------------- ------ Comment: Economics for Smugglers and Extremists 101 --------------------------------------------- ------ ¶16.(C) The argument for focusing on certain Berabiche rather than Tuareg rebels as AQIM facilitators is, above all, an economic one. As ethnic Arabs who speak a language similar to Algerian Arabic, Malian Berabiche hold certain comparative advantages over their Tuareg counterparts. Malian Berabiche can also operate from Mali's western frontier with Mauritania all the way to Mali's eastern border with Algeria north of Kidal. Northern Mali is divided into zones similar to those used by taxis in Washington, DC. The more zones crossed, the higher the fare. If one is able to enlist the support of the right Berabiche, one could conceivably circumvent the Tuareg zone entirely. AQIM likely pays taxes to cross some zones and receives payments from others crossing AQIM territory. It is also important, however, to point out that culture similarities shared between AQIM and Malian Arabs do not necessarily indicate shared ideologies or allegiances. Like other Malians, most Malian Arabs identify themselves as "Malian", view AQIM as Algerian interlopers, and would eagerly step in and fill the void were AQIM to lose its ability to exact tolls from smugglers crossing its zone. MCCULLEY



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