Al-Qaeda prepares for war in northern Mali
Deep inside caves, in remote desert bases, in the escarpments and cliff faces of northern Mali, militants are burrowing into the earth, erecting a formidable set of defences to protect what has essentially become Al Qaeda’s new country.
They have used the bulldozers and earthmoving machinery left behind by fleeing construction workers to dig what residents and local officials describe as an elaborate network of tunnels, trenches, shafts and ramparts. In just one case, inside a cave large enough to drive lorries into, they have stored up to 100 drums of petrol, guaranteeing their fuel supply in the face of a foreign intervention, according to experts.
Northern Mali is now the biggest territory held by Al Qaeda and its allies. And as the world hesitates, delaying a military intervention, the extremists who seized control of the area this year are preparing for a war they boast will be worse than the decade-old struggle in Afghanistan.
“Al Qaeda never owned Afghanistan,” said the former United Nations diplomat Robert Fowler, a Canadian kidnapped and held for 130 days by Al Qaeda’s local organisation, whose fighters now control the main cities in the north. “They do own northern Mali.”