AQIM LEADERS MOKHTAR BELMOKHTAR AND ABDELMALEK DROUKDEL SPLIT
Mokhtar Belmokhtar is an Algerian-born former commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In July, he was reported to have been killed or seriously injured in the battle of Gao, in which AQIM supported the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and seized control of Gao from the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, July 12). Although the rumor of his death proved to be false, in October new reports emerged that he was removed from his AQIM combat unit, the Mulathamin Brigade. In December more rumors emerged about Belmokhtar. Now he is believed to have left AQIM in order to focus his efforts in sub-Saharan countries outside of the traditional Maghreb region, such as Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger (AFP, December 3). According to Omar Ould Hamaha, a former deputy of Belmokhtar and recent chief of staff of MUJWA, Belmokhtar will still remain under the orders of al-Qaeda Central (AP, October 15).
Belmokhtar’s departure from AQIM results from his falling out of favor of AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel and other members of AQIM who question Belmokhtar’s commitment to Shari’a because of Belmokhtar’s reputation as a weapons and drug smuggler (AFP, October 15). He is now planning to establish a new battalion named “Mouakaoun Bidima” the “Signatories by Blood” (Le Temps d’Algerie, December 7). In a video that Belmokhtar released after his dismissal, he said that he had foreign militants under his command and that they were prepared for suicide bombings.  He also warned all countries against intervening in Mali.
Meanwhile, Abdelmalek Droukdel is also sending a warning to European and African countries against any military intervention in Mali. In a video message, he said, “If you want peace and security in your country, we are for it. If you want war, the Sahara is a large graveyard for your soldiers and a disaster for your interests.” Belmokhtar and Droukdel may have parted ways, but they share common ground on threatening the international coalition against intervention. Whether they will follow up and fight the international forces in conventional battles in the cities, engage in guerilla combat, or return to their desert smuggling ways will be known once the intervention begins, as expected, in early 2013.
1. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KV4vgFqiifM, December 5.
2. See: http://www.shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=188811, December 3.
PAKISTANI TALIBAN LEADERSHIP CHANGE EXPECTED IN 2013
The Pakistani Taliban is planning to change its leadership in 2013. Hakimullah Mahsud, who was elected chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistani (TTP) in 2009, will be replaced. According to Pakistan military officials, Wali ur Rehman is the likely new leader of the TTP. Rahman is on the U.S. State Department’s Most Wanted list, with a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. Among other militant activities, he has participated in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO personnel and was allegedly involved in the attack against CIA officers on December 30, 2009, at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan (Indian Express, December 7). In the attack, a Jordanian citizen posing as an informant carried out a suicide bombing during a meeting with CIA officers, killing seven officers. It was the highest number of CIA officers to have been killed in a single attack since the 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. The State Department has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Mahsud’s capture.
The change in leadership is related to the U.S. plans to significantly reduce its troop presence in Afghanistan in 2013. Whereas Hakimullah Mahsud is known to be a “brutal commander,” Rehman is “a more pragmatic [leader] for whom reconciliation has become a priority (Express Tribune, December 7).” This strategy may allow the TTP to portray itself as responsible for expediting the withdrawal of the U.S. forces and boost TTP morale and momentum as Afghanistan and Pakistan move into a post-U.S. withdrawal era after a decade of intense U.S. military involvement in the country. A reduction of tensions with the Pakistani government would allow the TTP to focus on Afghanistan and, according to a Pakistani official, “complicate Western efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before most NATO troops leave by the end of 2014 (ANI [New Delhi], December 7).”