Cover Story Overview
Guns, Money and Prayers: AQIM’s Blueprint for Securing Control of Northern Mali
By Morten Bøås
Al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is occasionally described as an operational branch of the global al-Qa`ida structure. Yet AQIM should not be viewed as an external al-Qa`ida force operating in the Sahel and Sahara. For years, AQIM and its offshoots have pursued strategies of integration in the region based on a sophisticated reading of the local context. AQIM and its offshoots leverage money, guns and prayers to establish their presence in poorly governed areas in the Sahel and the Sahara. As a result, even if the recent French military intervention in Mali has pushed back the Islamist rebels and secured control of the northern cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, a number of challenges remain. This article provides background on the Tuareg, explains how AQIM gained influence in northern Mali, and examines the links between AQIM, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Mokhtar Belmokhtar. It finds that AQIM’s strategies of integration in northern Mali are key to its longevity, and these same strategies could be employed by the group in other regions of the Sahel and the Sahara.