Arab Movement of Azawad
|Arab Movement of Azawad|
|الحركة العربية الأزوادية
Mouvement arabe de l’Azawad
Participant in 2012 Tuareg rebellion
|Active||Early 2012 – present|
|Ideology||Secular Arab nationalism
Autonomy of Azawad
|Leaders||Ahmad Ould Sidi Muhammad (General Secretary)
Hussein Ould Ghulam (Chief of Staff)
National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad
The Arab Movement of Azawad (Arabic: الحركة العربية الأزوادية, French: Mouvement arabe de l’Azawad; MAA) is an Arab military organization active in Azawad/northern Mali. Initially known as the National Liberation Front of Azawad (French: Front de libération nationale de l'Azawad; FLNA), it was formed in early 2012, during the 2012 Tuareg rebellion. The MAA claims to be a secular, non-terrorist organization, whose main objective is to defend the interests of the Arab peoples of northern Mali. It is reportedly willing to "work with France against terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime" in the region. The group calls for granting substantial autonomy to northern Mali.
The MAA was formed as the National Liberation Front of Azawad (FLNA) in early 2012. It was largely composed of Arab militia fighters who had organized to defend Timbuktu during the advance by the forces of the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist Ansar Dine against the city. The new group claimed to oppose both the independence of Azawad from Mali and the imposition of sharia law in the region. After Timbuktu fell to the rebels on April 1, 2012, the FLNA briefly occupied the city in turn on April 27, but departed after Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a leading member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a demand for them to leave.
The FLNA initially had difficulty securing support among the Arab Berabiche community in northern Mali; its leaders were attacked for being involved in the drug smuggling trade in northern Mali, and for being partially responsible for the escalation of violence in the region. They were also accused of helping AQIM in their takeover of Timbuktu. The FLNA nevertheless continued its operations in northern Mali, acting independently of both the MNLA and the Islamists, and subsequently changed its name to the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA).
In December 2012, the MAA claimed to have a "very good relationship" with the Tuareg MNLA in spite of "small differences" between the two organizations, but by the following year both groups were openly hostile to one another. On February 23, 2013, the MAA attacked the MLNA in the town of al-Khalil, near Tessalit; it also accused MLNA soldiers of having seized the vehicles of Arabs in the region, emptying their shops and raping women. On February 24, the French Air Force launched airstrikes against MAA targets, which reportedly injured five MAA soldiers and destroyed five of their vehicles. An MAA spokesman responded by denouning the intervention, characterizing the French action as providing "open support" to the MNLA.
In early April 2013, the MAA participated in a conference which brought together the leaders of various Arab groups in Azawad. The conference, which was held in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, ended with the formation of a new organization, the Convergence of Arab Movements and Associations for the Unity and Development of Azawad, which was tasked with representing the interests of all Arab communities in the region. The head of the MAA was appointed as a member of the board of the Convergence.
On April 21, 2013, the MAA occupied the town of Ber, approximately 50 kilometers north of Timbuktu. Arab fighters returned to the town on May 5; they looted shops and houses and then departed. The MAA denied responsibility for this second incident, and claimed that the looters were acting contrary to orders. On May 17, the MAA claimed to have entered Anefis, to the southwest of Kidal, after a clash with MLNA fighters. Intervention by the French military, however, forced the MAA to depart by the following day. The MLNA rejected this version of events, claiming instead that the combatants who entered Anefis were members of the Islamist Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
Organization and strength
The MAA is led by a Secretary General; as of April 2013, this office was held by Ahmad Ould Sidi Muhammad. An MAA spokesman stated in December 2012 that the organization's structure also contained an executive council, an advisory council and a chief of staff.
The MAA claims to have a strength of 500 men; many of its officers are deserters from the Malian Army. The movement has two strongholds in northern Mali, the first being Tilemsi near Mauritania and the second being Tinafareg near Algeria.
Relationship with local Islamists
The MAA has repeatedly claimed to be a secular organization, opposed to Islamist groups operating in northern Mali. Outside knowledge of motivations of the movement, however, remains relatively obscure, and the group has been accused in the past of collaborating with the Islamist AQIM. Wolfram Lacher, an analyst of the Mali conflict, noted that the leaders of the FNLA/MAA had close family and commercial ties with AQIM, and concluded that "it is doubtful whether [the MAA] would be willing and able to confront AQIM."
As part of the dispute between the MNLA and the MAA, the MNLA has accused the latter of being an ally with the Islamist Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), to the point where there is no real distinction between the two groups. This claim has been rejected by Salem Beghi, an officer of MAA, who stated in March 2013 that the MAA has previously engaged in battles with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and MUJAO "terrorists" and claimed that the MAA has always fought against terrorist organizations in northern Mali.
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