By Raby Ould Idoumou
Islamists in the north-eastern Malian town of Kidal have suffered a series of high-level defections, azawadweb.com reported on July 8th.
Al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Din, who are in control of northern Mali, launched several large-scale raids in Kidal and arrested many of the group’s young men for “mixing” with women, according to the website.
The harsh measures caused a number of their recruits to drop support for the radical Islamist group.
Meanwhile, Ansar al-Din denied reports about its growing disintegration and released two videos showing their recent battles against the Malian forces in Tessalit, Aguelhok and Kidal.
According to Sahara Media journalist al-Rajel Ould Oumar, the terrorist group is trying to cover up its failures in the region.
“It’s clear that the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi has had an effect on the media policy of al-Qaeda and its Maghreb branch,” he commented. “The terrorist groups in Mali are trying to fill that gap, but the weakness of its publicity approach is very clear.”
Observers were surprised that no al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leaders appeared in the video although its splinter group Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) had taken part in the Aguelhok battles where two of its members were killed.
Ansar al-Din leading member Abu Mohamed spoke in the 27-minute video, “Azawad conquest”, released on July 7th. He decried what he called the media “defamation” of the armed group. He added that Ansar al-Din had seized arms depots and heavy weapons, such as rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns, after they captured the Amchache military base.
The armed group claimed it had captured 650 Malian soldiers in the battles of Tessalit, Aguelhok and Kidal, which is the birthplace of field commander Iyad Ag Ghaly.
However, many doubted the authenticity of pictures in the newly released video.
“We may witness a new decline in al-Qaeda’s media credibility, which isn’t free from clear exaggeration,” commented Sahara Media journalist Mohammedu al-Neji.
In the other video, “Convoy of Conquest in Afghanistan”, the group claimed links to a series of terror activities in Afghanistan. It featured pictures of last December attacks on the command centre of ISAF, US Embassy and government departments in Kabul, as well as messages of suicide bombers.
The video shows that AQIM is suffering from a severe shortage of supplies. Abu Mohamed called on his supporters to help the group, which had started applying their version of Sharia in Gao and Timbuktu.
The Islamists tried to win support among young people by enforcing Sharia, but their harsh measures are causing panic in the Sahel.
“Application of hadd punishments must be preceded by achieving security, providing livelihoods for people, and creating an atmosphere of civil rights,” Cheikh Mohamed El Hassan Ould Dedew told Magharebia.
The decline of the Islamist current in Libya and the support it represented for al-Qaeda will be a setback for its leaders in Sahel, researcher in strategic and security affairs Hamdi Ould El Dah told Magharebia.
“Radical Islamists’ loss of the Libyan scene was preceded by their loss of the young people of Azawad, which has always represented a cheap recruitment ground for AQIM,” he added.
The researcher noted that the posting of the recent videos is a desperate attempt to gloss over the group’s failures and exaggerate its strength.