Yet another al Qaeda-linked group has been formed in West Africa. Al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar united his group, the al-Mulathameen Brigade, with Ahmed el Tilemsi’s Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO, another al Qaeda sub-group) to form the al-Murabitoon Brigade. Both Belmokhtar and el Tilemsi are said to have ceded control of the al-Murabitoon to a commander who has waged jihad against both the Soviets and the US in Afghanistan.
The merger was first reported by the Nouakchott News Agency (ANI). The SITE Intelligence Group obtained and translated the ANI reports of the merger. ANI has been a reliable source of information on jihadist activities in West Africa. Below is an excerpt from SITE’s summary of the merger.
According to ANI, Belmoktar said he decided not to assume the leadership of al-Murabitoon in order to “empower a new generation of leaders”. While the new leader has not yet been named, ANI cited “knowledgeable sources” as saying that he had formerly fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and against the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in the 2000s.
In excerpts from al-Murabitoon’s first statement, the group reportedly threatened France and its allies in the region, and also called upon Muslims to target French interests everywhere. It stated: “We say to France and its allies in the region, receive the glad tidings of what will harm you, for the mujahideen have gathered against you and they pledged to deter your armies and destroy your plans and projects. By the grace of Allah, they are more firm and strong in your face, and your new war only increased their certitude, resolve and determination”.
And here is an excerpt of one of the ANI reports on the new emir of the al-Murabitoon:
Knowledgeable sources told Nouakchott News Agency that the new emir of the al-Murabitoon organization to whom Belmoktar and Ould ‘Amer gave allegiance, is a former fighter in Afghanistan who participated in the war against the Soviet Union in the 80s of the last century, and also participated in the war against the American forces in Afghanistan in 2002, and had arrived to Azawad awhile ago and was one of the commanders in the confrontation with France.
Sources did not disclose the identity of the new emir nor any additional information about him, but leaned heavily towards the idea that he is not Algerian, unlike the leaders of most of the armed organizations in the region.
And the group also expressed affinity to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and Taliban emir Mullah Omar:
In a clear expression of their intellectual and ideological affiliation to al-Qaeda Organization and the Taliban Movement, the new organization ended its first statement by directing a greeting to those it called “the leaders of this time, Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri”.
Both MUJAO and the al-Mulathameen Brigade separated from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb due to leadership issues, but continued to cooperate and fight alongside with AQIM in Mali and in other areas of West Africa.
The merger should come as no surprise. Belmokhtar’s forces and MUJAO have conducted joint operations in the past, and both groups are keen to punish the French for its intervention in northern Mali earlier this year. An alliance consisting of MUJAO, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Ansar Dine (AQIM’s front in Mali) was in control of northern Mali and marching south on the capital of Bamako before French troops entered the fray.
MUJAO conducted a joint suicide operation with the Those Who Sign in Blood Brigade [the al-Mua’qi’oon Biddam, a sub-unit of Belmokhtar’s al-Mulathameen Brigade] in Niger in late May. The attacks 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. Belmokhtar said the attacks were carried out to avenge the death of Abou Zeid, an AQIM commander killed by French forces in northern Mali.