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AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel killed by France in Mali; likely to hinder al-Qaeda operations in Maghreb, not expected to affect militancy in Sahel – Maghreb & Sahel Analysis

Executive Summary

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) emir Abdelmalek Droukdel was killed by French forces in Mali, a significant symbolic loss that will likely exacerbate the ongoing decline in al-Qaeda operations in Algeria and Tunisia.

This will likely result in the continued diversion of resources and focus to the Sahel, reducing the operational support given to Algerian and Tunisian groups as well as diminishing morale and recruitment in the Maghreb.

The impact on al-Qaeda in the Sahel will likely be limited given the decentralized nature of AQIM’s control and the broader success of Malian leaders of the other constituent groups within the al-Qaeda coalition in the Sahel, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM).

Although France and Mali are expected to tout this as a success, which will further justify France’s increasingly unpopular presence in the Sahel, this is nonetheless not expected to disrupt militancy in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Current Situation

On June 5, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly stated that French forces with the “support of partners” killed the Emir of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abdelmalek Droukdel, also known as Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, along with “several of his close collaborators” at an unspecified location in northern Mali on June 3.

Reports indicate that Droukdel was killed in Talhandak in Mali’s Kidal Region, close to the border with Algeria.

On June 6, reports emerged that al-Qaeda jihadists and supporters were eulogizing Droukdel in internal communication, but as of the time of writing, no announcement was officially published by al-Qaeda.

The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) issued a press release on June 8 acknowledging France’s announcement and further stating that AFRICOM has confirmed Droukdel’s death in an independent assessment.

Background

Abdelmalek Droukdel was the Emir of AQIM, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combatant (GSPC), which was an offshoot of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which fought in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. Droukdel assumed the leadership of the GSPC in mid-2004 and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in September 2006. In 2007, the GSPC was officially renamed as AQIM. Droukdel is considered one of the founding members of AQIM and held a highly symbolic position within the group’s hierarchy, also due to his direct ties with Osama bin Laden, as well as his previous involvement in the Afghan civil war.

Under Droukdel, AQIM supported several jihadist movements in other parts of Africa, particularly Mali, where several AQIM affiliates formed from 2011 onward. In March 2017, AQIM’s Sahara branch, al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine, and Macina Liberation Front announced that they would be unifying under a single al–Qaedacoalition, Jamaat Nusrat al–Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM), with Ansar Dine leader Iyad ag Ghali as its leader. In 2014, Droukdel also sponsored a merger betweenAnsar al–Sharia in Tunisia (AST) and the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade (OIB), two local jihadist groups that were outlawed by the Tunisian government. Over recent years, AQIM has almost completely shifted its center of gravity from Algeria toMali due to intensive counter-militancy operations by the People’s National Army (ANP) in Algeria. JNIM is now the strongest al-Qaeda group in the region, with Algeria serving mostly as an auxiliary effort. AQIM’s remaining presence in Algeria can mainly be attributed to Droukdel’s historical ties to the country and his effort to restore the lost prestige of the organization.

Although AQIM did not officially confirm Droukdel’s death and France has in the past prematurely claimed to have killed high-level al-Qaeda leaders in the Sahel such as Amadou Kouffa, the leader of the JNIM constituent Katiba Macina, there is a strong likelihood that Droukdel was in fact killed. This is supported by the reported internal communication between al-Qaeda members and the duration of time between when the incident occurred and when it was announced by France and then the US, which may have gone at least in part to confirm the successes of the operation, as well as the fact that it was officially announced by both countries.

Assessments & Forecast

Loss of Droukdel likely to adversely impact AQIM operations in Algeria, Tunisia, possibly trigger slight resurgence in IS activity in Algeria

AQIM activity in Algeria has significantly declined over recent years amid successful counter-militancy operations by the People’s National Army (ANP), most recently aggravated by the ANP killing ten of the militant group’s local leaders during counter-militancy operations in the northeastern Jijel and Skikda provinces in 2018. This resulted in militant attacks becoming rare and small-scale when they do occur, with AQIM itself not claiming responsibility for an attack in the country since August 31, 2017, when it claimed a suicide bombing against a security headquarters in Tiaret. Due to its continued operational constraints, the jihadist group was forced to operate in a highly decentralized fashion in Algeria, with local leaders having more influence over the group’s on-ground tactics and activities. Leaders, such as Droukdel, who are much higher in the group’s hierarchy, are generally involved in outlining the group’s ideology and overarching goals, while also acting as symbolic figures for the group’s fighters. FORECAST: Therefore, while Droukdel’s death will not have any immediate direct impact on AQIM’s on-ground capabilities in Algeria, it nonetheless constitutes a significant symbolic loss, which would therefore have a long-term negative effect on its capabilities in North Africa.

