At least 800 Tuareg tribesmen who were hired, trained and armed by Muammar Gaddafi to fight his own people in Libya, have returned to the Sahel states of Niger and Mali in recent months. Al Jazeera’s correspondent May Welch says that they number into the “thousands and thousands.” They have returned to these two very poor countries with large quantities of weapons and some vehicles. These fighters were trained and used by Gaddafi in two other loosing battles in Lebanon and Chad. Their own poverty and history of fighting other people’s battles makes them ripe for the picking of any jihadist group that is willing to pay them.
There is evidence, even the admission by some Tuaregs, that they have entered into dealings with the terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
These returned Tuareg fighters are becoming of concern to leaders in the Sahel and West Africa because they, and their fore-parents, have roamed the more desolate areas of the region for decades. They know every cave, water hole and hiding place. Stratfor Global Intelligence foresee the returnees as “source of manpower for transnational terrorism.” Historically, Tuaregs were traders ranging from the north of Africa to West Africa. By nature of being nomadic, have not been confined by the colonial borders that delineate African states. I recently wrote an article for Bermuda Quest, “Africa’s Colonial Borders: In the Process of Costly Change”, in which I described the effect of colonial powers drawing up national boundaries that divide ethnic groups, such as the Tuareg. As with the Hausa who make up the greatest portion of the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria, the Tuareg move quite freely across countries.
Currently, many of the returning, Tuareg mercenaries have been fighting alongside National Movement for Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA). The groups want to claim northern Mali as the sovereign state of Azawad. They have attacked and claim to hold six towns in the north causing thousands to flee. The fighters have not been apprehended nor deterred from movement and the possibility of these joining forces with other terrorist groups is not out of the question.