The Most Prominent Leaders of the Terrorist Organization in Maghreb (AQIM)

Who are the leaders of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)?

Five French people are held hostages in Niger by Terrorist Abu Zayd, one of the most prominent leaders of the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Who is this man that is described as an “extremist and violent”? Who is Belmokhtar, another extremist activist in the region? Who are the leaders of this terrorist organization in Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb?

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, emerged from the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. It is active in the Al-Sahel area. This organization is affiliated to Osama bin Laden, who is primarily responsible for foreign kidnappings, the latest of which was on 16 September when seven employees, of whom five French nationals, from the French Areva Company at Arlit City in Niger were kidnapped.

Two leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb battalions, namely Abdul Hamid Abu Zayd, who is described as an “extremist” and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who is a first class smuggler for more than 15 years, are active in Al-Sahel area. Both owe their allegiance to Abd Al-Malik Droudkal, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb and Yahya Jawady, the Amir (i.e. the prince) of “Sahara Emirate”.

Abd Al-Malik Droudkal, the Leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

Abd Al-Malik Droudkal was born in Meftah City, near to Algiers in 1970. He studied engineering and headed Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2004. Information indicates that he fought in Afghanistan. Droudkal was impressed with the Egyptian terrorist Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the number two man in Al Qaeda and the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Droudkal was the mastermind that arranged for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat’s accession in 2007 to “Al-Qaeda” and so it was later called Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, in charge of which Abd Al-Malik Droudkal was appointed as a leader.

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Abd Al-Malik Droudkal

Abd Al-Malik Droudkal, the Leader of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb

Droudkal confirmed in an interview published by “New York Times” newspaper in 2008 that his organization’s main objectives “do not differ from the parent Al-Qaeda organization’s.” “As for the Islamic Maghreb, what matters to us most is saving our country from such criminal regimes which betrayed their countries and people, such regimes which were left behind by the colonialism which occupied our countries for two centuries and allowed such regimes to rule. The Western interests in the region cannot be protected,” the man added.

Droudkal is also nicknamed “Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud”. He is responsible for a number of terrorist attacks, including the attack on the United Nations building in Algiers in 11 December 2007.

Yahya Jawady, the Amir of “Sahara Emirate”

Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb has divided North Africa into a set of military zones, of which “Sahara Emirate” constitutes the ninth zone. It is a vast zone extending between Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Libya, Mauritania and Chad. Yahya Jawady nicknamed as “Elias Abou Ammar” succeeded Mokhtar Belmokhtar as the Amir of “Sahara Emirate” in 2007. In the history of this man who is in his forties there is a long series of attacks and kidnappings which he started in the lap of the circle close to Abd Al-Malik Droudkal. Jawady is Droudkal’s right hand man.

Abdul Hamid Abu Zayd, the Commander of Tariq ibn Ziyad or Conquerors Brigade

He is “Short, weak, patchy-bearded and in his fifties” as described by the former French hostage Pierre Camatte, who was freed in February 2010 three months after his kidnapping in an interview with “Jeune Afrique” magazine. He is one of the most prominent two leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Described as a relentless, violent, and extremist man, Abdul Hamid Abu Zayd, whose real name is Adib Hamadu, leads the most extreme wing of Al-Qaeda. His group was the first group to execute a hostage, namely the British hostage Edwin Dyer in June 2009. This was the first execution of a foreigner since the kidnapping and killing of the monks of Tibhirine in Algeria in 1996. About him, Anis Rahmani, the editor-in-chief of Ennahar, an Algerian daily newspaper, said: “This man is very extreme and cannot be negotiated with.” This Algerian Islamist who is in his forties was born in the desert city of Touggourt about 600 km away from the capital. He was a member of the Islamic Salvation Front, then he escaped to the Algerian mountains in the early nineties and then he joined Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group and then the armed Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

