|Mokhtar Belmokhtar||Khalid Abu Al Abbès||Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat||Africa North||Algerian||At Large||20071112||Link|
|Alias of Mokhtar Belmokhtar|
|Mokhtar Belmokhtar||Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat||North Africa||Algerian||At Large||20030516|
|Belaouar||Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat||Africa: North||Algerian||At Large||20050613||Link|
|Alias of Mokhtar Belmokhtar|
|Mokhtar Belmokhtar||Salafist Group for Call and Combat||North Africa||20030605|
|Mokhtar Belmokhtar||Salafist Group for Preaching and Fighting||Africa: North||20040620||Link|
|Maghreb still faces Mali menace|
|[MAGHAREBIA] Military action in Mali may soon be over, but the job of protecting the Sahel from and traffickers is just getting started.|
Terrorist groups and international criminal gangs in northern Mali are still a source of global concern, according to participants at the recent MEDays summit in Tangier.
Malian Foreign Minister Zahabi Ould Sidi Mohammed called on international partners to help rid his country of kidnappers sand killers because "the security of the region and the world" was at stake.
The joint strategy must also address development and the fight against poverty, 's defence and national security chief said at the 3-day event, which wrapped up on November 16th.
' intervened militarily in Mali due to the magnitude of the terrorist threat, Francis Delon said. But that threat has since spilled beyond the country's borders.
"Europe has to realise that the problems of the Sahel are not restricted to Africa, but concern the whole world, especially Europe," he said.
"Today, nine months after the launch of the military operation, it could be argued that the country still has not fully come out of the crisis," he said.
Terrorist groups received several hard blows that "crippled their capacity", Delon noted. In the most recent action, French forces on November 14th eliminated Hacene Ould Khalil (aka Jouleibib), a top lieutenant to terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
But as the execution of French journalists near Kigal earlier this month showed, armed jihadists have not yet been "fully eradicated from the north of Mali", the French defence official added.
Now that French intervention is nearing an end, the government of Mali must be prepared to take the reins, he said.
Drugs add another dimension to the security crisis facing the Sahel-Saharan region, Mauritanian researcher Mohammed Mahmoud Ould Mouhamedou warns.
Drug trafficking overlaps with the arms trade and terrorism financing in northern Mali, Ould Mouhamedou tells Magharebia.
"The region is no longer just a transit area for drugs coming from South America in the direction of Europe, but it has become an area for the manufacture and consumption of hard drugs. This raises a lot the security threats for the region," he added.
The international drug trade across the region is estimated to be 40 to 50 tonnes per year, "which is worth up to two billion dollars", says Abdoullah Coulibaly, president of the Forum of Bamako.
"This is a very large amount for a region that suffers from poverty, marginalisation, and weak capacity," he notes.
The roots of the problem can be traced back to tribal and ethnic conflicts that once plagued northern Mali and had led to the withdrawal of the army, Coulibaly explains.
"This security vacuum was exploited by s to establish themselves in the region. After that came the terrorists, he says, and "their interests overlapped with the interests and activities of drug smuggling gangs".
"These groups that call themselves jihadist have nothing to do with religion. They are criminal gangs specialising in hostage-taking and creating chaos. Unfortunately, there was an international miscalculation of the magnitude of the danger posed by the settlement of criminal gangs and armed terrorist groups in northern Mali," the Malian analyst tells Magharebia.
The prevailing belief was that it was just a problem for Mali, he says. "Today, it is different. It is enough to look at the operation at [Algerian gas complex] In Amenas, where 800 hostages were seized from more than 20 countries, to realise the size of the threat they pose to global security, and not just to localities or regions."
Sheikh Sidi Diarra, a former Special Adviser on Africa originally from Mali, blames his country's leadership of failing to prevent terrorist groups and s from setting up shop in the north and mixing with the locals.
Things went from bad to worse with the collapse of Moamer Qadaffy's regime and the return of the heavily armed battalions that supported him, Diarra says.
"The authorities in Mali underestimated the implications of the fall of Qadaffy and found themselves in an unmanageable situation," the Malian UN advisor says.
