Nouakchott — Internal divisions are tearing apart al-Qaeda's North African branch, leading some members to turn themselves in.
A Mauritanian terrorist from al-Qaeda's El Moulethemine brigade surrendered to Algerian security forces last week, Algeria's Ennahar daily reported Saturday (December 8th).
The unnamed terrorist was reportedly on "wanted" lists of Interpol and regional security agencies.
The man voluntarily turned himself in to the Algerian army at Timimoune airport on December 5th. He and at least seven other terrorists from the El Moulethemine brigade arrived at the airport in an SUV packed with weapons, including Kalashnikovs, heavy machine guns, mortars and ammunition.
The terrorists were reportedly planning to carry out attacks during New Year's celebrations.
The Mauritanian terror leader hails from the same al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) unit that recently saw the defection of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, better known as Laaouar. He reportedly turned himself in due to differences with Laaouar's group.
"So far, we haven't had enough information on the identity of the person who is detained in Algeria," Interpol official Ould Cheikh told Magharebia.
"However, as long as he belongs to Laaouar's terrorist brigade, he will certainly be a wanted element for us, given that most of the elements of that brigade have taken part in many terrorist attacks against Mauritanian targets and in Sahel."
Analyst Amar Ould Dahmed told Magharebia that another defection was possible due to the circumstances that al-Qaeda is currently going through.
Ould Dahmed attributes these cracks to several factors, including Laaouar's announcement that he quit AQIM to establish a new emirate. The move does not appeal to some of his extremist cohorts who saw it as reckless and opposition to al-Qaeda's main line, Ould Dahmed said.
Therefore, the terrorists believe that any new brigade by Laaouar would be illegitimate and may even put their own lives in danger, he added. However, the members that embrace this position haven't yet had the chance to directly defect from Laaouar and are now waiting for a suitable opportunity.
The divisions within AQIM could also be due to some members' fears of a regional war against the terror network, according to Ould Dahmed.
Another other issue that may motivate young people to escape is their feeling that Ansar al-Din, which has always played the role of local host and protector, is about to abandon them, Ould Dahmed added.
The Malian Islamist group is currently in negotiations with regional mediators, the analyst added, leading some terrorists to fear it could give up its demand for Sharia.