The new dynamics of the Maghrebi Jihad

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Article published by TheMaghrebiNote

The Jihadis in Mali have taken a big hit since the French led invasion of Northern Mali, often referred to as, Azawad.

This French invasion that was named “Operation Serval” expelled the Jihadis from their strongholds and they were forced to retreat from the Major cities and regions, leaving them without their governing authority that they had established since 2011.

But there seems to be a rise of the Jihadi activity in this period of late 2014 – on July the 15th, 1 French soldier was killed and 7 others wounded, in a Car-bomb attack 60 miles north of the city of Gao, which was later claimed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s brigade, “Al-Mourabitoune”. In an interview with Al-Akhbar news agency, the spokesman of Al-Mourabitoune, Abu Assem Al-Muhajir claimed the responsibility of this attack, calling it “a response to the French propaganda, aimed at eliminating the Mujahideen”[1]. In August alone, 1 UN troop was killed while 5 others wounded, in two attacks both rumored to be conducted by the Jihadis.
While Mokhtar Belmokhtar and his close friend, Oumar Hamaha also known as “Red Beard” decided to merge together, now functioning as one group[2] – the influential and powerful Iyad Ag Ghali is still running his group Jama’at Ansar Dine with very close ties to AQIM[3] now led by Abu Musab Abdelwadod.
Although, Iyad Ag Ghali did call for something that seemed to be a unification of all groups that are fighting under the Jihadi banner inside Mali – in an exclusive video released through the official twitter account of AQIM named “Statement to the Islamic Ummah”, Iyad called for the Muslims to unite under one banner while also addressing other issues such as the ‘propaganda’ made against him and his allies. Iyad Ag Ghali said in this exclusive video; “And we call upon the proud Muslim people who have been invaded unlawfully by the French and their collaborators, to unite the ranks and stand as one in the face of this historical enemy”.

Furthermore a new official spokesman of the group of Mokhtar Belmokhtar named Abu Assem Al-Muhajir has been very active in the media, speaking for his group and it’s realities and denying and claiming their innocence from actions they did not participate in. In an interview with Al-Akhbar news agency made the 26th of July, Abu Assem Al-Muhajir denied that his group had anything to do with the kidnapping of the French Hostage, Gilberto Rodriguez, in an interview that seemed to be disassociating the prominent former MUJAO figure, Sultan Bady, from the brigade of Mokhtar Belmokhtar and his allies.

Besides all these events occurring in Mali, Libya has taken it’s turn, and prominent and influential Islamist figures have started their campaign of Jihad in the city of Benghazi, Tripoli, Derna and other strongholds of the Islamists.

Similarities & differences between the Malian Jihad and the current Libyan Jihad:
The situation in Libya is quite different from how the Jihadi’s gained power in Mali, although there are similarities that can’t be denied nor forsaken. The Libyan Jihadis and the influence of the Islamists has been strengthened by the Arab Spring, a conflict between the Loyal supporters of Gaddafi and his army, and the revolutionists on the other side. This was not quite the case in Mali, but yet the area that the Jihadi’s had gained power in Mali was still an area of conflict, not to the same extent as Libya, but the Azawad-region and it’s fight for independence from Mali indeed gave the Jihadi’s a chance to capitalize and start a military campaign, boosted by the support of an influential man like Iyad Ag Ghali.

An important thing to look at would be how the application of the Jihadi agenda has been different in the context of Libya contra Mali. The Libyan al-Qaeda affiliate, which is Ansar Al-Sharia, led by Shâykh Muhammad Al-Zahawi, have been very different in their application of Islamic governance in comparison to Mali.

Instead of waging a somewhat brutal war and gaining power through force, the Islamist group started off as a Da’wah (Advocating and calling to Islam) group.
It served mainly as a peaceful organization, though with its Military components. And it is not as quick and hasty to apply the penal code of the Islamic Sharia Law, rather it serves more importantly as a charity group – giving food and money to the people while calling them to act accordingly to Islam in all affairs of their lives. As recent as this month (August, 2014), Ansar Al-Sharia ran a campaign in which they named “The best of Nations”, in which home supplies were distributed to the poor and needy families of the city of Derna[4].

