Magharebia (Washington DC)

11 December 2012

Algeria: Belmokhtar Breaks Away From AQIM

Nouakchott — The infamous terrorist known as "Laaouar" created a new brigade of suicide bombers.

Dissent is growing among terrorist groups controlling the Sahel. Former Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) emir Mokhtar Belmokhtar (aka "Laaouar") quit the group to assemble his own band of suicide bombers in northern Mali.

In a video statement obtained by ANI on December 6th, Belmokhtar said that his new katibat included foreign jihadists.

The Algerian terrorist (real name Khaled Abou El Abass) reportedly left AQIM after his demotion as head of the El Moulethemine katibat ("Brigade of the Veiled Ones")

"The Algerian believed to have been behind the kidnapping and deaths of several French nationals in the countries of the Sahel, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has announced in a video statement...that he is creating a new armed Islamist group called the Signers in Blood," Libération reported on Sunday (December 9th).

The new terrorist group "is headquartered in the Malian city of Gao, which is under the control of Islamists from the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an offshoot of AQIM".

Through the creation of the new group, Belmokhtar wants "to help to consolidate Sharia rule in northern Mali, where armed Islamists are enforcing Islamic law very strictly after having driven the Malian army out in the spring," the French daily added.

Belmokhtar will finance his activities "including the purchase of weapons" by "specialising in the kidnapping of Westerners, whom he usually frees in return for large ransoms".

"The differences which already existed between Laaouar and the Algerian leaders of AQIM led to him being ousted as leader of his brigade," terrorism expert Sidati Ould Cheikh said.

"AQIM recently decided to oust Laaouar and make Abou El Hammam head of the Emirate of the Sahara," he added.

Ould Cheikh explained that tensions have existed for some time within AQIM between Abou Zeid and Belmokhtar.

"One of the reasons for this dissent is the disagreement between these leaders over how to share the ransoms paid for the release of Western hostages," said Abdalahi Ould Ahmed, editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Chouhoud.

"As the organisation has grown and incorporated fighters of different origins, conflicts of interests have become increasingly frequent," he added.

Journalist Hamid Fekhart argued that "Droukdel's decision was motivated by the unruliness of his junior, who is thought to have been gunning for him over the past few months. Security sources say that the supreme leader, who tried in vain to bring Mokhtar Belmokhtar to heel, simply decided to relieve him of his duties as part of a bid to reorganise AQIM."

Fekhart noted that his successor, thirty-six year old Abou El Hammam, was reportedly "behind the kidnapping of an Italian-Burkina Faso couple in the Sahel in December 2010". Belmokhtar joined the Afghan mujahideen fighting against the Soviet Union at the age of 19. He returned to Algeria at the end of 1992 and help found the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). He joined the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in 1998.

Belmokhtar on Mali military intervention

"You can prevent a war from starting, but who can control its consequences or prevent it from spreading to other areas?" Belmokhtar told the Mauritanian paper al-Akhbar in a November 27th interview.

When asked why he has refused negotiations between the international community and Islamist groups in northern Mali, Belmokhtar commented: "The local movements, Ansar al-Din and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), who are speaking on behalf of the population, have made a clear demand for Sharia law to be enforced."

"Any country which now tries to impose anything else or intervenes in Azawad will be regarded as an oppressor, an aggressor who is attacking a Muslim nation which is enforcing Sharia law within its territory," he added.

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