The Moroccan Sahara Separatist Polisario Front's “unilateral” decision to evacuate all foreign aid workers from its Tindouf refugee camps, is yet another indicator of the volatility of the security situation in the Sahara. The Algerian backed separatist guerilla movement is headquartered in Southwest Algeria where hundreds of Polisario fighters are stationed. 

Recent press reports indicate that dozens of former Polisario fighters who fled the refugee camps to join terrorist camps in Northern Mali have returned to Tindouf since the beginning of French military operations in Mali.

The Algerian pronouncement (The Algerian government make the final security decisions relating to the Tindouf camps) to remove all foreign nationals form Tindouf comes on the heels of the In Amenas terror attack in the south of the country and few months after the kidnapping from the Polisario camps of three Europeans by a Mali based terror group. 

Most of the evacuees were Spanish citizens whose government issued a travel warning for Algeria. Revelations of the identity of the In Amenas attack organizer have alarmed Moroccan, Algerian and western security Agencies. Terror leader Mohamed-Lamine Bouchneb is a member of an influencial family with deep roots in the Algerian Sahara. He created the “Organization of Sons of Sahara for Islamic justice”, a group of smugglers that operated in southeastern Algeria for years.

Bouchneb maintained good relations with some members of the Polisario Front. As such, he may have played a role in recruiting young Sahrawis from the Tindouf camps for armed operations in the Sahara and the Sahel.

The Bouchneb Polisario links had no bearing on the In Amenas attack, nevertheless, such associations indicate further breach of the security and intelligence apparatus of the Polisario Front by Sahel based Terror group.

The continuing threat posed by terrorism and violence in the Algerian Sahara include the Polisario camps where morale is low and the temptation of easy money from smuggling and kidnapping has pushed guerrilla fighters to abandon their “cause” for a more lucrative business.

24/01/2013