Despite the decline in operations, militants and their infrastructure remain entrenched in Algeria’s northern outlying areas, which is underscored by near-daily discovery of hideouts and weapons caches, as well as arrests of militants and their supporters. Furthermore, the ANP frequently discovers caches of weapons, which likely originate from Libya, along Algeria’s southern borders, that are likely mostly intended to be transferred into the Sahel, which indicates the continued connection between operations in Algeria and the Sahel. However, it is possible that some of these weapons are diverted toward maintaining activities in Algeria. FORECAST: As Droukdel was the most prominent historical and symbolic link between AQIM and Algeria, his killing may prompt al-Qaeda to reduce the investment of resources in Algeria, which may be perceived as wasteful given the group’s inability to act there, and shift it entirely toward the Sahel, where it has been much more successful in recent years.

This, in turn, may have an adverse impact on AQIM-affiliated OIB’s operations in western Tunisia. Since the construction of a border obstacle between Tunisia and Libya, smuggling activity between the countries reduced significantly, leading to OIB supply lines from Libya to be extended through Algeria and facilitated by and dependent on AQIM’s operations there. FORECAST: Therefore, if AQIM were to divert resources away from Algeria toward the Sahel, in the long term, this will also constrict AQIM-affiliated OIB’s supply lines and reduce its operational capabilities in Tunisia. Nonetheless, in the short term, a decrease in focus on operations in Algeria may mean that whatever assets are still left in the country would be diverted to support OIB in Tunisia, which despite its own significant challenges, is still considered more successful in recent years than the group in Algeria.

FORECAST: This development will also have a negative effect on the morale of AQIM fighters across the Maghreb, as the militant group’s prestige in the North Africa region diminishes with the increased diversion of resources and focus of operations toward the Sahel. This will make it difficult for AQIM to attract additional recruits and support from among segments of the local population of Algeria and Tunisia. The Islamic State (IS), which maintains a limited operational presence in Algeria and Tunisia, may attempt to capitalize upon this dynamic to attract AQIM fighters to bolster its ranks. IS is specifically known to maintain at least some capabilities in southern Algeria. This is evidenced by the IS-claimed vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) attack targeting a military facility in Bordj Badji Mokhtar Province’s Timiaouine on February 9 as well as the IS-claimed killing of eight ANP soldiers during clashes in Tamanrasset Province’s Taoundart on November 21, 2019. Both incidents involved militants with links to IS in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), which is active in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Regardless, a decrease in AQIM activity in Algeria may provide IS militants with a greater degree of operational freedom in southern Algeria due to the lack of competition.

FORECAST: There has also been an increase in IS activity in southern Libya in May and June following a lull in operations by the militant group over the past year. This has mainly been facilitated by the security vacuum that has been created in southern Libya due to Libyan National Army’s (LNA) increased diversion of resources toward northwestern Libya for its offensive against the Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked forces. This has provided IS militants in southern Libya with a greater degree of freedom of movement and operations. However, despite this recent increase in IS activity in Libya, the militant group’s capabilities in terms of personnel and infrastructure are still limited, as underscored by the small-scale nature of most of its recent attacks as well as various other video publications released by the group that showcase a limited number of fighters in the country. Nevertheless, AQIM’s decline could present IS with an opportunity to expand from Libya into southern Algeria. However, IS has not yet shown any indication that it is interested in such a strategy, and Algeria’s border with Libya is relatively more secure than that with Mali and Niger. Hence, even if IS is interested in expanding from Libya into Algeria, this risk is slightly lower.

Droukdel’s killing unlikely to have significant operational impact on JNIM activities in Sahel, expected to be portrayed as victory for counter-militancy efforts by France

Even though the death of Droukdel is a very notable symbolic blow to al-Qaeda in North and West Africa, its spiritual impact in the Sahel is likely to be somewhat limited given that JNIM and AQIM in Algeria have grown more distant in recent years. Over time, the high-profile leadership, as well as the constituency, of the al-Qaeda outfit in the Sahel has become more local. This wedge between al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and the Sahel was further aggravated after leaders of AQIM’s Sahara branch, Yahya Abou Hammam and Abu Abd al–Rahman al–Sanhaji, also known as “Ali Maychou”, who were central figures in the establishment of JNIM, were killed by France in 2019.

Given this growing distance, it remains unlikely that Droukdel’s death will translate into a substantial operational impact or reduced militant capabilities in the Sahel. AQIM’s control over its branches is decentralized while the Sahara branch of the organization is just one of the components that form JNIM, where the different constituent groups maintain their own spheres of influence. This suggests that while there exists some potential for the operations of the Sahara branch of AQIM to be slightly affected in Droukdel’s absence, the operations of the larger coalition are likely to continue unhindered under the direction of the leader of JNIM constituent Ansar Dine, Iyad ag Ghali, as well as the leader of Katiba Macina, Amadou Kouffa.

