Some revelation has emerged about the release of Italian, Malian and French hostages by the jihadist organisation led by Iyad Ag Ghali. In effect, their freedoms follow a unique pattern with millions of euros paid in ransom.
However, nobody has shown the faces of the mysterious negotiators leading to the releases because the negotiators are difficult to contact, discrete and do not like being in the limelight.
According to sources with knowledge of the negotiation process, the men in the networks and shadows are Malian national Ahmada Ag Bibi, a Nigerien, Mohamed Akotey, and a Mauritanian, Imam Moustapha Chafi.
Sources emphatically said that Bibi is the principal negotiator who obtained the freedom of opposition leader, Soumaila Cisse, and the French hostage, Sophie Petronin.
If he succeeded in achieving this feat, it is because he is a powerful member of the Ifhogas tribe. He is also a former member of the Tuareg rebellion in Mali during the 1990s under the regime of Gen. Moussa Traore.
After the defeat of the rebellion, the focus turned to Iyad Ag Gahli, who launched the Mouvement Ansar Eddine which occupied a large part of Malian territory for some time.
The coalition between Bibi and Gahli did not last long and Bibi returned to the secessionist movement, Haut Conseil pour l’Unité de l’Azawad – Higher Council for the Unity of Azawad.
Unfortunately, the Azawad independence aspiration encompassing all the northern regions of Mali did not succeed and its protagonists decided to pass through the political route to integrate the very closely-knit circles that governed Mali.
Bibi opted to join Rassemblement pour le Mali, the political party of the overthrown president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in 2013.
Bibi is known for his relationship with jihadist movements and he is also close to the Algerian secret services. He is credited with obtaining the release of the Arlit hostages in 2011 following long negotiations.
The Arlit hostages were seven employees of the French construction company, Vinci, and nuclear energy firm, Areva, who were kidnapped in northern Niger in 2010.
Another man in the shadows of the closed circle of negotiators with the jihadist movements is the Nigerien, Akotey. This man is also of the Ifhogas tribe and was in the ranks of the rebellion as Bibi of Mali.
He studied in France before returning to his country of origin, Niger, to succeed his uncle, Mano Dayak, who was a chief of the Tuaregs who died in 1995.
Unlike his late uncle, he did not fight against the authorities in Niger but preferred to sign a peace accord with the government to enable him to integrate the business world.
In May 2013, he was involved in negotiations for the release of the Artlit hostages as well as the Franco-Serbian hostage, Serge Lazarevic.
The third person in the trio of Men in the Shadows is Chafi, the Mauritanian and one of the most connected men on the African continent.
Unlike the other two negotiators, he does not reside in his country of origin but established his base in Burkina Faso from where he carries out his activities.
He is the son of a big family of the Tajakant tribe and spent his childhood in Nigeria with his father, who was a businessman.
The imam was a member of the closely-knit circle of close confidants of the former President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore.
Chafi only returned to Nouakchott after Mouhamed Ould Ghazouani came to power in Mauritania.
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