Mohamed Baghdad is an Algerian academic, TV personality, and author of "Blood of the Desert" and "Al-Qaeda Wars in the Sahel". He also participates in many international conferences on jihadi ideology.
As regional concerns mount over trans-border terrorism, Magharebia spoke with the acclaimed analyst to learn more about his prognosis for the Maghreb and Sahel.
Magharebia: Is this the most dangerous time in recent memory for the entire Sahel region?
Mohamed Baghdad: It is obvious that the Sahel region represents today the largest area in the world predisposed to wider terrorist activity…
The characteristics of the African Sahel make it a candidate for the foreground. This area extends from Somalia in the east, to Nigeria in the west… more than nine million square kilometres, mostly barren desert, containing almost the largest number of poor people in the world. These people are ready to do anything for a living. In addition, the state virtually ended in this region, and it is controlled by tribes and ethnic groups. It is dismembered socially and emotionally, in addition to diseases and epidemics that are killing people…
The Sahel will produce a lot of surprises that will not be pleasant in the coming days, especially since the management of economic and living conditions is virtually non-existent…
Magharebia: Can the Libya crisis extend to other Maghreb states?
Baghdad: The Libyan crisis or the Libyan swamp is graver than anticipated by a lot of ruling elites in the Maghreb region….
If it continues in this context, it will be a decisive factor in redrawing the map of the Maghreb region as a whole.
Every delay in finding appropriate solutions will have a role in the destruction of the Maghreb region…It will open new horizons for chaos in the whole Maghreb region that will be difficult to control, and will require long years to contain, while losing many generations in between.
Magharebia: What can Maghreb countries do to avoid such a fate?
Baghdad: I think that the Maghreb region is exposed to a lot of major risks. It became vulnerable to regional and international threats, considering that the reasons facilitating that help raise the ceiling of the threats. Yet attention to human beings and faith in their abilities, and the possibility of seeing elites moving towards modernity and democratic practices, and the national bourgeoisie taking responsibility for establishing social equilibrium, can help mitigate potential risks…
Magharebia: Do returning jihadists represent a threat to the stability of the Sahel?
Baghdad: Jihadi movements today feed from a strategic source: the hordes of unemployed young people who are deprived of basic human rights and who have lost every hope in their homelands and are not ready to accept the status quo. The only option remaining to them is to go towards the unknown. But at the same time, they are not prepared to wait.
Regarding Maghreb jihadi elements fighting in Syria or Iraq, previous generations that were in Afghanistan have proven that jihadi elements from the Maghreb possess leadership capabilities, high fighting spirit and strong momentum, perhaps by virtue of their upbringing and psychological and cultural attributes, which make them play very serious roles.
The proof is what jihadi elements have done, especially in the early years of the armed action in Algeria, in the early nineties of the last century. These Maghreb jihadi elements find themselves today close to the stage.
Magharebia: Can the danger of young people returning from fighting in Syria extend to Europe?
Baghdad: Europe is one of the easiest areas into which the threat posed by jihadi elements can extend. This is not in terms of geography alone, but in terms of a more important area - the vital interests of Europe in the Sahel…
There is [also] the increasing presence of the communities of the Maghreb in Europe.
Magharebia: Some countries, such as Algeria and Mauritania, have adopted a strategy of social integration of young people who repent. Is this still a good option, given the growing numbers of young mujahideen?
Baghdad: I believe integration of jihadis is the only remaining option in the current circumstances. Each country has its own peculiarities, but there are common factors. Regarding the experience of Algeria and Mauritania, they have made a lot of important achievements, and were able to curb terrorism and recede from advanced levels of violence and jihadism.
Magharebia: Are Maghreb and Sahel governments capable of creating alternatives for young people to the promise offered by jihadi groups of paradise after martyrdom, or the promise of temporary marriage?
Baghdad: Before talking about the alternatives, the problem lies in the concept of extremism and the interpretation of the ruling elite of the propensity to jihad among young people.
Regarding the possible alternatives and before thinking about the economic aspects, the social culture along with our history can open the door wide in front of a new future for the region.
Magharebia: We've heard a lot from the media about the so-called "lone wolf". Did this kind of solo operator terrorist disappear?
Baghdad: …The phenomenon remains. It is a result of the actual pattern of our social culture, and the output of low and painful periods of our cultural and psychological history.