In fact, rather than Droukdel’s death detrimentally impacting on-ground militant capabilities, it is possible that JNIM will see operational benefits as resources may be diverted from al-Qaeda outfits in Algeria and Tunisia to Mali and Burkina Faso in the long term. FORECAST: Regardless, the trend of militancy in the Sahel is expected to persist. Additionally, it remains possible that attacks directed toward French Barkhane forces, who are attractive targets for militants, will see an uptick in the coming weeks in symbolic retaliation for the death of Droukdel.

Nonetheless, due to Droukdel’s status, his killing in northern Mali marks a momentous symbolic victory for counter-militancy efforts in the Sahel. The French, who have been facing mounting criticism from the populations of the Sahelian countries, are likely to capitalize on the success of this airstrike to justify their continued operations in the tri-border region between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The perception of success following this operation is particularly important due to JNIM’s acceptance of the Malian government’s offer for a dialogue on March 8, contingent upon the withdrawal of international forces. The Malian government has not yet responded to JNIM’s conditional acceptance, likely due to the blow that the withdrawal of French forces would pose to counter-militancy efforts in Mali.

FORECAST: Considering that the killing of Droukdel is going to be presented as a great success by the French and Malian authorities, it is likely that the government’s pro-French position will become further entrenched following this operation. Conversely, given French leadership of the operation, should the government attempt to negotiate the conditional acceptance, JNIM is likely to be unyielding in their demand for the withdrawal of French forces. This has the potential to further exacerbate dissatisfaction among the Malian populace who have been clamoring for a dialogue with the jihadists as well as widen the political divide where a coalition of opposition parties held a large-scale march on June 5 demanding the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

FORECAST: Ultimately, the center of gravity of al-Qaeda activities had already moved from Algeria to the Sahel, and going forward, given the decentralized nature of al-Qaeda operations, there is unlikely to be any significant change in militancy in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. While there remains a chance that the international and national militaries will launch bolstered offensives to press their perceived advantage accorded by Droukdel’s death, it is unlikely to significantly affect JNIM activities beyond the near-term.

Recommendations

Maghreb

Travel to Algiers, Oran, and Tunis may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.

We advise against all nonessential travel to Algeria’s outlying areas. Those conducting business essential travel to the region are advised to avoid nonessential travel to the mountainous parts of northern Algeria’s outlying areas due to the underlying threat of militant activity. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

It is further advised to avoid all travel to the vicinity of Algeria’s borders with Mali, Niger, and Libya due to the increased threat of militant activity in these regions.

Avoid all travel to Tunisia’s Kasserine, Kef, and Jendouba governorates, in addition to all border areas, due to jihadist activity and military closures. Furthermore, avoid all travel to within 50 km from the border with Libya, due to the threat of attacks originating from Libya targeting Tunisian interests.

Sahel

We advise against all travel to the border region between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, given the extreme risks of militancy, ethnic conflict, and violent crime.

Avoid all travel to northern and central Mali, including Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao, Mopti, and northern Segou region, given the threat from militant and rebel groups operating in the area, as well as ongoing ethnic tensions and intercommunal violence.

Maintain heightened vigilance in Mali’s Koulikoro, Kayes, and Sikasso regions due to the rapidly expanding militant operational theater and growing insecurity.

Avoid all travel to northern and eastern Burkina Faso, particularly Sahel, Est, Centre-Est, Nord, Centre-Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions due to the ongoing threat of militancy and violent crime. Avoid nonessential travel to outlying areas of the southern and western regions due to the increased risk of attacks.

We advise against all travel to Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua Regions in the west along the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso, with the exception of Niamey, due to the ongoing risk of militancy.

Growing wedge between al-Qaeda affiliates in Maghreb and Sahel to have adverse impact on long-term capabilities – Algeria & Mali Analysis

Executive Summary

The mass surrendering of Mali-based Algerian fighters, as well as militants in southern Algeria, is increasingly driving a wedge between al-Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Algeria and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) in Mali, which may force the groups to shift from regional operations to a more local focus.

So far in 2018, 120 militants have surrendered to Algerian security forces compared to 28 in 2017, and most of them are likely a part of the AQIM contingent in southern Algeria and northern Mali.

Despite this trend, and the reduction in their propaganda, the Mali-based al-Qaeda coalition JNIM, were able to maintain, and in some cases improve, their scope and scale of operations in 2018.

While groups in Mali may seek to use Niger as an substitute option for logistical purposes, should these trends persist and no effective alternatives be utilized, it will inevitably have an adverse effect on AQIM and JNIM’s operational capabilities in the coming months and years.

