In late January, it was reported that France's DGSE foreign intelligence service played a key role in preventing a plot by a 100-strong gang to attack participants in the Paris-Dakar rally. The group had intended to kidnap two leading racers in Mali's southern Sokolo region on January 10, but fled north into Algeria's wastelands once they realized their ambush scheme had been discovered. The French had intelligence that the kidnappers' leader was Abderrazak the Para, a former Algerian paratrooper who the Algerian authorities have tied to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (which has ties to Al-Qaeda). - Adam Geibel
Three US teams are training three 100-man Malian units in the Mali capital, the eastern town of Gao and the desert city of Timbuktu to combat arms trafficking and banditry in the North. Skeptics claim that there is no firm evidence of Al Qaeda penetration in the region and that some West African leaders deliberately exaggerate the threat in order to get donations of cash and military training.