Iyad Ag Ghali (source: lignet.com)
Iyad Ag Ghali is a 54 years old Malian. He is the leader of Ansar Dine.
From the region of Kidal, northern Mali, Iyad Ag Ghali is a Irayakan, family of the Ifoghas. It is in Libya, however, where he made his debut in the early 1980s: in his early twenties he chose to join the Islamic Legion of Colonel Gaddafi – Mali, a victim of repeated droughts since 1969, has nothing to offer to him.
In Libya, Ag Ghali manages to get noticed. He was sent to Lebanon to fight the phalanges and Christians, according to some sources, aside from some shooting in Chad, in the course of the 1980s, before returning to Mali when the “Guide” declares the dissolution of the Legion. Ag Ghali is disappointed, but soon found another cause to champion, becoming one of the leading figures of the Tuareg rebellion: it was he who, at the head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MPLA), attacked the town of Menaka, June 28, 1990. Six months later, the Tamanrasset agreements were signed under the auspices of Algeria, brought an end to the fighting, but the rebels were deeply divided. Ag Ghali founded the Popular Movement of Azawad (MPA), which brought together the most moderate Tuaregs, he didn’t hesitate to confront his former companions and sometimes to allied with the Malian army… His military superiority isn’t doubted. For many Malians he is the one that brought peace to the North in the late 1990s.
Gradually, the man got in to contact with radical preachers like the Pakistani Jamaat al-Tabligh (“association for preaching”). In 1999 Iyad Ag Ghali has changed: he stopped shaking hands with women, made his wife wear a veil and spends most of his free time in mosques. Surprising? Not so much. This radicalization is associated with a strong anti-Western sentiment, sharpened in training camps in Libya. In addition, the economic crisis has pushed many Malians, both sedentary and nomadic, into the arms of religion.
In 2003, Ag Ghali is involved with the fundamentalist cause, but not Jihadism: he said to be hostile to terrorism and suicide bombings. This “state of mind” makes him the ideal intermediary to negotiate the release of hostages held by Islamic Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Thus, in August of the same year the government in Bamako asked Ag Ghali to intercede with Abou Zeid for European tourists kidnapped in Algeria – which he did with success. Three years later, in May 2006, the anger is brewing again in Northern Mali. Tuareg accuse the authorities of failing to meet their commitments. Ag Ghali meets with President Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), but negotiations fall short. He then approaches Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, another great figure from irredentist Tuareg, who died in August 2011. Algeria is again involved, obtains the signature of new agreements for peace (the Algiers Accords, signed in July 2006) and, as in the previous uprising, Ag Ghali traded his fighting uniform for a uniform of a man of peace.
Ahmada Ag Bibi: the bosun
Ahmada Ag Bibi and Iyad Ag Ghali know each other for a long time. In the early 1990s already, they both were in the People’s Movement of Azawad (MPA). Ag Bibi is a great activist for the Tuareg cause, but that does not stop to soak in more obscure cases and to be linked to negotiations for the release of Western hostages. In Ag Bibi’s address book there are bandits, smugglers, politicians in Bamako and Algiers, and even members of several intelligence services (he was a member of the parliamentary committee Defense and Homeland Security). Also he was the chairman of the parliamentary group for Mali-Algeria friendship and in November 2011 he accompanied the former colonel in the French army, Jean-Marc Gadoullet, to negotiate for the release of Abu Zayd AREVA and VINCI hostages.
When the North rised again in January 2012, Ag Bibi joined the MNLA and Ansar Dine, driven by both realism and friendship towards Ag Ghali. He is not attached to secularism, but believes, as the Ansar Dine diplomat Alghabass Ag Intallah, in negotiating “peaceful solutions” and could therefore be the man to talk to. “Only Algeria can play a role of mediator between the parties to the conflict,” he said.
To serve his ambitions, he will not hesitate to turn against his “partners”.
ATT, who knew Ag Ghali could be useful but also feared his growing influence, appointed him counsel consular in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) in November 2007. The head of state is as much to thank for cutting him from his supporters. But exile was short-lived: in 2010, the Saudis suspected Al Ghali of being in contact with members of Al-Qaeda and expelled him. Back home, he used again his address book (which was further enriched during the episode in Jeddah) to negotiate hostage releases and build a personal fortune. His name comes up repeatedly when discussing the fate of AREVA employees kidnapped in Niger in September 2010.
By the end of 2011, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) didn’t have an official status yet, but Ag Ghali already boasted to be the leader. In vain. Managers of the future rebellion didn’t want to see this shady man get into the political and media area. He is too closely linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM, formerly GSPC) and suspected of being linked to Algiers as well. Also they have not forgiven him the 1990’s infighting either.
Ag Mohamed Najim, another veteran of the Islamic Legion who Ag Ghali cordially detests, is therefore preferred. This is a slap for Ag Ghali but he didn’t mind. He created his own training group, Ansar Dine. Probably he hoped to cause dislocation of MNLA, which weaknesses he knows so well the. At the same time, Ag Ghali also renounced to become the successor of the amenokal (traditional leader) of Ifoghas, the old Intallah Ag Attaher preffered his son, Alghabass Intallah Ag. Again, the bitterness is strong, but he cannot afford to openly confront the patriarch.
It is better to deal and work hand in hand with Ag Intallah, who is highly respected in the region. Ag Ghali holds his hand in June 2012. The MNLA is dying, and now it is Ansar Dine which discuss with the mediator of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso. The former soldier of Gaddafi is now recognized as a key player in the Malian crisis. If he distanced himself from the Salafists, as incited by foreign diplomats, he might even become an ally. Moreover, if he considers that direct confrontation with AQIM can serve his ambitions, he will not hesitate to turn against its current “partners”. Abou Zeid, Mokhtar Ould Mohamed Hamada and Belmokhtar Kheirou know better than anyone else.
Alghabass Ag Intallah: heir and diplomat
Originally Alghabass Ag Intallah isn’t a warlord. As a member of the National Assembly, he is especially the son of the powerful Ifoghas chief and his designated successor – a line that allows him to benefit from many contacts into the Persian Gulf, including the royal family of Qatar. When the Tuareg rebellion broke out in January 2012, he first ranked alongside the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) – though always advocated for dialogue with Bamako – then rallied Ansar Dine. Ag Intallah is not a fanatic, and his choice is probably more pragmatic – the fragmentation of MNLA is unequivocal – ideologically. Today, Ag Intallah is the political face of Ansar Dine, it’s ambassador. He is the one who is received by the mediator of the crisis, the Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore. Iyad Ag Ghali knows too much for having interest in linking his fate to reign Ifoghas.
A video in which Ag Ghali leads the prayer before the Aguelhok Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)