Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) announced in a video released today that its new emir is a longtime veteran of the group, Abu Ubaidah Yusef al Annabi. AQIM’s first emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel (a.k.a. Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud), was killed in early June during a French-led counterterrorism operation in Mali.
The al-Qaeda branch, which is based in North and West Africa, waited more than five months to publicly name Droukdel’s successor. The cause of the delay is unclear. The jihadists have observed mourning periods in the past before making similar announcements. Whatever the reason for the delay, members of AQIM’s shura council swore their allegiance to Annabi, thereby recognizing him as their emir.
The 20-plus minute video features an audio recording of Qutaybah Abu Numan al-Shinqiti, a religious scholar who works for AQIM and its West African arm, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM, or the “Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims”). He eulogizes Droukdel at length, describing and praising his life of jihad. The video also includes images of Droukdel’s corpse. Annabi is identified as Droukdel’s successor midway through the production.
Annabi’s role as Droukdel’s successor is unsurprising. A native Algerian, Annabi has long been a senior figure within AQIM’s hierarchy, serving as the head of the organization’s “Council of Notables,” as well as on the group’s shura council and in other positions.
After Osama bin Laden was killed in May 2011, Annabi pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri on AQIM’s behalf. This was an indication of the respect Annabi commanded within AQIM at the time, as the bayat (oath of fealty) is considered a crucially important religious matter within al Qaeda’s ranks.
In 2015, the U.S. State Department designated Annabi as a terrorist, noting that he served as AQIM’s media chief, among other roles. He has repeatedly threatened France, which has led efforts to contain and disrupt jihadists in the region since 2013.
French military officials identified Droukdel as Ayman al-Zawahiri’s “third deputy,” claiming that the AQIM honcho was also a member of al-Qaeda’s global “management committee.” If accurate, then it is possible that Annabi will also play a role in al-Qaeda’s management, if he doesn’t already, in addition to serving as the head of the group’s regional branch.
The video announcing Annabi’s new role was produced by AQIM’s Al-Andalus Media. It opens with a graphic showing the watermarks for all of al-Qaeda’s media branches side-by-side. The graphic is intended to emphasize the unity of the group’s global network, which has lost several key leaders in recent months.
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