Al Qaeda new alliance
The creation of a new alliance in the Sahel region of groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Sahel at the beginning of March 2017, called Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (Jama’at Nosrat Al-Islam Wal-Mouslimin, JNIM), has just received back-to-back three validations of importance.
First from Syria, via the Organization for the liberation of Sham (Hay’ At to tahrir as-sham, OLS), another coalition lately created at the end of January 2017, gathering several groups with strong dominant pro Al-Qaida, who was pleased with this same dynamic of unit in their brothers of the Sahara.
Then from Algeria, through the voice of the chief of AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Abdelmalek Droukdel, aka Abou Mousab Abdelwadoud, who greeted via Al-Andalus, the body of official communication of its organization, this new stage in the fight against the enemies of Islam and the Muslims in the Sahel.
Finally, from the Central command of Al-Qaida, via Al-Sahab, its historical body, which thus definitively devoted the entry of the JNIM in its bosom – and its new strategy.
The Al-Zalaqa’s video broadcasted on March 5th had three different aims: to designate the “Whites” and not the Malian power as the common enemy, to demonstrate the inefficiency of Western intelligence by bringing together at the same location and with total impunity all the jihadist leaders. But beyond that, to demonstrate the ethnic diversity of the movement (Tuaregs, Arabs, Moors) in order to rally all the Sahelian people.
Vis-a-vis Daech temptation, source of dissensions and defections within Al-Qaida nebula, and of its ambitions to international, in particular in Africa, it was essential to tighten the rows and to reinforce the chain of command.
In the case of the JNIM, the influential Tuareg Malian Iyad Ag Ghali and chief of Ansar Eddine were placed at its head to federate locally and guarantee good coordination starting from Mali North of the unit of the operations conducted by the various components of the new organization.
The strategy will remain with the leader of AQIM alone, in liaison with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the central command of Al-Qaeda. However, this one demonstrates a real shift in its objectives of fighting against its enemies, and the first of them is France. A goal Al-Qaeda shares now with Daech.
Abdelmalek Droukdel stated “the oppression and aggression of France against the Sahel and Sahara tribes only strengthen the fraternity, solidarity and unity of these tribes”. He called to “export the war from our lands to the land of France and from our cities to theirs, so that they know the fear that our people endured in our occupied lands”.
But JNIM’s strategy of action, and it is the direction of the message of Abdelmalek Droukdel, remains with the only hands of the chief of AQMI, in connection with the central command of Al-Qaida, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
JNIM claimed on April 8th a deadly ambush on French troops in Mali, near the small town of Douna, close to the border with Burkina Faso. The assault, which occurred throughout the day, left one French soldier killed and two others wounded. It has also claimed the shelling of a French military base. In northern Mali, JNIM also claimed launching several Grad rockets into the Amachach base near the town of Tessalit in the Kidal Region. The Amachach base has long been a target for jihadists in Mali, including both Grad rockets and IED’s placed outside of the base.
The creation of JNIM, an alliance of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the countries of the zone is far more than just another evolution in the jihadist landscape in the Sahel. It has above all a tactical objective on the issue of the peace agreements in northern Mali.
This new organization includes AQIM-Emirate of the Sahara, Al-Mourabitoune, Front Macina and Ansar Eddine, whose leader, the Malian Touareg from Kidal, Iyad Ag Ghali, ensures the command. It was he himself who announced by video on March 2nd the creation of the JNIM alongside the leaders of other organizations, and has set up his own communication agency “Al-Zalaqa”.
In Addition, it may be noted that the Algerian Al-Mourabitoune’s leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was not present but only represented by one of his right-hand men, Hassan Al-Ansari. This gives grist to rumours that he was killed or seriously injured during a raid on Libyan south last November.
The overall increase of the Islamic State in Africa and in the Sahel — including in Algeria — on its traditional grounds has, in fact, contributed to initiate within Al-Qaida a pro-active management of all operating units, for better preventing the defections towards the IS and showing its force. But it is also to impose another power struggle and to obtain another victory as that of Islam and the Muslims.
A new stage in the struggle for leadership which Al-Qaeda and Daech is engaged between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. With the French territory as playground.
But other jihadist groups strengthen too
In the Sahel, the situation is all the more alarming as, besides the new alliance of the forces of recently formed AQMI, two other Jihadists armed groups seem to reinforce their capacities.
It is first of all the group Ansaroul Islam, which operates in the south on the border between Mali and Burkina Faso. This group is allegedly led by Malam Ibrahim Dicko, an ally of Amadou Kouffa, the leader of Ansar Dine’s Katibat Macina (Front de libération du Macina).
Additionally, based on operations conducted by both it and JNIM, it is likely that Ansaroul Islam is also part of Al Qaeda’s new entity in West Africa, even if its allegiance to AQIM is still not clearly established.
But it is also the Sahelian branch of Daech, created in 2015 by former members of the group Al-Mourabitoune and combatants of an AQMI’s katibat, Al-Mulathamun. Directed by a former commander d’ Al-Mourabitoune, the Mauritanian Adnan Al-Sahrawi. This group of a hundred members is regarded by the Western intelligence services as the best structured of all African groups faithful to Daech, as Boko Haram, the Islamic State in Somalia or Jabhat East Africa.
Al-Mulathamun is responsible for three attacks against the security forces in Burkina Faso since September 2016 as well as the assault of a prison in Niger. This group has been officially recognized by Al-Baghdadi since this autumn. According to general Waldhauser, Commander for US Africa Command, this group could get ready to enlist Daech fighters in Libya who would now regroup in the south of the country.
Indeed, Daech has not given up on the African continent and is trying to restructure around three zones of operations: the Sahara, the Sinai and the Horn of Africa.
Meanwhile, in Mali… Regrouping and relations of forces
In spite of the repeated carry-forwards and blockings since nearly two years, the application of the agreement of Algiers between the Malian government and the armed groups saw some developments. In one week, the temporary authorities could, not without crispation, settle into three areas in the north: Kidal, Gao and Ménaka. As for Taoudéni and Tombouctou, they still resist the Islamic rebellion who place pressure in order to play a part in the game within the implementation of the agreement.
Iyad Ag Ghali, the strong man of the Azawad with a powerful interpersonal relationship, is posing as a key actor of peace, with whom the international community must negotiate to guarantee the process and its sustainability.
This JNIM “coalition” opportunely gives a framework to this double ambition, to keep a hand on the north and to reap the dividends of the peace, otherwise recalling its capacity of nuisance.