Recently the Military General, General Haftar issued a campaign against the Islamists, in which he claimed to be conducting in order to eliminate the Islamists that are mainly residing in the city of Benghazi. As a reaction to this, a group or a council of influential Islamist groups had been formed in the city of Benghazi, named, “The Rebels Council of Benghazi. The group merged together in the fight against the forces of Haftar and his loyalists, hence starting a new full scale Jihadi campaign of the Islamists in Benghazi. New videos and pictures illustrating the battles between the Haftar forces and the Islamist started to emerge from the official outlets of Ansar Al-Sharia and other Islamist groups.
The group that includes the influential Islamist, Wissam Ben Hamid and his brigade – are openly declaring their fight against the secularist forces and openly expressing their goal to establish a Sharia governed state. In the First statement issued by the Rebels council, the group issued a few points explaining their motives and agendas, point number 3 in that statement said; “We call for the establishment of Islamic Sharia Law and the elimination of Secular laws and regulations that have been imposed on the Muslims” – once again affirming their goals being equal to that of the other Islamist groups in Maghreb and especially in Mali.

A letter that was written by the current leader of AQIM Abu Musab Abdelwadod that was written to Usama Ben Laden, expressed the downsides of the quick and hastened application of the Islamic Penal code in the cities of Mali which is already a country struck with much poverty[5] – this might have been noted down by the current leader of al-Qaeda, Doctor Aymen Al-Dhawahiri, hence we saw a different strategy of the Jihadis in Libya and Tunisia, and indeed there is a difference between the local support for Jihadis in Mali we saw in 2011, and the local support for the Jihadis in Libya that we see today.
Fairly large demonstrations in support of the Islamist groups have been taking place in the city of Benghazi due to their efforts of establishing social services and taking care of the poor and needy families before establishing the Islamic penal code.
Another minor thing to note down is the rhetoric used by the Jihadis in Libya and their expression of their goals. We see on a larger scale the use of words like, “Our people and our nation”, not that this was not used by the Jihadis in Mali, but rather we saw on a bigger scale the expression of the goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate across the Sahara and Maghreb, this has been toned down and the plight of the locals and their needs are prioritized much more and long term plans are expressed differently.

All these events are leading forward to a much bigger scale of Islamism in Libya I believe, we already see the Jihadis taking much power in Benghazi capturing Haftar positions and controlling already large parts of Benghazi, this can be expected in other strongholds of the Islamists, like Derna – all these events will also have an effect on the dynamics in Mali, already there have been rumors of Mokhtar Belmokhtar recruiting and training Libyan fighters to fight inside Northern Mali, and also reports of Libyan commanders training and commanding inside Mali[6], and with the march of the Libyan Jihad and its influence, we can expect this to effect Mali heavily. No doubt, Ansar Al-Sharia and its allies are no longer just a group preaching, but it has shown its activity.

[1] Translation of the Interview: http://maliwitness.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/interview-with-abu-assem-al-muhajir-spokesman-of-al-mourabitoune-claiming-the-recent-attack-in-al-mustarat-transcript/

[2] Article link: http://maliwitness.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/mokhtar-elmokhtars-group-al-mourabitoune-speaks-out-english-summary-of-latest-interview-w-ani/

[3] Abbreviation for; al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

[4] http://maliwitness.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/ansar-al-sharia-in-libya-delivering-food-and-utilities-to-the-needy-and-poor-families-of-derna-libya/

[5] Letter: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Buwy7wmIcAAEjFO.jpg:large

[6] Report: http://maliwitness.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/the-return-of-the-jihadis-in-mali-and-the-upcoming-major-offensive/

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