Algiers — Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) just declared its support for the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), El Khabar reported Wednesday (July 2nd).
In a video posted last Friday, al-Qaeda's Maghreb affiliate expressed its support for "the mujahedeen" in Iraq. The message implicitly criticised al-Qaeda central and other branches for not publicly supporting the rising terror organisation.
Abu Abdullah Othman al-Asemi, AQIM's "judge" for the central region, addressed ISIS in the video, saying his companions "want to link with you".
"You're dearer to us than our own families and relatives and we always pray for you," the AQIM figure said.
Al-Asemi, whose real name is unknown and who is believed to have recently joined the group led by Abdalmalek Droukdel, added: "We're still waiting for al-Qaeda branches here and there to show their position and declare support for you."
The phrase "show their position" carries an indirect call to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri to reveal his stance on the Levantine jihadist group.
In another implied reference to al-Qaeda leadership, al-Asemi said: "As those concerned have been silent, we wanted to show our position... so the mujahedeen of ISIS may know that we won't let them down."
The video carried nothing indicating that AQIM wanted to support ISIS with fighters and weapons, or provide any type of assistance other than moral support.
Yet it shows that there is an organisational break with the al-Zawahiri-led network. There has clearly been no communication between al-Qaeda central and the Maghreb branch on the issue of ISIS and what it is doing in Iraq.
Many experts believe that AQIM's declaration of support for ISIS was an indication of looming regional changes that may eventually prompt the group to change itself from a branch of al-Qaeda to a branch under the command of "the caliph of Muslims".
"AQIM is confident that things will change and that an Islamic state in the Arab Maghreb may be declared," retired military officer Taher ben Thamer said. "Therefore, it is rushing to act so it can win the leading position in the new jihadist organisation that will be created on the ruins of pro-al-Qaeda organisations."
"I don't know exactly what form the new organisation will have; however, it will certainly not be restricted to North Africa, but will extend to Sahel countries, West Africa and Somalia to form an Islamic state comprising several African states," he added.
El Khabar recently cited a security source as saying that ten states, including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania and Egypt, have increased their aerial and satellite surveys of northern Mali, Libya, and parts of northern Niger to identify the location of an expected summit of the top jihadist groups in North Africa.
AQIM, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia and Libya, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis in Egypt, El Mourabitounes and Ansar al-Din in northern Mali decided to hold a meeting somewhere in Libya to examine several issues, the most important of which is the dispute between al-Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri and ISIS.
The conference will also reportedly address the unification of some groups, especially those in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Mali.
"AQIM's declaration is an attempt to take the initiative in case the jihadist organisations redistribute roles in the region or new actors appear," security affairs analyst Omar Abderrahmane said. "AQIM wants to be the number one group, whether with the parent al-Qaeda or ISIS."
Abderrahmane added: "AQIM has lost much of its power and capabilities, and its operations are now limited and without much impact. Meanwhile, other groups appeared, such as the one led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar that carried out carefully-planned operations, which AQIM couldn't do."
"Therefore, AQIM is trying hard to win a moral push and perhaps receive logistical support later to tip the balance in its favour against the other groups," the expert concluded.