Al-Qaeda’s terrorist training academy in the Mali desert

AL-QAEDA'S NORTH Africa branch created an academy for terrorists during its occupation of Timbuktu, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Farag Mohamed Arbi stands outside the building where he worked as a chef for Al Qaeda fighters. Net photo.
Farag Mohamed Arbi stands outside the building where he worked as a chef for Al Qaeda fighters. Net photo.

AL-QAEDA'S NORTH Africa branch created an academy for terrorists during its occupation of Timbuktu, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) used a two-storey building on the edge of the ancient city which they turned into a sophisticated training centre which continued operating until it was destroyed by a French air strike three weeks ago.

America and its allies have always tried to make it impossible for al-Qaeda to run permanent, dedicated training camps. After years of effort, they had come close to eradicating any centres of this kind.

Osama bin Laden's original network of training camps in Afghanistan was completely destroyed after September 11. The CIA's drone campaign then prevented a full replacement from emerging over the border in Pakistan.

But in Timbuktu, AQIM managed to run this training centre for about nine uninterrupted months. Moreover, it consciously followed the example of bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Just as he gathered volunteers from across the Muslim world, so AQIM amassed a multinational array of recruits at its camp in Timbuktu.

Along with Malians, there were Pakistanis, Algerians and Mauritanians. But the biggest contingent of foreign trainees were Nigerians, all of them members of Boko Haram, a particularly violent group responsible for thousands of deaths. Their presence vindicates a claim made by Nigeria's government that AQIM has forged a strategic alliance with Boko Haram.

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