Current Situation

According to reports from April 2018, “France, Algeria, and Mali are operating a secret agreement, signed in July 2017, to offer Sahel militants immunity in return for them laying down arms…this policy will give them immunity from prosecution.”

So far in 2018, 120 militants have surrendered in Algeria to the People’s National Army (ANP), compared to a total of 28 militants in 2017. Moreover, in 2018, 114 out of the 120 who surrendered did so in Adrar and Tamanrasset provinces, located just north of Algeria’s border with Mali and Niger, while in 2017, 21 out of the 28 militants who surrendered did so in Adrar and Tamanrasset provinces.

Additionally, according to reports from May, Algeria expelled 105 Malians on charges of links to Ansar Dine, a Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) constituent group. According to Algerian authorities, it was facing an influx of illegal migrants from Mali and Niger into its southern border provinces.

However, in Mali, JNIM has consistently carried out about 35 attacks per month in 2018 thus far, an increase from 2017, which saw approximately 25 attacks per month following the coalition’s founding in March. The primary exception was in July 2018, when JNIM increased its activity in efforts to undermine the presidential elections. As a whole, the majority of JNIM’s attacks are smaller-scale, though they have conducted at least 36 complex attacks in 2018.

Background

AQIM’s roots can be traced back to the Salafist Group for Preachment and Combatant (GSPC), an offshoot of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which fought in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. In 2006-7, the GSPC distanced itself from the GIA, largely due to the fact that the GIA had lost much of its local support due to indiscriminate killings, and aligned itself with al-Qaeda.

As al-Qaeda’s strongest affiliate in Africa at the time, AQIM in Algeria supported jihadist efforts in other parts of the Maghreb, including in Mali. However, intensive counter-militancy campaigns by the ANP, which involved the use of airstrikes as well as ground raids, gradually reduced the power and influence of AQIM in Algeria, and drove some if its fighters and assets into northern Mali.

In March 2017 in Mali, AQIM’s Sahara branch, al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine, and Macina Liberation Front announced that they would be unifying under a single al-Qaeda coalition, JNIM. Although the individual groups have continued to act within their general spheres of influence in the northern and central regions, JNIM has presented a united front for its strategic and militant operations in Mali.

This completed a shifting of AQIM’s center of gravity from Algeria to Mali, with JNIM now the strongest and most potent al-Qaeda group in the region and Algeria serving mostly an auxiliary effort. However, this move was likely only reluctantly accepted by AQIM in Algeria, whose Emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel (also known as Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud), an important figure within al-Qaeda’s hierarchy, seeks to restore the lost prestige of the organization.

Assessments & Forecast

Militant surrenders in southern Algeria likely to persist given militants’ apparent low morale

The ANP’s counter-militancy campaign has been largely successful in dislodging the threat of militancy in Algeria, as highlighted by the lack of a large-scale militant attack on Algerian soil in at least two years. The success of this campaign can be attributed to its focus on four key variables: the militant group’s ranks, support base, infrastructure, and supply lines. First, by targeting fighters, the ANP has significantly diminished the ranks of AQIM in both northern and southern Algeria. Second, at the same time, the security apparatus has attempted to dismantle the local support base of militants in these regions in order to deprive them of the ability to evade security operations. This is in light of the fact that a local support base, which is sustained due to a high rate of radicalization among youth residing in outlying areas of Algeria, provides militants with a pool of potential recruits as well as logistical support, likely in the form of safehouses, supplies, and information on security forces’ movements. Third, this counter-militancy campaign has resulted in the large-scale dismantling of militant infrastructure, which includes hideouts and weapons caches located in the mountainous parts of northern Algeria. Finally, Algeria has tightened its security along its porous borders with Mali, Niger, Tunisia, and Libya. This includes increased checkpoints as well as patrols along these borders in order to prevent the cross-border smuggling of fighters, weapons, and supplies into the country.

Over recent months, the majority of AQIM’s activity has become restricted to areas along the Tunisian border, such as Tebessa and Khenchela provinces, as this region allows the militant group to coordinate with its affiliate in western Tunisia. Therefore, in response, the Algerian security apparatus increased its intelligence sharing and cooperation with the Tunisian security apparatus in order to combat this threat of cross-border militancy. This strategy has been particularly successful for both sides, as demonstrated by several instances in which the ANP has successfully neutralized militants who escaped the jurisdiction of the Tunisian military by crossing the border into Algeria.

