Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Who’s Who? Who is Behind the Terrorists?
Global Research, January 21, 2013
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Who is behind the terrorist group which attacked the BP -Statoil-Sonatrach In Amenas Gas Field Complex located on the Libyan border in South Eastern Algeria? (see map below)The operation was coordinated by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of the Al Qaeda affiliated Islamist al-Mulathameen (Masked) Brigade, or “Those who Sign with Blood.”
Belmokhtar’s organization has been involved in the drug trade, smuggling as well kidnapping operations of foreigners in North Africa. While his whereabouts are known, French intelligence has dubbed Belmokhtar “the uncatchable”.
Belmokhtar took responsibility on behalf of Al Qaeda for the kidnapping of 41 Western hostages including 7 Americans at the BP In Amenas Gas Field Complex.
Belmokhtar, however, was not directly involved in the actual attack. The field commander of the operation was Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, a veteran jihadist fighter from Niger, who joined Algeria’s Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in 2005. (Albawaba, January 17, 2013)
The In Amenas kidnapping operation was carried out five days after the conduct of air strikes by France directed against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants in northern Mali.
French special forces and Malian troops regained control of Diabaly and Konna, two small towns North of Mopti. The town of Diabaly had apparently been taken over a few days earlier by fighters led by one of the leading AQIM commanders Abdelhamid Abou Zeid.
While the terrorist attack and kidnapping directed against the In Amenas Gas plant was described as an act of revenge, it was not in any way improvised, Confirmed by analysts, the operation had in all likelihood been planned well in advance:
“European and U.S. officials say the raid was almost certainly too elaborate to have been planned in so short a time, although the French campaign could have been one trigger for fighters to launch an assault they had already prepared.”
According to recent reports (January 20, 2012) there are some 80 casualties, including hostages and jihadist fighters. There were several hundred workers at the gas plant, most of whom were Algerian. “Of those rescued, only 107 out of 792 workers were foreign”, according to the Algerian Ministry of Interior.The British and French governments laid the blame on the jihadists. In the words of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron:
“Of course people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched this vicious and cowardly attack. (Reuters, January 20, 2013).
News reports confirm, however, that a large number of the deaths of both the hostages and the Islamic fighters was the result of the bombing raids led by Algerian forces.
Negotiations with the captors, which could have saved lives, had not been seriously contemplated by either the Algerian or Western governments. The militants had demanded an end to France’s attacks in northern Mali in return for the safety of the hostages. Al Qaeda leader Belmokhtar had stated:
“We are ready to negotiate with the West and the Algerian government provided they stop their bombing of Mali’s Muslims” (Reuters, January 20, 2013)
Within the ranks of the jihadists were mercenaries from a number of Muslim countries including Libya (yet to be confirmed) as well as fighters from Western countries.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Who’s Who?There are a number of affiliated groups which are actively involved in northern Mali:
- Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) led by Abdelmalek Droukdel, “the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”,
- Ansar Ed-Dine led by Iyad Ag Ghaly,
- the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA).
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is a Tuareg secular nationalist and independence movement.
In September 2006, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) joined forces with Al Qaeda. The GSPC was founded by Hassan Hattab a former GIA commander.
In January 2007, the group officially changed its name to the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Also in early 2007, the newly formed AQIM established a close relationship with the Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
The commanders of the GSPC had been inspired by the religious teaching of Salafism in Saudi Arabia, which historically played an important role in the training of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.
The history of AQIM jihadist commanders is of significance in addressing the broader issue:
- Who is behind the various Al Qaeda affiliated factions?
- Who is supporting the terrorists?
- What political and economic interests are being served?
Most of AQIM’s major leaders are believed to have trained in Afghanistan during the 1979-1989 war against the Soviets as part of a group of North African volunteers known as “Afghan Arabs” that returned to the region and radicalized Islamist movements in the years that followed. The group is divided into “katibas” or brigades, which are clustered into different and often independent cells.The group’s top leader, or emir, since 2004 has been Abdelmalek Droukdel, also known as Abou Mossab Abdelwadoud, a trained engineer and explosives expert who has fought in Afghanistan and has roots with the GIA in Algeria. It is under Droukdel’s leadership that AQIM declared France as its main target. One of the “most violent and radical” AQIM leaders is Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, according to counterterrorism experts. Abou Zied is linked to several kidnappings and executions of Europeans in the region. (Council on Foreign Relations, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, cfr.org, undated)
What the CFR report fails to mention is that the Islamic jihad in Afghanistan was a CIA initiative, initially launched in 1979 during the Carter administration. It was actively supported by president Ronald Reagan throughout the 1980s.
In 1979 the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA was launched in Afghanistan. Wahabi missionaries from Saudi Arabia set up the Coranic schools (madrassahs) in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Islamic textbooks used in the madrassahs were printed and published in Nebraska. Covert funding was channeled to the Mujahideen with the support of the CIA:
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), using Pakistan’s military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), played a key role in training the Mujahideen. In turn, the CIA-sponsored guerrilla training was integrated with the teachings of Islam:“With the active encouragement of the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI, who wanted to turn the Afghan Jihad into a global war waged by all Muslim states against the Soviet Union, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 40 Islamic countries joined Afghanistan’s fight between 1982 and 1992. Tens of thousands more came to study in Pakistani madrasahs. Eventually, more than 100,000 foreign Muslim radicals were directly influenced by the Afghan jihad.” (Ahmed Rashid, “The Taliban: Exporting Extremism”, Foreign Affairs, November-December 1999).
In March 1985, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166,...[which] authorize[d] stepped-up covert military aid to the Mujahideen, and it made clear that the secret Afghan war had a new goal: to defeat Soviet troops in Afghanistan through covert action and encourage a Soviet withdrawal. The new covert U.S. assistance began with a dramatic increase in arms supplies — a steady rise to 65,000 tons annually by 1987... as well as a “ceaseless stream” of CIA and Pentagon specialists who traveled to the secret headquarters of Pakistan’s ISI on the main road near Rawalpindi, Pakistan. There the CIA specialists met with Pakistani intelligence officers to help plan operations for the Afghan rebels.” (Steve Coll, Washington Post, July 19, 1992)
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, mastermind behind the terrorist attack by the Islamist al-Mulathameen (Masked) Brigade on the In Amenas Gas complex is one of the founding members of AQIM.