Wide Angle

Wagner militias recruit desperate Sahrawis from Tindouf Camps

Driven by poverty, young Sahrawis from the Tindouf camps, similar to those who joined jihadist groups in the Sahel, are now being recruited by the Wagner militias.

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The Russian Wagner militias are recruiting young Sahrawis settled in the Tindouf camps, announces the Forum for the Support of Tindouf Autonomists (FORSATIN). «The attack carried out, in early April, by elements of the Wagner group in Mauritanian territory provided proof of the participation of young Sahrawis, wearing the uniforms of the Russian militias», specifies the same source.

«Survivors' testimonies reported the presence of militiamen speaking the Hassani dialect. Their mission was to facilitate communication with the inhabitants» of the Mauritanian villages targeted by the Wagner group, assures FORSATIN. The Forum puts forward the figure of «500» young people from the Tindouf camps who allegedly joined the Wagner militias, in exchange for «3,000 dollars per month».

The integration of Wagner militias, however, is subject to conditions. «Recruits must be single and sever all ties with their past, renounce their true identity, and commit to not communicating with their families. The recruitment operation is supervised by Polisario officials», adds FORSATIN.

«Wagner is a company that seeks specific profiles. The Sahrawis from the Tindouf camps, due to their military training, are better placed to join the group», Ali Ansari, president of the Timbuktu Center for Studies, told to Yabiladi. «The very difficult economic conditions in the camps, especially for recruits from impoverished families, push young people to join Wagner», he explains.

Ideal breeding ground

Cheikh Ahmed Amine, publication director of the Mauritanian site Anbaa, highlights the Tindouf camps as a potential breeding ground for Wagner. «Sahrawis possess not only weapons and explosives training but also a deep familiarity with the Sahara and Sahel regions», Amine says. «Some Sahrawis already have experience working with smuggling and drug trafficking groups, which Wagner seeks».

The experts point out that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Daesh have also recruited Sahrawis. Examples include Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui and Abou Houzeifa, killed in 2021 and April 2024 respectively.

Notably, a Polisario media outlet itself revealed in 2017 that Sahrawis from the Tindouf camps had joined AQIM and Daesh, a fact reported by Yabiladi at the time.

In his April 2015 report on Western Sahara, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned the international community about «the growing frustration among Sahrawis and the expansion of criminal and extremist networks in the Sahel-Sahara region», factors posing «increased risks for the stability and security of the region». This warning has been reiterated by Antonio Guterres in his reports.

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