State Department announces reward for information on AQIM leader

The U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program is offering an award of up to $7 million for information on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) leader, Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi.

Al-Anabi was named the emir of AQIM in November 2020. His predecessor, Abdelmalek Droukdel (a.k.a. Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud), was killed during a French-led counterterrorism operation in Mali in early June 2020. Droukdel had served as AQIM’s honcho since the group’s emergence as an al Qaeda branch, or affiliate, in 2006.

The State Department’s announcement includes an intriguing line, saying that al-Anabi “is expected to play a role in al Qaeda’s global management.” It doesn’t say that he currently holds an global management position within the terror network, but the U.S. government may be anticipating such an appointment in the near future.

If al-Anabi is already a member of al Qaeda’s worldwide management team, or named to such a role, then it again demonstrates that there is no firm line of demarcation between the group’s so-called core and its affiliates. He would also be following in the Droukdel’s footsteps, as AQIM’s first emir also reportedly served in such a dual capacity.

After Droukdel was killed last year, French military officials described him as Ayman al-Zawahiri’s “third deputy,” explaining that he was also a member of al Qaeda’s global “management committee.” As FDD’s Long War Journal assessed in November, it is possible that al-Anabi will also be integrated into al Qaeda’s international management structure, if he hasn’t already.

The video announcing al-Anabi’s appointment as AQIM’s emir was produced by the group’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, despite leadership losses and other setbacks.

Al-Anabi was an unsurprising pick to serve role as Droukdel’s successor. A native Algerian, al-Anabi 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. He has commented on a variety of affairs, including the protests in Algeria.

After Osama bin Laden was killed in May 2011, al-Anabi pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri on AQIM’s behalf. This was an indication of the respect he 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, State Department designated al-Anabi 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.

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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