London: Al Qaeda-linked insurgents and Islamic groups’ hold over key urban areas of Mali to recruit, arm and train growing numbers of fighters could pose a threat to Europe within two years, a senior western diplomat has warned.
Government and security sources claim that the al Qaeda-linked rebels have taken exclusive control of the north, having pushed out secular Tuareg separatists.
“If Islamists continue to control vast areas of Mali where they can do what they like, then this will pose a direct threat to Europe,” The Guardian quoted a senior western diplomat in the capital, Bamako, as saying.
“You cannot forget how close this region is to Europe. They are currently recruiting people in northern Mali, offering them money, training and weapons. If this continues, it is a matter of time before it affects Europe directly,” he added.
According to the report, Northern Mali has been under insurgent control since the government was toppled in a military coup in March, following which Tuareg rebels, who are demanding an independent state of "Azawad" in the Sahara, initially joined forces with groups backed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), including Ansar Dine, Mujao and the Nigerian terrorist organisation Boko Haram.
However, as the alliance broke down recently with fighting breaking out between different factions, Islamists consolidated their control, driving Tuareg rebels from their last stronghold in the town of Ansogo, including Gao, the main base of the Malian Army, the report said.
“Islamists supported by AQIM are now really getting complete control of the region, and huge access to weapons and arms coming from Libya,” the paper quoted Valentina Soria, a counter-terrorism and security analyst at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, as saying.
“This can well develop into a more direct security threat for Europe, either by enabling AQIM to either plan and carry out attacks directly in Europe or the US, or to provide a safe haven for people connected to terrorist organisations to get some training and access to weapons,” she added.
She cited that as the Sahel region is closer to Europe than Afghanistan or Pakistan, therefore it is easier for people from Europe to get in and out, and provides all sorts of advantages from a logistics point of view for people who want to link up with AQIM and like-minded groups.