Armed assailants seized the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 20, taking some 170 hostages and sparking a confrontation with security troops and US and French special forces in which at least 27 people are dead. A group calling itself al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility jointly with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Al-Mourabitoun is said to be the new outfit of Algerian Islamist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar—who was twice reported killed, once in a Chadian military operation in Mali in 2013 and then earlir this year in a US air-strike in Libya. In a statement posted on Twitter on June 19, just after the Libyan air-strike, the group said he was "still alive and well and he wanders and roams in the land of Allah, supporting his allies and vexing his enemies." (SMH, CNN, DNA)
The latest edition of the English-language ISIS magazine Dabiq, released online Sept. 9, contains the predictable parade of perversions. Two men, Norwegian and Chinese nationals, are offered for sale as slaves. The destruction of ancient temples at the Palmyra archaeological site is trumpeted. Child soldiers are glorified as "lion cubs" of the "caliphate." The 9-11 attacks are hailed as the "blessed operations." But it also features an interview with Abul Mughirah al-Qahtani, identified as the "delegated leader" of the Islamic State's Libyan "province," in which he harshly criticizes several rival jihadist outfits, including Ansar al-Sharia, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and the Libyan Dawn coalition.
With ISIS in control of a chunk of Libya and Tunisia militarizing after a deadly terrorist attack, an article appears in the United Arab Emirates' The National warning of a "narco-jihadist" threat in North Africa. The commentary by Abdelkader Cheref, a professor at the State University of New York, warns that "huge quantities of Moroccan hashish transit through the Sahara where so-called narco-jihadists, who control a triangle of no-man's land between northern Mali and Niger, eastern Mauritania, southern Algeria and Libya, smuggle the shipments to Europe. There are mounting concerns regarding the links between Moroccan drug barons and narco-jihadists linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa."
The Pentagon announced June 23 that Ali Awni al-Harzi, a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, was killed eight days earlier by a US air-strike in Mosul, Iraq. The Defense Department describes al-Harzi as a "person of interest" in the Benghazi attack, adding that he "operated closely with multiple ISIL-associated extremists throughout North Africa and the Middle East." In April, both the US State Department and the United Nations designated al-Harzi as a terrorist. The State Department found that Harzi "joined Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) in 2011 and was a high-profile member known for recruiting volunteers, facilitating the travel of AAS-T fighters to Syria, and for smuggling weapons and explosives into Tunisia." Ansar al-Sharia works closely with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The State Department's designation did not mention Harzi's role in the Benghazi attack, but the UN's designation for Harzi reads: "Planned and perpetrated the attack against the Consulate of the United States in Benghazi, Libya on 11 Sep. 2012."
US warplanes on June 14 carried out air-strikes on a farm outside Ajdabiya, Libya, killing several leading members of the Ansar al-Sharia militant network. Among those reported killed is Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar AKA "Khaled Abou El Abbas" or "Laaouar," former leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Details of the attack were reported by authorities of Libya's "official" government in Tobruk, who said they had been consulted before the raid. Washington only confirmed a raid against a "mid-level al-Qaeda operative in Libya," without giving any names or exact location. After the air-strikes, there was apparently an attempt to bring the wounded into town for treatment at the hospital, but it was met with stiff resistance both from local reaidents and troops from the Libya army's 151 Battalion. The targeted farm reportedly served as a base for a mixed force of jihadists from Ansar al-Sharia, ISIS and the Ajdabiya Shura Council. (Libya Herald, AFP, June 14)
A new armed group calling itself the "Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria" has split from al-Qaeda's North African framchise and sworn loyalty to ISIS. In a communique released Sept. 14, a regional commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said he has from the group, accusing it of "deviating from the true path." Seeming to address ISIS "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the commander, Gouri Abdelmalek AKA Khaled Abu Suleimane, wrote, "You have in the Islamic Maghreb men if you order them they will obey you." The newly created "Caliphate Soldiers" or "Jound al Khilafa fi Ard al Jazayer" is the second group to break with AQIM and pledge loyalty to ISIS, the first one being Mokhtar Belmokhtar's "Those who sign in Blood," which observers say is now likely based in southern Libya. (Reuters, Al Jazeera, Sept. 15)
A Dec. 28 New York Times feature by David D. Kirkpatrick purports to categorically dismiss a role for al-Qaeda in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, sure to win cheers from Democrats and jeers from Republicans. But the notion of any objectivity on this highly politicized question is dubious at best. In the paragraph where he attempts to define terms, Kirkpatrick poses it as an either/or:
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said May 28 during a stop in Niger that the attackers who carried out last week's double suicide bombings on a military camp and uranium mine likely came from southern Libya—indicating that jihadist forces driven from north Mali have taken refuge across borders in the lawless spaces of the Sahara. He also said they had inside help, saying: "The terrorist groups benefited from a certain level of complicity." Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's also said the jihadists infiltrated from Libya.