Aside from this, the ANP has been very successful in dismantling the senior local leadership of AQIM since the beginning of 2018. According to the Algerian Ministry of Defense, the ANP arrested two senior AQIM leaders in Skikda Province in July, and killed eight senior AQIM leaders in counter-militancy operations in Jijel Province in February. These factors have likely had a significant adverse impact on the Sunni jihadist groups’ prestige in Algeria. This, in turn, is liable to have impacted the morale of their fighters in the country, who have may have become disillusioned. Taking all these factors into consideration and combining them with reports of an “amnesty deal” put in place by Algeria, France, and Mali, may give a plausible explanation for the large-scale surrenders of militants to the authorities in Tamanrasset Province since the beginning of January 2018.

The timing of this amnesty agreement, when conjoined with the low morale of ground fighters, would provide for the required incentive needed for militants to voluntarily surrender to authorities. In light of southern Algeria’s porous borders with northern Mali, it is highly possible that militants who have managed to infiltrate from Mali into Algeria are capitalizing on Algerian authorities’ reintegration policies to leave AQIM. While several of these militants have been of Malian nationality, the majority of them are Algerians who were fighting for JNIM in Mali, indicating that the amnesty deal only applies for militants of Algerian nationality. This is further underscored by Algeria’s decision to extradite 105 Malian nationals suspected of belonging to JNIM’s Ansar Dine.
FORECAST: Therefore, this ongoing trend of Mali-based militants attempting to surrender to the ANP in southern Algeria will likely continue over the coming months. The majority of these militants will likely be of Algerian nationality as they attempt to return to the country to seek advantage of the reported “amnesty deal”.

FORECAST: However, AQIM leadership continues to be interested in maintaining an operational base in Algeria, likely due to the country’s historical and symbolic significance to the group. This has been demonstrated by an uptick in militant attacks conducted by the group in Algeria over recent months. As the group’s leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, is likely still alive, he will attempt to keep the group active for as long as possible. Therefore, the coming months may see an increase in militant attacks in Algeria. These will be focused in areas that have been considered relatively secure and witness lower security protocols. However, militant groups in the country likely do not possess the necessary capabilities to mount a large-scale attack at this time and such attacks will likely utilize low sophistication IEDs or ambushes.

JNIM continues to pose a significant threat to Mali’s security, further attacks are expected to occur in coming months

Since its founding, JNIM has exhibited a strong media strategy, frequently publishing claims of responsibility for attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso that detail the incidents and their locations as well as releasing sophisticated video propaganda. However, a downtick in publications since mid-2018 has created the perception that JNIM’s activity itself may have also declined. This perception was heightened as it came alongside reports of the amnesty deal in Algeria, as well as a series of French “decapitation” airstrikes that targeted JNIM leaders and positions in northern Mali’s Timbuktu and Mopti regions. However, despite these factors, as demonstrated, JNIM has remained as active as ever in its main theater of operations in northern and central Mali. In contrast, the group has conducted approximately ten more attacks per month in 2018 than they were able to do in 2017, suggesting that any loss of fighters has not been detrimental to their operations.

The numbers indicate that, since their emergence in March 2017, JNIM has conducted about 600 attacks in Mali, including at least 355 in 2018 alone. The vast majority of these attacks are small-scale, including tactics such as emplacing IEDs, shootings, and simple ambushes. These have enabled the militants to target and undermine security forces across a wide geographical area and reinforce their presence. At the same time, JNIM has also been able to carry out complex and large-scale attacks at least once a month, generally against high-profile targets such as airports or military camps. A multi-pronged attack against a French-UN base at the Timbuktu Airport in April 2018 highlights their offensive capabilities, as it involved at least three suicide vehicle-borne IEDs (SVBIEDs) disguised as UN and Malian army vehicles entering the base and detonating, as well as exchanges of rocket and small-arms fire. This exemplifies their persistent ability to exploit security forces’ vulnerabilities and marshal the necessary manpower and firepower to conduct sophisticated attacks against even fortified targets.

To this point, it appears that the surrender of Algerian militants has had little to no direct impact on JNIM or the overall security landscape in Mali. Although AQIM originated in Algeria, the base of the organization’s power has clearly shifted to Mali. With the exception of Yahya Abu Hammam, the emir of AQIM’s Sahara branch, JNIM’s top leadership is Malian, with the Tuareg Malian Iyad Ag Ghaly at the head of the group. It is possible that the departure of any Algerian jihadists has had little impact due to a successful transfer of knowledge in terms of weapons or capabilities to the Malian organizations over the years. Moreover, as al-Qaeda groups expanded into Mali from Algeria, they entrenched themselves in local communities and built recruitment networks that are based in local ethnic dynamics, with Tuaregs and Fulanis in particular representing a significant constituency for JNIM’s component groups. These populations would then mitigate the loss of any Algerian jihadists.

