Recent U.S. cables leaked by the WikiLeaks website show al-Qaida gaining a foothold in the Sahel, a lawless region in the Sahara desert, straddling the African nations of Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Algeria. How to counter and curb growing Islamist militancy and banditry in this vast, poorly policed zone is a priority for governments in West Africa, Washington and beyond.
Motorbikes buzz up and down the streets of the ancient, sandy town of Agadez, the regional capital of northern Niger and the gateway to the desert. The town is largely empty of tourists who used to flock in their thousands to the historic town, en route to and from the desert.
Mayor Yahaya Namassa Kane partly blames a three-year Tuareg rebellion for their absence. But he’s also irked by Western travel advisories issued after seven foreigners were abducted in mid-September in northern Niger.