North African spy chiefs meet to fight Al Qaeda

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Intelligence chiefs from four north African countries were meeting in Algiers on Wednesday to set up a centre for joint operations against Al Qaeda in the region, a source at the talks said.

The source, who is taking part in the talks, told AFP intelligence chiefs from Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria were attending the meeting which was under way.

"The atmosphere is good and we are going to end the talks today," said the source, speaking by telephone to AFP in the Mali capital Bamako.

The source said that there was basic agreement between the four participants "that the centre should be based in Algiers."

But he said that other nations of the Sahel region of North Africa where the terror threat is spreading should be invited to participate in the operation.

These nations would include Chad, Libya and Morocco who must "join the club," the source said, while adding that not everyone agreed and that strained ties between some of the nations such as Algeria and Morocco would reduce the chances of broadening the operation for now.

The talks are taking place three days after a meeting of the chiefs of general staff of the four countries in Tamanrasset in the south of Algeria, where they made known their readiness to step up the struggle against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

AQIM is active in all four countries and operates across their desert borders in the Sahel, a band of territory between the Sahara desert to the north and grasslands to the south.

In mid-September, AQIM claimed responsibility for taking seven hostages in northern Niger, who have since been transferred to northeastern Mali, close to the Algerian border.

The hostages were kidnapped by an armed gang in a September 16 raid on a uranium mining town.

According to the Algerian newspaper Liberte, the four African nations face obstacles in working together on terrorism including the failure of Western nations to share information supplied by sophisticated surveillance techniques such as satellite images.

Newspaper also cite Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday condemned nations who pay ransom to terrorists, saying the money fuelled the spread of the problem.

France was sharply criticised in Algeria in February after Frenchman Pierre Camatte was freed after three months in captivity at the hands of Al Qaeda. He was freed after Al Qaida demands for the release of four detained Islamists were met.

France has said that it is willing to talk to Al Qaeda about the release of the hostages captured in September.

© 2010 AFP

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