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Exclusive footage gives rare insight into life in al Qaeda insurgency

Text by Mehdi Chebil

Latest update : 2010-06-16

Rare footage obtained by FRANCE 24 shows the mundane daily life of al Qaeda-linked militants in North Africa. The video appears to confirm that the lawless southern fringe of the Sahara desert has become the organisation’s latest safe haven.

FRANCE 24 have exclusively obtained never seen before footage that gives a glimpse into the ordinary daily life of al Qaeda militants in North Africa. The raw footage reveals the surprisingly mundane existence of North Africa’s longstanding Islamist insurgency in the vast lawless Sahara territories.

Map showing AQIM's desert sanctuary
The footage has already attracted the attention of counter-terrorism experts.
The images broadcasted by FRANCE 24 on Thursday were taken from an unedited 50-minute tape found on a young al Qaeda defector in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). FRANCE 24 senior producer Jean-Bernard Cadier said the tape was obtained from a correspondent “in the area”, but he declined to elaborate for security reasons.

“These images were shot by a young man who deserted al Qaeda some months ago. He was arrested by security forces at a regular road checkpoint. When he was arrested, he had with him a weapon, his personal belongings, and this 50-minute tape”, said Cadier.

Life behind the propoganda

The video is clearly not intended for general viewing as the footage depicts the infamous insurgents as an amateurish band of mostly teenagers. The video gives a fascinating insight into the reality of the insurgency behind the propaganda; it shows the feared militant Islamists playing games and sharing jokes. The undated video appears to have been shot by a militant who intended to document their daily lives in the remote southern Sahara desert.
Mokhtar Benmokhtar
One of AQIM's hardline leaders, Mokhtar Benmokhtar was recognised on this video by former French hostage Pierre Camatte. He is still holding hostage two members of a Spanish NGO.

Far from the usual ultimatum and threats delivered by jihadists with their faces covered, the tape shows fresh recruits playing in a riverbed, running races and wrestling in the sand in an almost summer camp type atmosphere. Men of various Arab origins are seen swapping news, socialising, and occasionally waving some old automatic riffles. However, of the 50 men on this film, only a few actually have weapons.

Spartan desert conditions

But counter-terrorism experts who watched the tape pointed to the insidious threats behind the young jihadists’ smiling faces. According to Dr Walid Phares, from the US National Defence University, the lack of sophisticated weaponry on these images is a sign of their professionalism.

“When you look at boot camps anywhere, you are not going to see more than AK47s.
Mussa the bombmaker
Nicknamed "Mussa", this man is a prominent bombmaker who lost a hand and part of his eyesight while handling explosives
That’s an indication of professionalism: they’re not going to put their RPGs and missiles in the hands of these fresh recruits. They’re proceeding like a regular guerrilla or army”, Dr Phares told FRANCE 24.

Despite its ragtag appearance, the group does not seem to be suffering from a shortage of fuel or water. Counter-terrorism experts also note that Spartan desert conditions are not enough to deter a younger generation of militants from joining AQIM.

According to Dr Phares, this fresh crop of militants is even more likely to turn deadly as two well-known, experienced jihadists (the identities of which are shown in the side boxes) can be seen discreetly overseeing the group.


Date created : 2010-06-11


    Rare video of al Qaeda fighters in North Africa

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