Mali, Algeria and Niger are preparing a major, joint, military and police operation along their common border, to find and destroy Islamic terrorist groups hiding out in the semi-desert Sahel region. This is a large area, with few roads, rain or people. Periodically, these nations have to cooperate to chase down troublesome bandits or rebel groups that raid in one country, then return to their base in another. Despite the large area involved, there are few places to hide. That's because you need water down here, and there are a limited number of places to get that. While the security forces have aircraft to aid their search, the Islamic groups also have pickup trucks and other vehicles to speed their movement. The three governments also have access to some American satellite reconnaissance and electronic eavesdropping capabilities via AFRICOM (which maintains a visible, but low, profile during these operations.
The government is trying to weaken popular support for Islamic terrorists, by promoting the Sufi sect of Islam. Only 4-5 percent of Algerians are active participants of this less radical, and more contemplative form of Islam. More Algerians prefer the more conservative and violent Salafist sect (which is similar to the Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.) However, over a decade of Islamic violence has made many Algerians wary of Salafist radicalism. Salafism was originally very peaceful, but was radicalized during its struggle against a corrupt and inept Algerian dictatorship.
July 12, 2009: An al Qaeda group in Mali released a Swiss man who was held captive for six months. Mali took credit for negotiating the release, and insisted that neither Mali, now Switzerland paid a ransom. Many doubt that the Islamic group just gave up their prisoner. The way this usually works, the Islamic terrorists will eventually reveal what really happened, especially if they did receive a large amount of cash. The Islamic radical groups in the three borders area, and Mauritania to the west, have done well by kidnapping Westerners in the area. That has killed much of the tourist activity, and increased the presence of police and soldier. Both of these developments have not been popular with the locals, who prefer to be left alone to tend their herds, and make some money smuggling goods and people across the borders.
July 5, 2009: The African Union has joined Algeria in condemning the practice of paying ransoms to Islamic terrorists, to obtain the release of kidnap victims. The ransoms, often in the millions of dollars (for diplomats and Western civilians), simply makes the kidnappers stronger and better able to kidnap more people.
July 3, 2009: Niger, Nigeria and Algeria agreed to spend $10 billion to build a 4,000 kilometers long pipeline to transport natural gas to Europe. The pipeline is to be operational in six years. Rebel groups in all countries promptly announced that they would attack the pipeline.
June 30, 2009: Police killed two Islamic terrorists east of the capital, and recovered weapons and ammunition. The last round of gun battles and arrests seems to have disrupted al Qaeda operations in Algeria, because its been very quiet (in terms of terrorist activity) these past few weeks.
June 25, 2009: Al Qaeda in North Africa took credit for the recent murder of the director of a foreign aid organization in Mauritania.