FORECAST: Given these trends and the difficulty that domestic and international armed forces have had in degrading JNIM, there is little to indicate that the pace and scale of attacks in northern and central Mali will be reduced in the immediate term. The group continues to retain the knowledge, resources, and capabilities to be a significant threat in their area of operations in Mali as well as the tri-border region with Burkina Faso and Niger. Their activity is likely to persist along the same lines, largely as small-scale, low-capability attacks against security forces, while larger, more complex assaults against high-profile targets will occur intermittently.

Changing dynamics to disrupt cooperation between AQIM in Algeria, JNIM in Mali, potentially to force shift from regional to local operations, hinder operational capabilities

As noted, the unprecedented uptick in Algerian militants crossing the border from Mali in order to surrender to the ANP appears to confirm the reports of an amnesty deal. Moreover, the effect is almost exclusively restricted to southern Algeria, with only 6 of the 120 militants who surrendered having done so in northern Algeria, indicating that most of the militants who turned themselves in were part of AQIM’s contingents in southern Algeria and northern Mali. While the impetus is clearly the low morale of the fighters, the reason why this is only affecting Algerian fighters in southern Algeria and northern Mali and not the ones in northern Algeria remains unclear. Reasons can range from a rift between the Algerian “foreigners” and the local fighters in Mali over prestige to objectives of the militancy campaign to Algerian fighters simply becoming disillusioned and exhausted after many years of fighting abroad.
FORECAST: While the reasons remain speculative, the ramifications are clear, namely the deteriorating ability of AQIM in Algeria and JNIM in Mali to cooperate, which may in turn lead to an effective split between the groups.

This process is driven by the changing dynamic on the ground rather than a shift in strategy by al-Qaeda. Depleting number of Algerians in Mali means that there are fewer people who can serve as liaisons between AQIM and JNIM, and fewer people who can exploit their naturally better knowledge of Algeria to physically assist in cross-border activities. This is aggravated by the dwindling number of AQIM militants operating in southern Algeria due to the surrenders, which adds a geographical dimension to the distancing of the groups.
FORECAST: This would lead to more difficulties in the physical transfer of weapons, recruits, and supplies, as well as the exchange of knowledge and information.

Some of these losses can be compensated for by al-Qaeda. For example, AQIM in Algeria has increased its interaction and cooperation with its affiliate in Tunisia, Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade (OIB), and a persistent presence of al-Qaeda elements in southern Libya can also serve as a mitigating factor to the reduced interaction between Algeria and Mali. Nonetheless, they cannot fully replace the critical Algeria-Mali link, simply because of the distance, which would overstretch some elements of al-Qaeda’s supply lines from the Mediterranean coast into the Sahel. These can therefore not fully compensate for the wedge being driven between AQIM in Algeria and JNIM in Mali.

FORECAST: Overall, this means that the prospects for cross-border militant activity in cooperation between AQIM and JNIM has likely significantly dwindled and will continue along those lines in the coming months, forcing both groups to assume a much more local approach instead of being a part of a regional effort. Those in Mali may attempt to replace the use of southern Algeria with an alternative, such as using Mauritania and Niger for the movement of weapons, supplies, and manpower. In this regard, northern Niger is a more likely option for logistical purposes, as it would provide Mali-based groups with potential direct routes to Libya, whereas Mauritania would be a more roundabout and difficult approach. However, should the trends in Algeria persist, with no effective alternatives being utilized, it will inevitably have negative implications for both groups’ operational capabilities.

Recommendations

Algeria

Travel to Algiers and Oran may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid nonessential travel to Kabylie, due to the heightened threat of militant attacks and general unrest in the region. Those conducting business essential travel to the region are advised to avoid the mountains between Tizi Ouzou, Bouira and Saharidj due to the heightened militant presence and activities in this area.

We advise against all nonessential travel to Algeria’s outlying areas. For business-essential visits, consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

In Algiers and other major cities, remain vigilant in the vicinities of public squares, government buildings, and police stations, as these serve as focal points for protests and militant attacks.

Mali

Travel to Bamako may continue time while adhering to stringent security precautions regarding criminal activity and potential militancy.

We advise against all travel to northern and central Mali, as well as its border regions with Niger and Burkina Faso, given the threat from militant and rebel groups operating in the area, as well as ongoing ethnic tensions.

