In order to secure their long-held ambition of an independent Azawad in northern Mali, Tuareg rebels have jumped into bed with extreme Islamists. Yet the Tuaregs do not support the rule of sharia law which the Islamists are imposing.
The Islamic militant group Ansar al-Din, is under the leadership of Iyad ag Ghali, a man deemed so extreme that he was ejected from Saudi Arabia by authorties there. Yet Ag Ghali is clearly an opportunist who has made millions from negotiating the release of kidnapped tourists between Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the relevant governments. Ag Ghali arrived in Timbuktu in the company of three senior emirs of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magheb, according to the TelegraphTime reported he stated "It is our obligation to fight for the application of Shar'ia in Mali." The Tuareg rebels who form the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) have referred to Ag Ghali as a criminal, saying his aims to impose "to establish a theocratic regime" were anathema "to the foundations of our culture and civilization." (Time)
He established the splinter group Ansar al-Din when Tuareg rebels rejected his bid for leadership of MNLA.
It appears that Ag Ghali is using extremism to further his own ambitions, finding it expedient politically to exert control through the fervent theocracy, which he discovered through Pakistani preachers in the 1990's. Prior to embracing Islam Time describes him thus: "He was as much of a hedonist as many of the other [Tuareg] living in Algeria and Libya... apparently, a great fan of cigarettes, booze and partying."
In 2008 Iyad Ag Ghali was the leader of the Tuareg rebel Alliance for Democracy and Change (ADC) and played the role of negotiator between different governments in the area in their discussions with rebel groups.WikiLeaks cables revealed Iyad Ag Ghali said that if Mali were to attack AQIM then the terrorist group "would respond by targeting Timbuktu, oil prospecting operations, and tourists in Mali."
The Malian people have no desire to live in a controlled theocracy under Sharia law. As the people flee in the hundreds of thousands to escape the unwanted control of Islamists it is likely that the rebel factions that have taken over the north will turn to infighting as the MNLA seek to oust the influence of Ag Ghali's Ansar al-Din and his troubling connections with AQIM.