Friday, 1 October 2010

The murder of Merzouk

Around 4:00 a.m. on 12th August, a Tuareg known as Merzouk, whose proper name was Sidi Mohamed ag Chérif, was executed by kidnappers, believed to be members of AQIM, in the Tigharghar mountains of northeastern Mali. Media speculation focused on two assumed motives. One is that it was revenge for his involvement in an attack on the (GSPC)/AQIM emir Mokhtar ben Mokhtar (MBM) in 2006 in which Mokhtar's right-hand man was killed. The other is that he was found to be carrying documents from an unspecified Western embassy in Bamako and was therefore presumably a spy.

The most authoritative account is given on the local website. From this account, it is evident that Merzouk had led a chequered and dangerous life as a Tuareg rebel, a guide to the Malian customs service (with the rank of lieutenant), and an agent for Mali's state security service. He also had a long history of association with MBM, the GSPC, and AQIM. However, one thing not mentioned is that Merzouk, according to another reliable local source, was in regular communication with the US embassy in Bamako. It is therefore possible that he was perceived by AQIM as a spy for the infidel. mentions that shortly before Merzouk was kidnapped and assassinated, a young friend of his had been captured in Tigharghar by AQIM on suspicion of spying for Merzouk. This tallies with information from Menas sources in the region, namely that Merzouk had given one of his 'cousins' (i.e., close relations) a motorbike and satellite phone and sent him into Tigharghar to get information for him.

The young man's captors ordered him to call Merzouk and to arrange to meet him, whereupon he was kidnapped and then killed. It is therefore quite conceivable that Merzouk was killed by AQIM both for spying on them and for having identified and tracked down several of their members for crimes, such as theft, committed in Mali. However, informed opinion within Algeria is suggesting that his death may have been ordered by the DRS, either because Merzouk, like Lamana Ould Bou before him, had discovered its role in AQIM or as a warning to the Americans that if they want information on the region and AQIM, they must approach the DRS and not try to operate independently.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

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