Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) designated Algerian terrorist Nabil Makhloufi, alias Nabil Abu Alqama, as the new head of the Sahara emirate.
The « appointment » of Abu Alqama, who replaced Yahia Djouadi, « took place during the latter half of November 2011 », ANI reported last month.
« He was also assigned the task of leading all the organisation’s battalions and brigades in the Sahara, or what is known as the ninth region of the organisation, along with keeping the leaders of those battalions and brigades in their posts, » the Mauritanian newspaper added.
The move came on the heels of a fierce rivalry and internecine disputes within the terrorist group.
Mohamed 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, also vied for control of AQIM’s Sahara emirate.
The leadership change has far-reaching implications for countries in the region. Those who craft security policies must take it into consideration, according to analyst Bashir Ould Babaneh.
The move « is related to trying to overcome the conflicts of Sahara emirs and the leaders of their battalions and brigades, as well as being an attempt to inject new blood into the emirate, which has become the most important emirate of the organisation and the most vital and active », commented Mohamed Mahmoud Aboulmaaly, who specialises in terrorist groups in the Sahel.
The change came in response to « increasing differences between former emir Yahia Djouadi and some emirs of the other brigades and battalions », he added.
« Yahia Djouadi did not succeed, according to the organization, in activating and developing Sahara Emirate strategies, » Aboulmaaly said, « resulting in a slowdown in the latter’s activity in 2007, 2008 and 2009. »
Infighting within the terrorist organisation, dried-up resources and a decline in their ranks significantly weakened AQIM, analysts note.
Al-Qaeda relies on the Sahara emirate as a source of financing through ransom money and uses it for smuggling, and enlisting the fighters in Sahara camps, Aboulmaaly explained.
For his part, analyst Mohamed Naji suggested that the change is due to « security breaches experienced by al-Qaeda in recent times, as well as the fact that the measure is a precaution and in anticipation of a major offensive led by the military powers in the region, especially under the new military alliances between the Algerian and Malian armies and the declaration by the EU countries of their interest in a military presence in the Sahel region ».
Abu Alqama was previously a member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
By Jemal Oumar, Nouakchott