French forces kill two al Qaeda leaders in Mali

Map of al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali and Niger since 2014. Map created by Caleb Weiss for The Long War Journal.

The French Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced that its forces killed two al Qaeda leaders in an operation in northern Mali. The special forces raids were undertaken on the nights of May 17 and 18 according to the MoD. The two were both Tuareg leaders within the jihadist group’s network in Mali.

The statement says that “four terrorists were killed in the fighting,” including Hamada Ag Hama, who also went by Abdul Karim al Tuareg. Al Tuareg, who was the leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Katibat al Ansar, was responsible for taking several French hostages in the North African country, according to RFI. The French publication reported that the al Qaeda leader kidnapped and murdered two of its reporters in 2013.

AQIM’s Katibat al Ansar was formed in 2010 in Mali by Tuaregs from Mali and Niger who did not want to serve under the command of Algerian al Qaeda leaders. As such, Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of AQIM, deferred command of the Tuareg battalion to al Tuareg. Besides the two RFI reporters, the group was behind the murder of several other foreign hostages held by AQIM.

The second terrorist killed by French special forces was identified as Ibrahim Ag Inawalen. Inawalen has been described by the French MoD as a leader of Ansar Dine, the local Malian jihadist group. Ansar Dine, which is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, is considered to be part of al Qaeda’s network in Mali. The jihadist group was formed in 2011 and throughout 2012 the group worked with AQIM, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Tuareg separatist groups to take over Mali’s north. A confidential letter written by Abdelmalek Droukdel that was found after the liberation of northern Mali stated that AQIM fighters should hide their activities under the banner of Ansar Dine.

The MoD ended the press statement by saying that this is a “new blow” to al Qaeda in Mali since the death of Ahmed al Tilemsi. On Dec. 11th, 2014, French special forces killed Tilemsi in a raid in Gao. Tilemsi was the leader of MUJAO, which merged with veteran al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Al Mulathameen Brigade to form Al Murabitoon in 2013.

Confusion has recently occurred since a leader within Al Murabitoon claimed to have spoken for the entire group when he defected to the Islamic State.  However, it became clear that Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi, a former spokesman for MUJAO, was only speaking for part of the MUJAO side of the group. Mokhtar Belmokhtar purportedly released a statement two days later confirming that he and his Al Mulathameen Brigade did not defect from al Qaeda.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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  • Jeff Edelman says:

    Only two casualties. No injuries. It seems odd to me that no one was standing in the way of the French when they came to get these guys. And, it happened on different nights. Seems odd.

  • Zimmermann says:

    4 deads, not 2.
    “Quatre terroristes ont été tués au cours des combats. Parmi eux figurent Amada Ag Hamaalias « Abdelkrim le Touareg » et Ibrahim Ag Inawalen alias « Bana »”

    And it happened during on the night between the 17th and the 18th of May. The special forces acted against a convoy of 4 pick-ups, after receiving informations from the DGSE.

    It happened just a few days after the interception of a drug convoy in Mali (1,5 tons of drug, 3 killed, 3 prisonners…). I guess the prisonners were somewhat talkative : Abdelkrim el Targui is involved in drug traficking.

  • mike merlo says:

    thanks for the map


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