In Amenas attack in Algeria shows rift between AQIM leaders

Experts say the attack in Algeria may have been undertaken by Mokhtar Belmokhtar to burnish his jihadist credentials. [AFP/SITE Intelligence Group/Sahara Media]

Experts say the attack in Algeria may have been undertaken by Mokhtar Belmokhtar to burnish his jihadist credentials. [AFP/SITE Intelligence Group/Sahara Media]

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The recent siege at Algeria's In Amenas gas complex highlights a long-standing rivalry between jihadist leaders in the Sahara, Maghreb analysts said.

The attack was orchestrated by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al-Qaeda militant with a long history of bloody attacks in his native Algeria.

Belmokhtar, also known as Khaled Abou El Abbas or Laaouar, had a falling out with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leadership last fall.

Mohamed Mokaddem, an author of several books on al-Qaeda, told AFP Belmokhtar never accepted the fact that AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel chose Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, Belmokhtar's chief rival, over him.

"To [Belmokhtar], Abou Zeid is just a vulgar smuggler turned jihadist with no legitimacy," Mokaddem said.

Al-Qaeda infighting

Sahel Isselmou Ould Moustapha, a Mauritanian specialist in Islamist movements, said "Belmokhtar considers Abou Zeid an ignoramus, a leader without charisma."

"He feels mistreated by AQIM [leadership] because, unlike other jihadist leaders in its history, he comes from southern Algeria, and not the north," Ould Moustapha said.

The assault on the Algerian gas plant was an attempt for Belmokhtar to reassert himself, analysts told Magharebia.com.

"He tried to restore confidence in his character by establishing the 'Signatories in Blood' brigade," said Sidi Ahmed Ould Otafal, a Mauritanian terrorism analyst.

Belmokhtar's actions reflect "some sort of internal conflict among [AQIM] leaders who are interested in gains and fame only," Ould Otafal added.

Political analyst Abdul Hamid Ansari said Belmokhtar used the Algeria attack to say to his al-Qaeda colleagues that his existence was important in the region and they could not do without him.

Since Belmokhtar failed and many of his cohorts were killed or captured at In Amenas, the game has become open to all, according to Ansari.

The In Amenas hostage-taking operation erased any notion that Belmokhtar and his group might have learned that violence does not pay off and that could lead to further disintegration and infighting, Rajeh Said, a terrorism analyst based in London, said.

Attacks against civilians were the major reasons groups Belmokhtar formerly belonged to, such as the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA), and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) alienated the populations and disintegrated, he added.

Misleading young recruits

Belmokhtar went as far as misleading and killing young recruits who considered getting out, Sidi Mohamed Ould Abdel Kader, a Sahel expert and veteran of the 1990s Touareg rebellion, said.

He said Belmokhtar would first give young recruits in the Sahel region and northern Mali loans and lend them vehicles to engage in cigarette and drug smuggling.

"Later on, he would gather them and lecture them on the importance of jihad and convince them to take up arms," he added.

Abdel Kader said some of these young people believed in jihadist ideology, while others needed the money. The rest found out they had fallen into a trap but could not pull back.

"If any of these young people considered getting out, [Belmokhtar] would kill him," Sidi Mohamed told Magharebia. "I know some of the people he killed."

"Therefore, many young people proceed in this kind of life rather than be executed," he added.

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    مزيد محمد

    2013-2-17

    There is none worthy of worship except Allah. What has happened in the Algerian gas company underscores that terrorists intend to take control over everything. This could be due to the firepower of their terrorist tactics. However, no matter how strong terrorists may be, the Almighty God is more powerful. As usual, the terrorist operations result in the death of a large number of people since terrorists are aimless and are not guided by any principles. If they had any principles or values, they would have realized that terrorism will bring no good to the Arab people. They would have understood that terrorism only kills people and that God has never approved of killing any human being, even the disbelievers. Only God has the right to give life or take life. He never ordered anyone to terrorize a peaceful nation nor did He tell anyone to kill people. Therefore, you should fear God since He is the only one who knows you and knows what is in your hearts and He will hold you accountable to it. So, we must get rid of terrorism and we must unite so that terrorism will exist no more in the Arab Maghreb countries.

  • إياد باسم

    2013-2-17

    Terrorist ideology is rather backward. The advocates of this thought are single mindedly seeking killing and bombing. I think that the presence of the terrorist al-Qaeda in the Maghreb is rather limited. However, the authorities must take them into account. They should not tolerate them till they establish strongholds there. The Governments in such countries as Morocco and Algeria must address al-Qaeda members firmly through deterrent action. We should avoid a reproduction of Bin Laden named Belmokhtar. Sincerely, I do not wish such thing to happen in the Arab countries, and especially in the Maghreb region.

  • نبيلة عبد العال

    2013-2-16

    It is frankly the first time that I knew about the existence of al-Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb. Perhaps because I do not follow a lot the news of the Arab Maghreb but, after reading this news, I became convinced that the policy of al-Qaeda and terrorist ideology is really the same. In fact, this Organization forces all its youth members to wreak havoc, carry out murder acts and bombings. If one of its members gives up carrying out terrorist acts and his conscience awakens, major terrorists such as Bilmokhtar will certainly order his assassination in order to prevent the exposition of the organization’s secrets for anyone. Indeed, they are really filthy terrorist groups which want nothing but sabotage and murder.

  • غاده عبد الرازق

    2013-2-14

    The heinous crimes of terrorism in the Islamic Maghreb are increasing in the current period. It seems that the Islamic Maghreb has become the stronghold for the terrorists who are carrying out hideous crimes, after careful planning. I do not know which parties are benefiting from these heinous terrorist crimes targeting the Arab people. There is no way for terrorism to ensure a brighter future. On the contrary, the terrorists are seeking to undermine the efforts of the good Arabs who are trying to ensure a bright future for their nation. Unfortunately, the terrorist crimes are impeding their progress towards prosperity. The honest Arabs are afraid of any step they take towards a better future. The reconstruction leads to a brighter future. I am terribly worried about the frequent terrorist crimes in Muslim countries. I reject them both in form and substance.

    • mohamed

      2013-8-29

      May God bless Al-Qaeda. May God be with you.