MAX Analysis Morocco: Threat of regional militancy and local jihadist presence in Syria, Iraq likely to require bolstered security measures August 24, 2014

Current Situation

Over the past weeks, borange alert oth Moroccan and foreign authorities have increasingly warned of an uptick in militant threats, starting from the announcement of a state of high alert by the Moroccan Interior Ministry on July 9, reportedly in response to the militant threat presented by the Islamic State (IS) against Morocco. As of July 2014, Morocco’s national intelligence agency reportedly estimates that there are about 1,500 Moroccan nationals operating in Iraq and Syria. Of these, an estimated 30 percent are former convicts who served time under anti-terrorism laws.
  • The July 9 decree included an order to regional governors to heighten security measures within their jurisdictions, an expanded security presence at vital installations throughout the country, and the launching of a public relations campaign to warn Moroccans against the potential security threat. Also on July 9, Morocco heightened its security protocols at its international airports following a recommendation from the American government.
  • Additionally, on July 18, an “orange alert” was declared for all American-owned restaurants operating in Morocco in anticipation of a possible militant attack. On July 21, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) updated its travel advice for Morocco, warning of an “increased threat of terrorism.” The FCO cited Moroccan authorities’ warnings of an increased threat connected to Moroccan national militants operating in Syria and Iraq. 

Continue reading MAX Analysis Morocco: Threat of regional militancy and local jihadist presence in Syria, Iraq likely to require bolstered security measures August 24, 2014

Political Analysis: Bouteflika clan attempts to cement rule in Algeria

There are those who argue that Egypt’s infamous dictator Hosni Mubarak sealed his own fate long before the first activists pitched their tents in Tahrir Square in January 2011. They say the countdown really began in 2010, when Mubarak’s eldest son Gamal pitched a bold economic reform package to weather Egypt through the global economic recession.

bouteflika
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

At the time, Gamal was known to be next in line to succeed his father. The plan would have essentially taken the regime’s massive economic holdings out of the hands of the military-backed older generation and put it into the hands of Gamal’s loyal young business class within the ruling NDP party. After the Arab Spring engulfed the country, the Egyptian military unsurprisingly had little motivation to save the embattled Mubarak family, instead organizing his dismissal and eventually enabling the trial of Hosni and his two sons on corruption charges. 

Numerous comparisons between Egypt and Algeria have since been made in the global pundit-sphere. Most have focused on their respective battles with political Islam, but few have given credit to Algeria’s aging President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for recognizing Mubarak’s mistakes and keeping his regime afloat amid the storm of regional political upheaval.

Continue reading Political Analysis: Bouteflika clan attempts to cement rule in Algeria

Strategic Analysis: Algeria’s Growing Role in the War on Terror

Why is the United States cementing its support for Algeria, who just so happens to be a staunch ally of the Assad regime while cozying up to Iran? It’s a consideration US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likely had in the back of her mind during her latest talks in Algeria this week, the only North Africa stop on her way to the Balkans.

Secretary of State Clinton is received by Bouteflika during her recent visit for high-level talks. (Photo by US State Department)

While Algeria has remained little more than a blip on the international media’s radar, its strategic importance has skyrocketed in the wake of the Arab Spring. After the fall of secular dictators across North Africa, the military-backed Abdelaziz Bouteflika regime has emerged as the last dependable ally in the war on terror in an age where the US needs all the friends it can get.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Algeria’s Growing Role in the War on Terror

The Tuareg Factor

One tribe’s cooperation with various militant groups will continue to challenge stability in some of Africa’s most vital nations

By Jay R.

Since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya early last year, weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East and North Africa is on the rise and of primary concern. It is now widely known that masses of Libyan weaponry have made their way into the hands of such militant groups as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Libyan weaponry has traveled as far as the Gaza Strip and appeared in hand of militant groups there.

Tuareg militants en route to Libya from Mali (Sahara Times)

With the recent unrest in Somalia and Nigeria, the above-mentioned groups have been deeply reported on. However, one tribe, heavily active in Africa’s Sahel desert region is operating under the radar in comparison. The Tuareg tribe, composed of 1.2 million people, is historically nomadic. They have long roamed northwest Africa, primarily through the nations of Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Niger. Today, the group has become sedentary, the result of which has seen the Tuaregs actively engage such countries, particularly the Malian government, for stakes in power sharing and wealth benefits from the country’s natural resources.

The ongoing battle for the Tuareg’s perceived rights most recently manifested in the two-year Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and Niger from 2007-2009. This rebellion was ended through a series of peace talks and amnesty allowances; however, the conflict persists to this day as the Malian government regularly takes on the Tuareg militants along the Nigerian border.

Continue reading The Tuareg Factor

In Libya, The Militias Have The Upper Hand

By Daniel N.

In the absence of collective nationalism, the transitional government must buy the loyalty of renegade militias with resources it may not have.

Libya’s new flag.

Libya is currently undergoing a critical phase of its transition process, as the recognized government (NTC) attempts to assert its power over the country. The focal point of these efforts lies at the reformation of the Libyan national military. In post Gaddafi-Libya, this feat requires garnering the trust of powerful tribal militias, many of whom are reluctant to relinquish their hard-fought positions acquired during the civil war.

