In a new audio message released yesterday, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud confirmed the death of an important commander. Almansour Ag Kassam, a veteran jihadist, had worked with several al Qaeda groups, including the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, or JNIM) in Mali.
While most of Wadoud’s statement focused on his criticisms of France, Kassam’s demise was so significant that the AQIM head felt compelled to mention it.
“We would also like to express our condolences to the Muslim Ummah for the martyrdom of the lion, the great brother, the master of the martyrs Almansour Ag Kassam…who was martyred in a Crusader airstrike along with six of this brothers weeks ago,” Wadoud said. (Kassam’s name is also sometimes rendered as Almansour Ag Alkassoum, Mansour Agh al-Qasim.)
On Nov. 15, France said that it killed seven jihadists, including Kassam, in an operation in the Gourma area of Mali’s Timbuktu region. Wadoud confirmed the events reported by the French Ministry of Defense, including the use of airstrikes and the number of jihadists killed.
According to a UN panel of experts, Kassam was previously a member of al Qaeda’s Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. His death is an important development in the Malian jihad, as he acted as a liaison between various parties. As researcher Héni Nsaibia has noted, Kassam was the main interlocutor between central Malian-based jihadist units, the al Qaeda-linked Ansaroul Islam in Burkina Faso, and JNIM’s leadership in northern Mali.
Kassam’s group is part of JNIM. It is known as Katibat AAA, or “3A” for Kassam’s initials (Almansour Ag Alkassoum) or also Katibat Gourma. Its men have been responsible for many attacks against French, UN, and Malian forces on the Malian-Burkina Faso borders.
Kassam’s death hurts al Qaeda’s operations in the region. However, the group has a significant number of commanders and fighters across several countries and has absorbed casualties to leaders without deterrence.
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