The first of Abu Zayd’s armed operations dates back to 2003 when he along with Amari Saifi nicknamed as Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Bara were accused of kidnapping a group of the foreign tourists. Accordingly, he was accused of kidnapping an Austrian man and his wife in Algeria in February 2008 and also European tourists including Edwin Dyer in Mali in 2009. He also had kidnapped the French hostage Michelle Germano who was executed in July in 2010.
Abdul Hamid Abu Zayd has become one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, according to Anis Rahmani, after arresting a number of the organization officials and removing a number of them from the leadership positions. “Like Yahya Abou Al-Hamam, Abu Zayd has not received important instructions and he was not one of those who determined the orientations of the movement,” the above mentioned Algerian journalist added.

However, Abu Zayd had direct contacts with the leadership of the parent organization, specifically the Egyptian terrorist Ayman Al-Zawahiri and, according to Jean-Pierre-Filiu, the author of the book entitled “The Nine Lives of Al Qaeda” in an interview with the French “Express” magazine, “He sought to attract the attention of the leadership of the organization in Pakistan which considered Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb a local organization drowned in its own concerns.” Today, Abu Zayd’s group detains the five French people who were kidnapped in Niger on 15 September.

Yahya Abu Al-Hamam, Abdul Hamid Abu Zayd’s Asistant

In his thirties, this man coming from the eastern Algerian capital reports to Abu Zayd and leads the “Furqan” Brigade stationed to the West of Timbuktu (Northern Mali). Abu Al-Hamam is a former member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. He occupies a very important rank in Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb because he is involved in most kidnappings which the region witnessed. “Many have some power in the region, but in reality Abu Al-Hamam is the most dangerous as he moves on the ground and he is more probably the killer of the French hostage Michelle Germano,” Anis Rahmani said.

Mauritanian media say that Yahya Abu Al-Hamam was killed on 21 September in an attack launched by the Mauritanian army against Al-Qaeda militants.

Abd Al-Qadir Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Commander of Al-Mulathamun Brigade

Masud Abd Al-Qadir Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Elias Abou Abbas or “The One-Eyed” has been active in Al-Sahel area since more than 15 years. The sources of the French Center for Research on Intelligence state that his brigade named Al-Mulathamun is active mainly in Northern Mali and Mauritania. The man, who has been married for years to a member of a notable family from Mali Tuareg, leads a nomadic life.

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Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb

The Algerian national Mokhtar Al-Mokhtar surnamed “The One-Eyed” is one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb

Mokhtar Belmokhtar was born in Ghardaia (in southeastern Algeria) in 1972. In his youth, he fought in Afghanistan. He had a considerable reputation in Algeria for killing customs officers and border guards during cross-border smuggling operations.

“Mokhtar Belmokhtar is a more of smuggler than a terrorist. He once exploited Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. Today, he exploits Al-Qaeda Organization to smuggle goods in the name of Islam, but he seeks only to make money,” Anis Rahmani went on.

Rodez from the French Center for Research on Intelligence now emphasizes that Al-Qaeda “cannot do without Belmokhtar for it is he who provides the organization with the best part of its needs of vehicles and weapons because of his activity as a smuggler in the region from 1995.”

Belmokhtar is surnamed “The One-Eyed” for he lost an eye while handling explosives. He is also called “Mr. Marlboro” for he supervises cigarette, drug and weapon smugglings. The man fosters good relationships with the local population, who provides him protection and facilitate his smuggling activities.

“Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb managed to ally with the Tuareg known for their disbelief in Salafism. But, they live in miserable areas and are seduced by money and security,” Anis Rahmani thinks. “Al-Qaeda uses mercenaries for the smuggling and kidnapping operations for its militants avoid cities for they can be easily detected,” Rahmani added. The former Amir moves to “Sahara Emirate” and acts on his own without reference in many cases to the leadership of the organization.

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Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb is an active branch of Al-Qaeda

It is Belmokhtar’s group that in Mauritania, in November 2009, kidnapped two Spanish humanitarian workers who were later released in August more likely after getting a ransom.