Efforts to establish a national military reached a crucial phase in January, when the NTC named Yussef Al-Mangush as chief of staff.  The appointment has since been rejected by two powerful coalitions of tribal militias; the Thwars coalition, which includes the Misrata and Zintan factions; and the Cyrenaica Military Council (CMC), composed of militias in eastern Libya. Continue reading In Libya, The Militias Have The Upper Hand

The Middle East and North Africa In 2012: What Lies Ahead?

By Max Security’s Intelligence Department

The feelings of hope and opportunity initially evoked by the Arab Spring have evolved into fear that the region may be sliding into a new status quo of instability. We sweep the region from Morocco to Iran to determine that 2012 will be one of the most crucial years in the modern history of the Middle East.

The Maghreb

The Muslim Brotherhood’s recently formed Freedom and Justice Party holds a press conference. The FJP is slated to win nearly 40% of seats in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliament. (Bikyamasr)

While North Africa by and large experienced the most significant change from the Arab Spring uprisings, it would be a grave mistake to place the fate of these politically diverse set of nations into one.  In Morocco, the people still have great respect for the region’s oldest monarchy, sentiment which prevented widespread unrest from engulfing the nation this past year. The recent victory of moderate Islamist factions in parliament forces the monarchy to balance between their wishes, while keeping Morocco an attractive address for foreign investment to keep the economy on its feet. While Morocco can be expected to remain relatively stable, a widening gap between rich and poor and growing unemployment only works to the favor of the liberal February 20 reformers and the outlawed Islamist Justice and Spirituality movement, which currently remain marginalized.

In Algeria, the situation is quite different. The country emerged unscathed from the Arab Spring, not out of any sort of respect for the military-backed government, but rather out of fears for a repeat of the country’s bloody civil war which is still fresh in the minds of most of the population. While stability prevailed in 2011, tensions are brewing beneath the surface as Algerians come to realize that they are indeed the last nation to tolerate a corrupt military dictatorship which has failed to provide both physical and economic security. The success of Islamist parties to the East and West has emboldened Algeria’s own conservative opposition to demand reforms ahead of the upcoming elections-slated for the Spring of 2012. Moreover Bouteflika’s ailing health places the military and its allies in a considerable predicament, as replacing Bouteflika without elections will only provide fuel to an increasingly disillusioned population. The loss of the Bouteflika regime would spell a considerable setback in North Africa’s war against Al Qaeda, which despite recent losses- still has its sights set on fomenting instability in Algeria.

Continue reading The Middle East and North Africa In 2012: What Lies Ahead?

Understanding Algeria

By Dan R.

While its people face incredible hardship under a corrupt regime, Algeria’s bloody recent history remains in fresh in the minds of anyone seeking to rise up. 

While much of North Africa has been swept by  political or social changes, Algeria’s political system has remained virtually untouched, with its short-lived and decentralized protest movement failing to resonate with the population until now. Several factors have attributed to this relative calm.

Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika. (Echourouk)

Like many North African countries, Algeria was a French colony, however unlike many countries, Algeria fought for its independence in a bloody war that lasted 8 years. In part, the Algerian nationality was built and forged during this conflict. This level of nationalism rarely exists in the Arab world; it can be seen in Algeria and periodically in Egypt, as it is in direct contradiction to conservative Islamic beliefs.

In the late 80’s the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) socialist faction was dominated the Algerian political system. Starting from 1987, the FLN’s influence began to wane as the economy, based on the production of crude oil and natural gas, collapsed due to a sharp decrease prices. In 1989 the FLN announced the formation of a new constitution which denounced socialism, promised freedom of speech and other personal freedoms. Continue reading Understanding Algeria

Algeria is North Africa’s Last Line of Defense Against Islamic Extemism

By Daniel N.
Despite its repressive nature, Algeria’s Bouteflicka regime is the last remaining obstacle between Islamic extremists and the complete destabilization of North Africa.
While the world continues to focus on the implications of a destabilized Libya, Algeria has been working diligently to prevent a resurgent Al Qaeda from toppling its regime in its quest to install an Islamic Caliphate in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Since the Libyan conflict first broke out in February 2011, a wave of terror attacks has hit Algeria as the result of an increasingly porous border and the absence of Gaddafi, perhaps Bouteflicka’s most important ally in its war on terror.
For the past two decades, the secular regime of Abdelaziz Bouteflicka has been the target of local Islamic extremist groups that have recently extended their fight beyond Algeria, setting their sights on North Africa in its entirety. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) traces its roots back to a failed revolution attempt which began in 1992 when Algeria’s military government canceled the second round of parliamentary elections since it seemed evident that an Islamist coalition would take power. In the years that followed, Algeria descended into a bloody civil war as extremist groups led by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) killed tens of thousands of civilians in their efforts to topple the government.  Continue reading Algeria is North Africa’s Last Line of Defense Against Islamic Extemism