"Niger, on the other hand, dealt proactively with the fallout by raising the defence and security budget by 65 per cent, and enabling the army to control the situation and disarm all fighters returning from Libya," Diarra adds.
As to the United Nations force in Mali, Diarra says that the 12,000 troops promised by West African countries never materialised.
"The UN force in Mali did not reach half of the number originally planned, due to the strict standards imposed by the United Nations in the selection of peacekeepers, which can only be met by a small minority of African soldiers," Diarra says.
"So I believe that the United Nations will go to countries that have experience in peacekeeping forces to fill this shortage, especially Asian countries such as Pakistain, Bangladesh, and India," he adds.
|Belmokhtar deputy killed in Mali|
|[MAGHAREBIA] The top aide to terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed by French forces in northern Mali, ANI reported on Thursday (November 21st).|
Jouleibib was the deputy commander of the "Signed in Blood" battalion, which for the deadly siege at Algeria's In Amenas gas complex and the twin suicide ings in Niger in May.
's chief of defence staff in last Thursday said only that French forces had "neutralised" several al-Qaeda members in northern Mali. A regional security source in Mali, however, confirmed to AFP the death of Belmokhtar's "right-hand man".
"He was responsible for the management of the group. It is truly a blow to Belmokhtar," the source added.
French forces also reportedly seized a cell phone and a computer belonging to Jouleibib.
|Algeria vows to pursue al-Qaeda|
|[MAGHAREBIA] An Algerian army unit at dawn on Tuesday (November 12th) took out five and another after an armed clash near Debdeb, some 450 kilometres from the centre of Illizi wilaya.|
I'm not sure which upazila that's in.
The operation came five days after Prime Minister Abdelmalik Sellal declared during his visit to Tamanrasset wilaya that the only problem faced by Algerian authorities in the region was al-Qaeda.
Sellal vowed to stamp out the terror group, telling prominent figures from the southern region that Algeria would work firmly to eliminate the organization and prevent it from operating on national territory.
He praised the efforts of Tamanrasset residents and others in southern Algeria in maintaining security and stability amid turmoil experienced by neighbouring countries.
But opening the border in the south was not on the agenda, he said, adding that the issue would require "some time". Criminals could "infiltrate the border and instigate problems on the national territory", he warned.
Algerian authorities closed the southern border with the launch of the international military campaign against terrorist groups in northern Mali. They have kept the border closed despite complaints from the local population. It was opened on an exceptional basis for the transport of relief supplies to residents of areas affected by floods in Mali.
Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz acknowledged that the Libyan border was the main concern for Algeria.
In a press statement Saturday, he said the southern and eastern border was under the direct supervision of the army, instead of civil authorities, due to the security concerns.
He confirmed that the army seized sophisticated weapons and missiles several times along this border. Belaiz stressed that the humanitarian situation on the border with Mali and Niger was taken into account, despite the fact that the frontier was still closed for transport.
Algerian authorities have tightened security measures along the border in recent months, deploying thousands of troops.
The latest operation took place November 1st, when joint security forces two in the municipality of Borj Baji Mokhtar. In a second operation, weapons were confiscated in a location near the border town of Tin Zaouatine.
El Khabar reported that the captured belonged to a cell active in northern Mali and were part of the battalion led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, alias Khaled Abou El Abbas or Laaouar. The were on their way to northern Mali. Troops confiscated a car and two Kalashnikovs.
Mahmoud Kmama, a Touareg elder in Tamanrasset and member of parliament, told Magharebia that "the state has always been present in southern Algeria through projects that benefit the population in terms of water supply, roads, health coverage and the opening of schools in addition to residential projects".
"Thanks to the efforts of our security units and the co-operation of the region's population, Algeria's borders are fully secured," Kmama said.
|Belmokhtar desperate for al-Qaeda approval|
|[MAGHAREBIA] Mokhtar Belmokhtar's bloody attacks have brought him worldwide scorn, even from those he sought most to impress within al-Qaeda central.|
The Algerian terrorist known as "Laaouar" in September issued a videotape in which he talked about all he had done since splitting from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He tried to depict himself as a jihadi emir, but that did little to bring him any endorsement by the global terror network.
