Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked al Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or the Those Who Sign in Blood Brigade, said that its fighters participated in yesterday’s double suicide attack in Niger along with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). The attack was launched to avenge the death of a senior al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb commander who was killed while fighting in Mali earlier this year, he claimed. The statement also put to rest rumors that Belmokhtar was killed in Mali by French and Chadian forces in early March.
Belmokhtar’s statement was posted on jihadist forums on May 23; it was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The statement was signed by Khalid Abu al Abbas, which is one of Belmokhtar’s aliases.
The May 23 suicide attacks, the first of their kind in Niger, targeted a military barracks in Agadez and a uranium mine in Arlit that supplies French reactors. The Agadez attack was executed by a five-man suicide assault team; 18 Nigerien soldiers and a civilian were killed. A MUJAO spokesman claimed credit for the attack.
Belmokhtar said the attacks in Niger were executed to avenge Abdel Hamid Abou Zeid, an AQIM commander who was killed by French and Chadian forces during a military operation to root out the terror group in northern Mali.
“We send to our dear Ummah a glad tiding of one of the epics of Islam that took place in the heart of the enemy land, and one of the invasions of al Mua’qi’oon Biddam under the name of the martyred commander, as we consider him, Abdel Hamid Abou Zeid,” Belmokhtar stated.
Belmokhtar said that “a battalion from our commandos who gave a pledge of allegiance to die rose to retaliate for him [Abou Zeid], coming from different countries to sign with their blood inside the fortresses of an enemy whose army was one of the foundations of the Crusader campaign on our Muslim land.”
The attack was also launched as “the first of our response to the statement of the President of Niger – from his masters in Paris – that he eliminated jihad and the mujahideen militarily.”
Warning that “more operations” are being prepared, Belmokhtar said, “We will move the battle to the inside of his country [Niger] if he doesn’t withdraw his mercenary army” from Mali. Belmokhtar also warned other countries who plan to provide “peacekeepers” in Mali that they will “taste the heat of death and wounds in [their] homelands and among [their] soldiers.”
“The convoys of martyrdom-seekers and commandos are ready and waiting for their targets and permission,” Belmokhtar concluded.
The al Mua’qi’oon Biddam fights throughout West Africa. In January, just after French forces invaded Mali to eject AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine from the north, Belmokhtar launched a large-scale suicide assault against the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria. More than 40 fighters carried out the attack. One of the assault teams was led by a Nigerien known as Abdul Rahman al Nigeri, who had led another assault on a military barracks in Mauritania in 2005. Belmokhtar claimed the attack in the name of al Qaeda.
Although Belmokhtar was reported to have been killed at the same time Abou Zeid was killed, the reports were never confirmed. The president of Chad and the military insisted that Belmokhtar was dead, but the French, who were adamant that Abu Zeid was killed, refused to speculate about the status of Belmokhtar. In early April, Hamad el Khairy, the head of MUJAO, claimed that Belmokhtar was alive.
Although Belmokhtar split with AQIM in December 2012, he still conducts joint operations with the group as well as with MUJAO. 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.