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Mali - Mauritania - Niger - Algeria

Sahel intelligence chiefs meet to plan fight against AQIM

Photo: AFP/Nicolas Thibaut

The heads of the intelligence services from Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria are due to meet on Wednesday in Algiers to plan joint work against terrorism and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a diplomatic source in Bamako said on Wednesday.

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"The atmosphere is good and we are going to end the talks today," the source who is taking part in the discussions, told the AFP news agency.

The source claims that there is a basic agreement to base the centre of joint operations in Algiers, while he said that other nations from the Sahel region should be invited to get involved.

"To be efficient, the anti Al-Qaeda coalition needs to open up to countries like Chad, Libya and Morocco, which have experience in combating Islamist extremism,” the source said in earlier comments.

No official confirmation of the meeting could be obtained from Algiers.

Algeria has to give the impression that the countries are cooperating because if they don’t, then there is the threat that the West will move in and take over

Sahel analyst Jeremy Keenan told RFI that the meeting is unlikely to provide "anything of use" in terms of intelligence because agencies from all four countries are already "pretty clued-up".

"They also know that AQIM has been, and still is, fairly well infiltrated by Algeria. They also know that basically Algeria is trying to call all the shots. And there are fundamentally bad relations between Algeria and every single one of her neighbours, except at the moment Tunisia," says Keenan.

He believes that AQIM has been infiltrated by at at "the highest levels" which has created "huge amount of distrust from all the surrounding countries".

"The bottom line is extremely simple – if you wanted to clean up this problem you could do it in 24 hours - the location of all these people is known precisely. They’re not far over the border from Algeria. The Algerian armed forces certainly has the ability to completely wipe out the whole lot in no time at all, if it wanted to."

The discussions are scheduled three days after Sunday's meeting in Tamanrasset between army chiefs and counter-terrorism experts from the same countries.

Following Sunday’s meeting, which came ten days after the kidnapping of seven employees of two French companies in northern Niger by AQIM, Algerian army chief of staff General Ahmed Gaid Sakah said his country would put equipment and aircraft at the disposal of the alliance.

"At this meeting, there were differences and points in common. We're all agreed that it is necessary to fight terrorism. Now we need to agree on how, down to the finest detail," AFP's Bamako source said.

It is thought that AQIM is active in all four countries and operates across their desert borders.

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