AQIM claims Tuareg youth killed in US airstrike

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has released a statement denying that its members were killed in a Nov. 29 airstrike. The statement was disseminated via social media in both Arabic and English.

“We in [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] categorically deny any organizational link to those innocent Muslims targeted in Uwaynat in southwest Libya, asking Allah to cover them with His mercy and accept them among the martyrs,” the statement reads.

“We confirm what media reports said according to notables in the area, that those who were targeted were a group of Tuareg youth with no link to the organization, where they congregated at the house of one of their relatives who had been kidnapped along with others by gangs, and they left — may Allah accept them among the martyrs — in a convoy of four cars,” the message continues. “They were unjust[ly] bombed by one of the American drones hovering at the time over Ubari city, and that rarely leave its skies.”

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced the “precision airstrike” on Nov. 29, saying 11 AQIM “terrorists” were killed and three vehicles were destroyed. “At this time, we assess no civilians were injured or killed in this strike.”

“AFRICOM will use precision strikes to deny terrorists safe haven in Libya. We will keep pressure on their network, and they remain vulnerable wherever they are,” US Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg P. Olson, the director of operations at AFRICOM, said.

Thus far, AFRICOM hasn’t provided any additional information about those who were targeted or killed. The bombing was conducted in “coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA)” – a fact that AQIM quickly seized upon to denounce the Tripoli-based government.

AQIM portrays the airstrike as part of a Western conspiracy, led by America and France, “to change the demographics and the presence of the Tuareg population in the south of Libya.” The attacks are supposedly intended “to displace” the Tuaregs “from the region and bring them to serve the interests of the Crusader occupier.”

The al Qaeda jihadists blast Fayez al-Sarraj’s government as a “puppet” regime, “which came on the back of the frigate of the Italian occupier” to provide “legal cover” for the “armies of America, France, Italy and others in our beloved Maghreb.”

AQIM’s statement is intended to further inflame protests in the area. On Dec. 4, local protests were organized to call on the GNA to put an end to the airstrikes. According to Reuters, which cited “witnesses and participants,” the protesters held up signs that read “Africom attacked civilians” and “Africom is killing our sons.”

The al Qaeda branch wants Tuaregs to not only protest the bombing, but also to rally against the American drone base in Agadez, Niger.

“We also call upon all members of the Tuareg tribe to stand up to the presence of American drones and bases spread in the Islamic Maghreb, especially the base of the ‘Agadez’ in the north of Niger, where most of these aircraft fly out, by all Shari’ah means available, as these drones are killing your brothers on mere suspicion,” AQIM’s statement reads.

AQIM has been wooing Tuaregs to its cause for years. In Mar. 2017, several veteran jihadists announced the formation of the “Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims” (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, or JNIM). JNIM is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, a Malian Tuareg who is openly loyal to Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud (AQIM’s emir) and Ayman al Zawahiri, as well as the Taliban’s overall leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada.

Prior to leading JNIM, Ghaly headed Ansar Dine, a group that was backed by AQIM and part of the al Qaeda branch’s long-term plans for building an Islamic state in the region.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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