By Walid Ramzi
The head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Mali operations died in a car crash Saturday (September 8th) on the road from Gao to Timbuktu.
Nabil Makloufi, an Algerian national better known as Nabil Abu Alqama, was killed along with fellow terrorist Abderrezak al-Ansari, according to Mauritanian and Malian news reports. In addition to heading up Mali operations, Abu Alqama served as AQIM’s deputy emir for the Sahara.
Just a week before his death, Abu Alqama appeared in an al-Qaeda video confirming the execution of Algerian diplomat Taher Touati.
“Nabil Makloufi was called to God on Saturday night,” AFP quoted Islamist militant Moussa Ould Mohamed as saying. “He was killed with other brothers in a car accident between Gao and Timbuktu.”
Sidi Mohamed Ag Ahmed, a National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) fighter in al-Nahr area of northern Mali, said that Makloufi died along with two other terrorists when a tire exploded on their all-terrain vehicle as it travelled at high speed, sending it into a slope.
Makloufi was believed to be in his 40s and was a veteran fighter of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and deputy to the commander of AQIM’s Sahara emirate, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid. He was a prominent leader of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) before it turned into AQIM and a member of El Moulethemine battalion before he was selected as deputy commander of southern region early this year.
He was also close to AQIM chief Abdalmalek Droukdel, alias Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud, as Droukdel sent him in November 2011 to the Sahara to try to resolve disputes between group leaders.
Abu Alqama’s death came 25 days after an operation carried out by Algerian security agencies in Berriane, Ghardaia province, dealt another blow to the terror network. Special Forces captured Necib Tayeb, the head of the judicial commission and a member of AQIM’s council of notables. Also known as Abou Ishak Essoufi, al-Qaeda and its allies in the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) had been seeking the release of Tayeb in exchange for Touati.
Security reports indicate that a number of individuals wanted by the Algerian security authorities have been killed in operations in northern Mali and internal fighting, including terrorists from El Menea in Ghardaia province, Oued Souf and Biskra. However, there was no official confirmation of their death.
This has prompted veteran GIA fighters who joined AQIM to further distance themselves from direct involvement in terrorist operations to avoid more losses among Algerian terrorists.
The Algerian security authorities have counted at least 146 dangerous terrorists of Algerian origin in AQIM’s Sahara emirate and MUJAO, according to Algeria’s El Khabar. Eighty out of the 146 wanted terrorists hail from southern Algeria provinces and most of them were sentenced to death or life imprisonment in absentia on terrorism charges.
The same report said that 40 of those who have been wanted since 2002 were removed from list after they were either killed or arrested.
Those still on the list of wanted terrorists includes leaders in al-Qaeda who took part in armed action since the outset of security crisis in Algeria, foremost among whom are Mokhtar Belmokhtar (Laaouar), Mohamed Ghadir (Abdelhamid Abou Zeid), Yahia Djouadi (Abou Ammar) and Toumi al-Naser (Abou Feras Essoufi).
AQIM and MUJAO fighters were key forces in enabling Ansar al-Din under the leadership of Iyad Ag Ghaly to seize control of northern Mali.
Algerian authorities now fear that the terrorist groups may succeed in forming support cells to provide information on government sites which can be targeted in operations by armed groups.
The security authorities have noticed disappearances of young people hailing from some southern provinces, including the disappearance of 12 young people from Illizi who were formerly active in Movement of Sons of Sahara for Justice; something which indicates that they might have joined terrorist groups.