Originally posted on al-Wasat - الوسط:
Since it first burst onto the scene in December 2011, the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (generally MUJWA in English, or MUJAO in French) has been a difficult group to pin down. The group, originally characterized as a “dissident” faction of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), its actions have raised a number of possible contradictions and open questions (laid out admirably along with excellent background here, here, and here by Kal over at The Moor Next Door). Recently, some local and international actors have taken in particular to questioning MUJWA’s actions, and speculating that MUJWA, believed to be heavily funded by the cocaine and now the kidnapping business, may in essence be using jihadist activities as a sort of front for its criminal behavior.
This post is an attempt to explore and analyze some of the possible explanations for MUJWA’s behavior, with a focus on its activities, composition, and role in the city of Gao. Ultimately, I will question some of the assumptions local and international observers have made about MUJWA’s motivations, in particular attempts to frame MUJWA as a “criminal” rather than a “terrorist” or “insurgent” organization, when available evidence paints a far more complicated picture of overlapping motivations and multiple sub-groupings within the same organization.
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