The Director-General for Foreign Policy and Security at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fidel Sendagorta, has warned that many Sahrawis from the Polisario-controlled Tindouf refugee camps, in southwestern Algeria, are joining the terrorist Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
Speaking at the eighth Elcano Forum on Global Terrorism in Madrid, Sendagorta said that the “Sahelian Daesh” has recruited “abundantly” from the Tindouf camps.
“This is a phenomenon that should worry us because it is already very close to our strategic cultural world,” he said.
The Tindouf camps, located near the Moroccan-Algerian border, are infamous for their dire living conditions. The Algerian government fully delegated the management of the camps to the separatist Polisario Front.
Sendagorta added that the rise of extremist tendencies among the camps’ population is recent. He recalled that while serving as Spanish ambassador to Cuba, an old ally of the Polisario Front, he met with some Polisario members but they did not seem to follow a terrorist ideology.
“They had a nationalist and, if anything, a socialist ideology … There had never been an Islamist ideological derivative, let alone jihadist,” the diplomat explained.
Sendagorta, who also served as the Spanish ambassador to Morocco, urged participants in the forum to look for the reasons behind the rise of extremist ideologies in the region.
The diplomat gave the example of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the ISGS terrorist group, who received military training at a young age from the Polisario Front.
According to Sendagorta, terrorism in the Sahel region began from “an overflow of the phenomenon in Algeria.” The security expert explained that the leaders of early terrorist groups in the region were Algerian, and then “the phenomenon spread across Arab tribes and some Tuaregs.”
Sendagorta’s statements came as the international community is showing concern about the rise of terrorism in the Sahel, especially in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
According to the UN, the number of casualties that terrorist attacks caused in the three countries grew five-fold between 2016 and 2019.
In 2019 alone, terrorist attacks in the Sahel caused at least 4,000 deaths, rising from 770 deaths three years earlier.