A recent al-Qaeda fatwa suggests that there may be a more sinister goal than ransoms behind the spike in abductions of Western women.
Analysis by Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 16/12/11
The increase in abductions of Western women by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb raises questions about the actual objective of the terrorists.
An al-Qaeda splinter group on Monday (December 12th) released a video of three European NGO workers kidnapped last October from the Rabuni camp near Tindouf.
The video shows Spanish national Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon and Italian Rossella Urru clad in blue gowns and yellow headscarves, as masked gunmen keep watch over the two women and their male colleague.
“Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya” (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) released the clip two days after claiming responsibility for the Tindouf kidnappings.
The two female humanitarian aid workers shown in the new clip this week are not the first women to be seized by al-Qaeda or related terror groups in the Maghreb region.
In 2008, Austrian tourist Andrea Kloiber, 43, and her husband were abducted by terrorists while vacationing in the Tunisian Sahara. They were freed after spending eight months – under what they later said were “harsh” conditions – at an al-Qaeda camp in a remote area of Mali.
In 2009, the group kidnapped 39-year-old Italian woman Philomene Kabore and her husband in eastern Mauritania and handed them over to AQIM terrorists in Mali, where they spent four months at a terror camp.
The same year, Spanish humanitarian aid worker Alicia Gamez was travelling on the Nouadhibou-Nouakchott road in Mauritania when her aid caravan was ambushed by armed men. Her captors held her for three months in the Mali desert.
Questions may well be raised about the real reason for kidnapping five women in three years.
It cannot be seen as mere coincidence, given that such abductions involve surveillance of the victims. Al-Qaeda terrorists intentionally choose female hostages.
And the religious positions of radicals – completely different from that seen in tolerant Islamic culture – bode ill for Western women abducted by terrorist groups.
A possible explanation for the increase in abductions of women is in Salafist literature uncovered in 2008 after a deadly shootout between al-Qaeda fighters and Mauritanian security forces in Nouakchott. Articles uncovered in the terrorists’ “safe house” included books such as “The Mosque in the Provisions of the Koran” and pamphlets on al-Qaeda ideology and weapons training.
But what attracted the most attention was a book published by the Fatwa Department of the Sahara Emirate. “The Law of Prisoners” belonged to Khadim Ould Semane, the leader of al-Qaeda affiliate “Ansarou Allah” (“God’s supporters”), who was sentenced to death last year for the Nouakchott gunfight.
There can be no doubt that al-Qaeda intentionally targets females; they have a manual on the issue. “The Law of Prisoners” establishes rules for treating kidnapped Western women.
According to Ettaki Sidi of the Nouakchott police, the book – along with seized military and security uniforms, munitions, hand grenades, pistols, Kalashnikov rifles, and religious books – remains in the custody of the police school.
The book details two ways to handle Western prisoners: “killing” and “ransom”.
Killing a woman, according to the book, is acceptable if she “participated in war”.
Ransom – meaning the swap of kidnap victims for money – allows al-Qaeda to finance their operations, buy weapons and hire mercenaries across the Sahel.
But Abdel Abderrahman Tandaghi, a Mauritanian who became the mufti for al-Qaeda in the Sahara region, differs ideologically with the Algerian senior leadership of al-Qaeda regarding the treatment of female prisoners.
In an effort to satisfy his desert fighters, Tandaghi appears to have arrived at a new way of dealing with female captives.
A new fatwa from Tandaghi expands on the Algerian AQIM leaders’ policy of either killing or ransoming the hostage.
He offers a third choice: “slavery”. An owner may enjoy his slave girl and has the right to take her as his mistress.
An al-Qaeda battalion commander can simply give a European woman to a member of the organisation, who is then entitled to have sex with her, even if by force.
The book, which purports to guide Sahara battalions inspired by religious rules, brings new interpretations to “human rights”. No such rights are afforded the female abductees forcibly removed from ostensibly safe zones to al-Qaeda camps in the Sahara desert.
Haddmin Ould Salek, an imam at the Mosque of Ibn Abbas in the Mauritanian capital and head of the Bloc of Imams and Ulema for the Rights of Women and Children, describes terrorists as “bandits” because they do not “express the Islamic religion, but rather, the criminal spirit”.
While al-Qaeda leaders claim rules of fiqh govern kidnap victims, Ould Salek finds flaws with their interpretations.
“First, there is no war between Muslims and others. Second, those abducted by the so-called al-Qaeda organisation are not POWs, but rather people whose freedom was assaulted, and who are tortured and transferred to al-Qaeda camps,” he tells Magharebia.
“Indeed, treatment by al-Qaeda of those it abducted has no link to Islamic religion and is nothing but the law of the jungle or the law of bandits,” he says.
Even in situations of war, the Nouakchott imam says, “Islam preserves the status of the human being, especially women and children, and peaceful sheikhs and men worshipping in a church or monastery may not be subjected to harm.”
“Moreover, when there is no war at all and those people are living in the land of the Muslims in peace and harmony, it is impermissible to assault them,” he adds.
“Kidnapping women, taking them to Sahara detention camps and bargaining for their release is not permissible under Islamic law,” the imam tells Magharebia.
In a region where African and Arab culture converge, the abduction of women is seen as injurious to the social and cultural fabric. This type of terror activity has caused a real blow to radical ideology and placed it under siege.
But for the two aid workers who appeared in the al-Qaeda splinter group’s video earlier this week, it is a desperate time. They remain surrounded by armed terrorists, far-removed from human rights laws, international conventions and religious compassion.