Sahel: Abdelmalek Droukdel’s decline was also that of Aqmi

After Abou Zeïd and Djamel Okacha, another figure of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi) has just fallen: that of Abdelmalek Droukdel, also killed by French forces in northern Mali, according to a tweet published Friday evening by the French Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly.

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Cornered, contested by the new generations of the Islamic State group, diminished by years of clandestine life in the maquis, the emir of Aqmi who fell at the dawn of his fifties near Tessalit had nothing more in common with the Abou Moussab Abdel Woudoud – his real name – who joined the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in the early 1990s, took the head of the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) in 2004 with the protection of his mentor Abou Moussab al -Zarqaoui, then pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in 2006.

While Aqmi had established itself durably in the maquis of northern Algeria in the early 2000s, then had extended its hold to the Sahel via the Sahara, for fifteen years – the attacks of Algiers in 2007 were his last major attacks – Droukdel had not succeeded in halting his decline and that of his organization despite an attempt to redeploy in northern Mali.

In 2011, he got closer to Iyad ag-Ghaly, the “desert fox”, ex-leader of the Tuareg rebellion versed in Islamism after a stay in Saudi Arabia. The alliance between Droukdel and the emblematic smuggler of the Ifoghas region (northern Mali), intermediary of almost all negotiations for the release of the hostages, will materialize in 2017 with the creation of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims in the Islamic Maghreb (GSIM). This consortium, which aims to unite the forces of armed Islamist groups in the region, brings together al-Mourabitoune (the group of Mokhtar Belmokhtar), the emirate of Sahara of Aqmi, the katibas of Macina of Amadou Koufa and Ansar Dine d’Iyad ag-Ghaly. According to Algerian security sources, in 2018 the movement represented a force of around 2,000 men.

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IS competition

If Aqmi found itself forced into withdrawal to Mali, it is, according to an Algerian security source, thanks to the fight that Algeria has waged for twenty years against terrorism. “An armed struggle, which has relentlessly raked the Islamist maquis, but also the meticulous work of the intelligence services to dismantle the communication and logistics cells, but also a policy of raising public awareness so that it pushes the terrorists to lay down your arms, ”explains our interlocutor.

To this “almost total absence of internal support”, which even Abdelmalek Droukdel recognized, was grafted competition from new groups: first that of al-Mourabitoune, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, brain of the taking of hostages of Tiguentourine in 2013 – Droukdel finds him too independent, Belmokhtar accuses him of not having “made” Afghanistan -, then by that of the soldiers of the Caliphate affiliated to IS.

In 2014, Aqmi, according to Algerian military sources, experienced defections for the benefit of IS. By refusing to join Daesh and reaffirming his allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri (the emir of Al-Qaeda), Droukdel created against him a front “among those who found him too passive in the face of attacks by the army and who criticized that they could no longer mount a large-scale operation, ”underlines our source. The years that followed were even more complicated for Droukdel, challenged in his authority and whose room for maneuver, which had become very limited, only allowed him to set directions while the jihadists on the ground decided on the options.

In 2017 in particular, he lost several important executives, such as Bilel Kobi, Droukdel’s special envoy to Tunisia, Béchir ben Néji, emir in Tunisia, Adel Seghiri, head of propaganda for Aqmi, killed during operations military, some carried out in cooperation with Tunisia.

Read also Marc Mémier: “How Mokhtar Belmokhtar reconciled with Aqmi”

A nearly thirty year old horse

The attempt to withdraw from the coastal regions of Algeria towards the center, the east and the south-east having given nothing, the noose tightening more and more, it is therefore towards the Sahara that Aqmi has found a way out. In this immense desert, this soft belly of the continent, with invisible borders, smuggling and drug trafficking, the only job providers, provide an environment conducive to development and a breeding ground for potential combatants whom ransom money makes it possible to recruit. . It is from there that Droukdel sought a new breath. In 2017, in a long interview given to the magazine Inspire, a propaganda review of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQPA), he promised “a resounding failure” to IS. In what characterizes him, “a mixture of political Islam and Arab nationalism” to use the terms of the CEP (Counter Extremism Project), he also gives his analysis on “the colonialist policy” of France and the Arab revolutions.

But faced with the regrouping of terrorist houses, the French forces of Barkhane, helped by Algiers and Bamako, had organized the war. According to an Algerian security source, an agreement signed in July 2017 between France, Algeria and Mali, had outlined the main lines of a drying up of the maquis in the Sahel. Three important conditions had been set out in this agreement: allow Algerian investigators to communicate directly with fugitives in northern Mali, open secure passages in this area for “repentants” to avoid being killed by the French, Malian or African forces, and finally establishing real coordination to urge the leaders of the armed groups to surrender. In January, still according to Algerian security sources, Barkhane’s forces had drawn up a list of 50 priority “targets”. The operation against Droukdel, in which relatives of the Emir were also killed, was also said to have received assistance from the United States, including through intelligence, said army command spokesman Chris Karns American in Africa.

For Abdelmalek Droukdel, condemned to death in absentia by the Algerian justice on several occasions, it is a runaway of almost thirty years which ends.

Read also Sahel: the temptation to negotiate with terrorists

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