Nigerien jihadist identified as commander of Algerian hostage operation
Abdul Rahman al Nigeri. Image from the Nouakchott News Agency, via the SITE Intelligence Group.
The commander of the raid on an Algerian facility that produces 10 percent of the country's natural gas exports and who is still holding foreign hostages has been identified as a seasoned jihadist from the country of Niger.
Abdul Rahman al Nigeri, who is also known as Abu Dujana, is leading the raid at the In Amenas facility in southeastern Algeria that has so far resulted in the deaths of several foreign and Algerian hostages.
Reports of the exact number of foreigners and Algerian hostages killed and still in the custody of the al Qaeda-linked group remain unclear more than one day after Algerian security forces launched an attack on the facility to retake the complex and free the hostages. The al Qaeda-linked jihadists are demanding the release of Omar Abdel Rahman (the "Blind Sheikh") and Aafia Siddiqui ("Lady Al Qaeda"), as well as an end to the French intervention in Mali [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda group demands release of 2 well-known jihadists].
Al Nigeri is leading an assault team estimated at 40 fighters from the al-Mua'qi'oon Biddam, or Those who Sign with Blood Brigade, according to two articles published by the Nouakchott News Agency, a Mauritanian news service that has close links to jihadists in the region. The articles were obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The jihadist assault team is said to have infiltrated Algeria from Niger, according to the Nouakchott News Agency. CNN reported that the attack was launched from Libya and and the fighters were trained at camps linked to al Qaeda.
The al-Mua'qi'oon Biddam assault unit was split into two teams, one that was led by Abu al-Bara'a al-Jaza'iri, who took hostages in the residential area of the facility, and another by al Nigeri himself, who targeted the factory and is also holding hostages there. Al Jaza'iri is reported to have been killed during the Algerian military assault. Al Nigeri claimed that the Algerian military killed 16 of his fighters and 35 hostages in an airstrike on vehicles that were transporting the hostages. Several foreign fighters, including a Frenchman, a Malian, two Tunisians, two Libyans, and three Egyptians are said to have been killed.
According to the Nouakchott News Agency, al Nigeri "is from one of the Arab tribes in Niger and joined the Algerian Salafist Group for Call and Combat in Azawad during the first half of 2005." The Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC, officially joined al Qaeda in 2006 and adopted the name al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Al Nigeri is a senior lieutenant to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the head of the al-Mua'qi'oon Biddam. Although Belmokhtar split with AQIM in December 2012, he still conducts joint operations with the group. Belmokhtar reports directly to al Qaeda's central leadership, according to his spokesman. Al Qaeda central tightened its control over AQIM's hostage operations in late 2010. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations.]
Al Nigeri is described as "the man of difficult missions in the brigade," or essentially the leader of Belmokhtar's special operations team. In June 2005, al Nigeri led the GSPC team that assaulted a Mauritanian military barracks in Lamghiti in northern Mauritania. Seventeen Mauritanian soldiers were killed in the attack.