AQIM After Bin Laden: Plans For Widespread May 2 Terror ‘Commemoration’ Operations


By Jemal Oumar

As the one-year anniversary of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s death looms, reports are emerging about retaliatory attack plots by al-Qaeda offshoots in Africa.

Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) plans to commemorate the May 2nd, 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden with large-scale terror operations in Mauritania, Algeria, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, Algeria’s Echourouk daily reported on March 10th.

Terrorists recently arrested by Algerian security agencies allegedly confirmed that preparations to execute retaliatory attacks around the time of Bin Laden’s death were in the works.

“It is only logical for that organisation, which is small in terms of numbers and huge in terms of financial resources and ambitions, to try to deal retaliatory blows to the countries that it considers infidel because of their dealings with its long-standing enemy, the West,” said Mauritanian security analyst Hamadi Ould Sidi.

AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel (aka Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud) has been under siege for months, thanks to intensified security co-operation among Sahel states. A spectacular attack timed to coincide with the anniversary of Bin Laden’s death would, for AQIM, reportedly serve to avenge the killing of its emirs and foot soldiers by Mauritanian and Algerian security forces.

The captured terror suspects said that after suffering particularly heavy losses in the Algerian regions of Tizi Ouzou, Boumerdes and Bejaia, Droukdel issued orders to strike back. Focusing on the southern areas of Algeria would distract security forces, the terror leader held.

But new recruits now refuse to carry out bombings without receiving a hefty financial reward.

Droukdel has had little success recruiting suicide bombers in the northern areas. To implement his plan, he has begun offering money to those willing to blow themselves up at government or security sites.

The information revealed by the Algerian newspaper reflects the extent of deterioration within AQIM and the diminution in ideological conviction among new recruits; something that shows that the group’s religious discourse and its persuasiveness are facing major challenges.

This has prompted some Mauritanian observers and analysts to say that the spiritual dimension in the group is no longer strong enough to make members act in Bin Laden’s name.

“Al-Qaeda’s failure to carry out strong retaliatory operations that convey the spiritual arguments of Bin Laden makes many observers question anew the exact nature of the relationship between AQIM and the parent al-Qaeda organisation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” explains terrorism researcher Dr Houssein Ould Meddou.

“Although the Maghreb branch is inspired by some al-Qaeda ideas and theories, it hasn’t completely assimilated them,” he explains. The other issue that prevents AQIM from carrying out successful acts is the “extensive intelligence and military co-ordination between Sahel countries,” Ould Meddou adds.

Within the organisation itself, brigades have been sparring for months.

Mohammed Ghadir (aka Abdelhamid Abou Zeid), the “Tariq ibn Ziyad” katibat boss, and Khaled Abou El Abass (aka Mokhtar Belmokhtar, or “Laaouar”), who runs the “El Moulethemine” battalion, have been vying for control of AQIM’s Sahara emirate since last December.

“Each brigade acts independently, establishing its own structure, kidnapping for its own account and imposing its own conditions in negotiations,” the Nouakchott academic says.

Use of Bin Laden to recruit and inspire is a superficial practice at best. Cheikh Ould Mohamed Harma says that “the terrorist acts that Osama Bin Laden carried out were never unanimously approved by his supporters themselves”.

“His value to them sprang from the belief that he was raising the banner of Islam against the West. Therefore, his image in the minds of simple religious people became associated with that of a religious hero. They didn’t realise the true nature of the terrorist acts he was committing,” Ould Mohamed Harma tells Magharebia.
[AFP/ Mohamed Abdiwahab] Somalia’s al-Shabaab and other African terror groups have benefited from the fragmentation of al-Qaeda.

[AFP/ Mohamed Abdiwahab] Somalia’s al-Shabaab and other African terror groups have benefited from the fragmentation of al-Qaeda.

Yet Bin Laden still pops up as a reference point.

When al-Qaeda splinter group “Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya” (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) first emerged last December with a video claiming responsibility for abducting western aid workers from a Sahrawi refugee camp, turbaned members spoke of their ideological inspirations: Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In Mauritania, Salafist ideologue Mohamed Salem Ould Mohamed Lemine (aka al-Majlissi) held a memorial for bin Laden at al-Shorafa Mosque in Nouakchott. Al-Majlissi, who spent three years in jail for a fatwa that led to the 2007 Aleg massacre of a French tourist family, led 70 fellow Salafists in prayers for the late al-Qaeda leader last spring. Attendees shared religious speeches, recited poems and vowed to “enforce Sharia and defend Islam”.

“We prayed for mercy for his soul,” al-Majlissi said.

Rather than inspire new fighters, Bin Laden may in fact have spurred a schism in al-Qaeda, as demonstrated by the splinter groups and battling brigades of the Sahel.

“Osama Bin Laden’s death contributed to the independence of organisations that came out from under his mantle and started to run themselves independently, both spiritually and in the field,” said al-Mokhtar al-Salem Ould Ahmed Salem, an analyst of extremist ideology.

“AQIM has turned the page on Bin Laden because he was just a spiritual father to them, especially as he had been away from terrorist operations for years even before his killing,” he tells Magharebia.

Even without its figurehead Bin Laden, the decimated “al-Qaeda Central” brought another problem to the Maghreb: crime.

Sid Ahmed Ould Tfeil, a specialist in armed groups, says that when al-Qaeda funds dried up after Bin Laden’s death, some members left Afghanistan and Pakistan to return to their homes in Libya, Tunisia, northern Mali, Algeria and Mauritania.

Taking advantage of the Arab Spring revolutions and chaos that followed Kadhafi’s fall, some turned to weapons smuggling.

The birth of new terrorist movements, such as Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya, also reflects the restlessness that started to appear in AQIM after the arrival of new leaders who monopolised the spoils, Ould Tfeil says. Many members resented the claims made upon limited resources by those who had not helped build the Maghreb branch.

The fracturing of Bin Laden’s organisation leaves not a “terror central” but rather a disparate band of brigades with competing interests and objectives, Ould Tfeil adds. From the one al-Qaeda network under Bin Laden, “today we face multiple terrorist organisations, such as an African al-Qaeda, and perhaps also an Amazigh al-Qaeda and an Arab al-Qaeda, to be added to Boko Haram in Nigeria and Somalia’s al-Shabab”.

Despite the recent admissions by the captured Algerians, however, money issues may prove the main deterrent to an AQIM attack on the anniversary of Bin Laden’s death. “Al-Qaeda wouldn’t venture to carry out big terrorist operations under the current circumstances,” al-Mokhtar al-Salem Ould Ahmed Salem says.

“They’re detaining 11 Western hostages,” he says. “By alleviating attacks, they seek to negotiate more ransom money from the hostages’ countries.”


The Magharebia web site is sponsored by the United States Africa Command, the military command responsible for supporting and enhancing US efforts to promote stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

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