By Walid Ramzi
An Algerian army Special Forces unit last week arrested one of the most dangerous members of al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) following a large-scale search operation in Berriane, Ghardaia province, central Algeria.
Three alleged terrorists were arrested during the August 15th operation, including the head of the judicial commission and member of AQIM’s council of notables, Necib Tayeb, alias Abderrahmane Abou Ishak Essoufi. The three were captured at a checkpoint at the entrance to Berriane while en route to the Sahel.
APS cited a security source as saying that the group was captured while they were preparing for a mission described as “highly important” by the organisational leadership. It noted that the three had been tasked by national emir Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud (aka Abdelmalek Droukdel) to travel to AQIM leaders in the Sahel as part of efforts “to put an end to the rebellion and mutiny of some of them against the organisation’s central leadership”.
The operation led to the recovery of a significant quantity of weapons and ammunition as well as the seizure of important documents and messages belonging to many leading members of the terrorist organisation. Fake Algerian and foreign passports, and more than 400 bullets and hand grenades carefully hidden inside the vehicle were also discovered.
Tayeb was one of the first to join the Armed Islamic Group (GIA); he has appeared on the list of wanted terrorists since 1995. The investigation into his arrest revealed he was tasked by Droukdel with traveling to the Sahel to smooth over cracks in the ranks of AQIM’s leadership.
The regional al-Qaeda affiliate has been suffering from leadership disputes and a rebellion against the group’s senior leadership, particularly from Mokhtar Belmokhtar (alias Khaled Abou Al-Abass or “Laaouar”), emir of the Moulethemine Brigade, Abdel Hamid Abou Zeid, emir of the Tariq ibn Ziyad brigade, and Nabil Makhloufi, alias Nabil Abu Alqama, the new head of the Sahara emirate who succeeded Yahya Jawadi.
Analysts ascribe differences between the leaders in the desert to the management war between emirs and attempts to control the huge amount of money brought in by ransoms. Official estimates have indicated that the organisation has received more than $100 million in ransom, enabling the terrorist group to purchase large quantities of smuggled weapons.
These conflicts over the spoils of kidnapping have led to internal strife and targeted killings of mediators seeking the release of foreign hostages. The cracks have also led to splinter groups such as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
A previous attempt to co-ordinate between the terror brigades in the desert has failed although Abu Alqama was appointed to this task.
“The arrest of senior al-Qaeda leaders represents a painful blow to the organisation given the precious information in the possession of head of judicial commission and member of AQIM’s council of notables who is close to organisation leader,” Adel Mahdi, a specialist of security affairs, told Magharebia.
Mahdi said that the arrest confirmed the penetration of al-Qaeda’s communication network between Algeria and northern Mali, adding that it was “a security response to the suicide bombings in Warfalla and Tamanrasset and the storming of Algerian consulate in Gao and the kidnapping of its staff members”.
The arrest of the al-Qaeda leading member can be added to the list of carefully planned operations carried out by security agencies in the last 10 days of Ramadan. Thirty terrorists, including five emirs, were reportedly killed, in addition to several thwarted plans. One disrupted plot included an al-Qaeda attempt to transfer terrorists to northern Mali by forging IDs for wanted members and some newly recruited elements.