Desert warriors face off in Mali

Both the Malian chief negotiator in charge of brokering a deal to free 14 Europeans kidnapped earlier this year, and their Algerian abductor, are well known for being battle savvy fighters.

The kidnappers took the hostages accross the border into Mali from Algeria
The kidnappers took the hostages accross the border into Mali from Algeria

That apart, they have little in common.


Iyad Ag Ghali is a respected leader in his homeland of north eastern Mali. He fought the government, avoiding civilian targets, and, once a ceasefire was signed, put down his weapons and embraced peace.


In 1990, Ag Ghali, the turbaned and bearded Tuareg chief, launched an attack on a government military base at Menaka to win recognition of Taureg political and economic rights.


One of his first edicts as commander was that his troops refrain from attacking civilian targets.




Amari Saifi, on the other hand, is a leading figure in the Salafist Group for the Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a Muslim rebel band fighting for the establishment of a Sharia state in Algeria.


He was a close friend and ally of Hassan Hattab, at that time a regional leader of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).


The GIA is thought to have been responsible for numerous massacres of civilians throughout Algeria. Most of the dead are found with their throats slit. The group is known to have been infiltrated by the ruling Algerian military junta.


Saifi split from the GIA in 1998 to form GSPC.




Ag Ghali fought government troops for some 12 months and, as head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Azawad (PFLA), attacked police station and government installations, before finally signing a ceasefire on 6 January 1991.


“Iyad is a cool customer. He never panics in the face of a different situation”

Unidentified Malian   government minister.

The peace agreement called for a ceasefire, the lifting of the state of emergency in Gao and Timbuktu in the north of the desert country and the withdrawal of army troops from those areas.


The government also agreed to amnesty all Tuareg political prisoners and granted internal autonomy for the region. Iyad Ag Ghali signed the pact on behalf of the Tuareg rebels.


Since then Ag Ghali has not fired a single shot. He also assumed the role of persuading other rebel groups to lay down their arms, according to the vice president of the Malian assembly, Assarid Ag Imbarcaouane.


Nomadic roots


Ag Ghali, 45, who comes from a family of nomadic herders, turned down the offer of a commission in the Malian army to look after his business interests in his home region of Kidal, AFP has reported.


“Iyad is a cool customer,” an unidentified government minister told AFP. “He never panics in the face of a difficult situation.”


The Tuareg peoples belong to the larger Berber community, which stretches from the Canary Islands to Egypt and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River.


Saifi, who specialised in attacks on Algerian government troops, is now an adept kidnapper. He is said to hold trials in the desert during which he decides who lives and who dies, AFP reported.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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