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Bin Laden’s Legacy Alive In North Africa

From bombings to kidnappings, Islamists in North Africa have adopted their leader’s methods.

Philippe Bernard

In January 2007, the Algerian Islamist outfit known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) changed its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI). By doing so they made the Sahara desert region of Sahel their stronghold, attracting new jihadists, especially from Mauritania and Mali.

The ties between AQMI and the Pakistani mother organization had long been questionable. But on October 27, 2010, the group's leader Abdelmalek Droudkal was finally recognized for his "work" in one of Osama bin Laden's final public statements, commenting on the kidnapping of seven French employees of Areva and Satom the previous month in Niger by the organization's North African branch.

"You were killed as you kill and kidnapped as you kidnap," said Bin Laden in an audio message addressed to the French people. He accused France of oppressing "our Muslim community", criticizing the French law banning the full veil and demanding that French troops leave Afghanistan.

Osama Bin Laden's role in the kidnappings was confirmed on November 19, when Abdelmalek Droudkal told France to turn to Al-Qaeda's leader for any talks. "All negotiations regarding this matter will be held with none other then our Sheikh Osama Bin Laden (…) and under his conditions," said AQMI's leader.

When the GSPC became AQMI it also adopted Al-Qaeda's methods, turning to suicide bombings and kidnappings of westerners. Several months after pledging allegiance, they kidnapped a group of Austrian tourists in the South of Tunisia before transferring them to Mali. They were eventually freed, just like the UN workers captured in Niger in December 2008. They were luckier than the hostage Edwin Dyer. AQMI announced his execution – their first – on May 31, 2009.

Since then the Sahel has been rocked by attacks, especially in Mauritania, and kidnappings, pushing tourists away and jeopardizing the safety of humanitarian and economic activities. Several hostages were freed, like France's Pierre Camatte, who had been kidnapped in Mali in November 2009. Some were freed in exchange for the release of Islamist prisoners or ransoms, though western countries deny paying AQMI any money, which could be used to buy arms and find new recruits.

The death of French humanitarian worker Michel Germaneau, announced by Droudkal on July 25, 2010 marked a new step in the fight between France and the Islamist group. French and Mauritanian troops had launched a failed attack against AQMI in order to free him.

French business symbols have been targeted directly, such as the kidnapping of seven Areva employees working on a uranium mine in Niger. Of the seven, four are still being held by AQMI, probably in Mali. Two young Frenchmen, Vincent Delory and Antoine de Leocour, kidnapped in Niamey (Niger) were found dead on January 8 after the French special forces' failed attack on AQMI in Mali.

The rise of the "Arab spring" seemed to have taken AQMI by surprise. Focus had pulled away from their activities, until the Marrakesh bombing on April 28, which killed 16 people in a café. Though no group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, AQMI is the chief suspect. In a video attributed to the group and posted three days before the attack, AQMI threatened Morocco. Though the video dates back to 2007 according to several experts, its publication just before the bombing is hardly a coincidence.

Read the original article in French.

photo - Annie Springs

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How Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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