By Jemal Oumar
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Sahara emirate on Wednesday (November 28th) announced the creation of a 6th brigade called “Youssef ben Tachfine”.
The new brigade is made up mainly of Touaregs residing in the Azawad region of northern Mali. It is led by El Kairouani Abu Abdelhamid al-Kidali, a local Touareg active in the jihadist group.
“We created this brigade a few days ago, and we chose for it the name of Youssef ben Tachfine, the famous Almoravid leader who conquered Andalusia,” Alakhbar cited Abu Yahya al-Ansari, a member of Sahara emirate’s media committee, as saying.
“One of the area’s natives, Abu Abdelhakim al-Kairouani, was chosen to lead it. He is a member of the group’s al-Ansar brigade, led by Abdelkrim Tarki,” al-Ansari added.
Al-Kidali will have control of the area surrounding Kidal Aguelhok and the Tigherghar mountain range, which extends to the border with Algeria, Sahara Media reported. AQIM is believed to have set up its fortified strongholds in those parts.
Al-Kidali will join other AQIM leaders such as Abdelhamid Abu Zaid, Yahya Abou Al-Hammam, Khaled Abou El Abbas, alias “Laaouar”, and finally the Mauritanian Mohamed Lemine Ould Hacen al-Hadhrami. Al-Hadhrami was only appointed as leader of the Al Vourghan brigade last week.
“It’s clear that the creation of this brigade and the appointment of a Mauritanian a week ago to lead another brigade is part of preparations for the possible military confrontation with the African forces,” Iselmou Ould Elmoustafa, director of Tahalil website and an expert in jihadist groups in the Sahel, said.
“Therefore, the group now wants to adopt a policy based on decentralisation in distributing roles between the different components of the group. This is in addition to the jihadist group’s attempt to consolidate the concept of quotas in an attempt to contain local Touaregs and Arabs,” he added.
Ould Elmoustafa told Maghareiba that AQIM “was now trying to expand further in an area where there are new groups competing against it”.
Analyst and Sahel expert Houssein Ould Meddou added that through the creation of this new brigade, AQIM is “trying to consolidate its roots in Azawad through the involvement of different local components rather than focus on Algerian leaders only.”
“In addition, AQIM also took this move in an attempt to deal a blow to local Arab groups and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) that have always said that al-Qaeda is an international organisation without any relations with local populations,” Ould Meddou added.
Touareg analyst Abu Bakr al-Ansari explained that al-Qaeda’s recent adoption of an ethnic distribution system in the group reflects a desire to contain growing resentment by non-Algerians after they were denied leadership positions.
“There is no doubt that the creation of a brigade comprising Touaregs along al-Ansar brigade, led by Abdelkrim Tarki, is an attempt to appease the Touaregs, given that the group is based on their land,” al-Ansari added.