Little known to the general public, he was one of the main leaders of the Sahelo-Saharan Islamist nebula for twenty years: the death of the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi), the Algerian Abdelmalek Droukdal, is a jihadist “kick in the anthill” whose impact has yet to be determined.
What happened ?
Everything was very fast Wednesday evening, June 3, in the Oued (riverbed) area of Ourdjane, two kilometers south of the village of Talhandak, in the vast desert expanse of the far north of Mali.
Located 80 km east of Tessalit as the crow flies and 20 km from the Algerian border, the wadi hosted “a meeting” between Aqmi chiefs, according to a local source interviewed by AFP. This wadi, far from the dwellings, is a place where the animals of the breeders of the area drink water, according to the same source.
In the early evening, “between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.,” a resident told AFP, “there was a strike and fighting” in the wadi. He says: a hit against a vehicle, “followed by the intervention of half a dozen helicopters, and men on the ground.”
The operation, led by French forces, was “carried out by an intervention module composed of helicopters and ground troops, all supported by aviation”, according to the spokesman for the state- French major, Colonel Frédéric Barbry.
Among the jihadists killed: Abdelmalek Droukdal (also spelled Droukdel), the leader of Aqmi, but also, according to the French general staff, Toufik Chaib, “a senior Aqmi officer in charge of the coordination and propaganda of this terrorist organization “.
Another “jihadist preferred to surrender without fighting” and was detained, added Colonel Barbry. The resident evokes the same toll: two dead and a prisoner.
The Talhandak area, a crossroads for road transporters who sometimes wait there for several weeks for the opening of the border with Algeria, “is a hotbed of migrant smuggling” in the Sahara, according to a member of the the UN in Mali joined by AFP.
What impact in the anti-jihadist struggle in the Sahel?
This operation, carried out with intelligence from the United States, according to the American army, is a “kick in the anthill” jihadist, explains to AFP Denis Tull, specialist West Africa at the IRSEM (Institute of military school strategic research) in Paris.
But, he thinks, “we won’t solve problems just by cutting off heads. It is very good to neutralize certain leaders, it will weaken the structures to a certain extent but we have seen on other grounds that the beheading of the leaders was never sufficient “.
Because Abdelmalek Droukdal is far from being the only jihadist leader in the Sahel: the region, mourning since 2012 by violence that continues to worsen, is the area of operations of several jihadist groups.
First there is the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, or JNIM according to its initials in Arabic), linked to Al-Qaeda, of which Aqmi is a member. This alliance formed in 2017 also brings together other groups, the main ones being Ansar Dine, led in northern Mali by Iyad Ag Ghaly, and the katiba Macina, founded in the center of the country by Amadou Koufa.
In the so-called “three borders” area between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, another group is very present: the Islamic State in the Grand Sahara (EIGS, affiliated to IS), led by Adnan Abou Walid Sahraoui.
For many months, violence has been concentrated in this region of the three borders, in the Center of Mali and in East Burkina Faso. “On the ground, today, the groups that act the most (those of Koufa and Sahraoui, Editor’s note) are not under the thumb of Droukdel,” notes Ibrahim Maïga, from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS ) in Bamako.
“The insurgent position will be maintained by these groups, even if the death of Droukdel shows them that no one is safe, that Barkhane can strike in their ranks,” he added.
“It’s a nice result” but “it doesn’t solve the Sahel problem,” said a French counterterrorism expert interviewed by the AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Because these problems are legion: recurrent attacks often with a community dimension – at least 26 villagers were still killed Friday in central Mali – political problems – suspicions of embezzlement in Niger, growing contestation of power in Mali – -, and accusations of atrocities against the national armies which are multiplying.
“Perhaps all this could overshadow this death,” observes Ibrahim Maïga.