In a speech marking the anniversary of the 2011 terror attacks, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al- mentioned all branches of the terrorist network across the world, from AQIM and a to the lone wolves.
He said nothing about Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
Since splitting from AQIM, Belmokhtar (aka Khaled Abou El Abass) began acting haphazardly, accumulating failures and errors. Immediately after the split, he founded his "the Signed-in-Blood Battalion".
The new organization inaugurated its bloody performance with the attack on the Tiguentourine gas plant near In Amenas. Belmokhtar's goal was to carry out an operation that could bring him attention and money, since he had a long history of hostage-taking and ransom negotiations. He anticipated a financial windfall from ransoms for the hundreds of foreign hostages.
The decisive intervention of the Algerian army shattered his dreams. Indeed, half of those killed when the ANP reclaimed the site came from the ranks of the assailants.
The killing machine of Belmokhtar next turned to Niger. The attack on the Arlit uranium mine killed 23 and the attack on the Agadez military school left several Nigerien soldiers dead. Belmokhtar did not collect any money from these operations; the army foiled his plan to take hostages.
Three key elements emerged about the new strategic directions of Laaouar. The first was the evidence of a partnership between the Signed-in-Blood Battalion and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).The two groups merged at the end of August, to create the "Mourabitounes".
The second element of the Laaouar's operations was the participation of from different nationalities: Sudan, Nigeria, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Western Sahara. This was an indication of the extent of the recruiting network upon which Belmokhtar relies.
The third element, which was revealed by Niger, was that the operations were planned and launched from Libya. This fact confirmed the theory that Belmokhtar had fled northern Mali to escape the military campaign.
In all these operations, the fate of the participating ended up being death.
They were all young people from different nationalities, who were lured by salafi jihadist elders, sent to join the ranks of Belmokhtar and then exploited.
Instead of their anticipated jihad, they ended up as criminals: taking hostages and requesting ransoms, or protecting convoys of international gangs of drug and weapons smugglers across the desert.
"Belmokhtar succeeded through these operations to attract attention and the lights of the global media, who followed these events and particularly the attack of In Amenas," noted Abdellah Rami, a Moroccan researcher specialised in Islamist groups.
"But the limelight did not seem to convince al-Qaeda's central command, which continues to see him with both caution and apprehension," the analyst added.
Belmokhtar's goal from these operations was to send a message to the central leadership of the organization that he was able to carry out important operations and deserved a promotion to the post of al-Qaeda emir for North and West Africa, Rami said.
"Al-Qaeda is not a structured organization subject to a hierarchy with strict regulations, as is the case of the ," the Moroccan expert pointed out. "It is a network of various groups and cells, and sometimes isolated individuals. Positions within the mother organization are gained based on the individual's performance and not through administrative advancements."
Belmokhtar thinks he has credentials he needs to advance, based on his participation in the Afghan jihad in the early nineties, all the way up to this year and his operation at In Amenas.
In addition, he managed the money gained from hostage ransoms and the protection fees paid by drug smugglers and traffickers of weapons and people, who turned to al-Qaeda to cross the Sahel and Sahara.
His proudest moments are in fact over operations conducted with international criminal gangs, under the cover of religion. According to some reports, even the real reason behind his defection along MUJAO from AQIM was a dispute over money and spoils.
The defection of Belmokhtar dealt a hard blow to AQIM, for it lost with him an essential source of money and weapons.
"I think that the organization of committed a big mistake when it dismissed Belmokhtar in October 2012 for lacking discipline, breaching leadership rules and failing to comply with orders," political scientist Hasnawi Abdul Latif told Magharebia.
"They did not know that he was seeking to create a rival organization in the region."
According to Hasnawi, "Droukdel's decision was bureaucratic and did not take into account the fact that Belmokhtar had spent decades in the desert of northern Mali."
"Belmokhtar's big ambition is reflected in the name of the organization that embraced him, the MUJAO. It implies that West Africa in its entirety is an area targeted by his rule," the academic said. "His ambitions are also reflected in the name he gave to the group under which his battalion merged with MUJAO."
"Al Mourabitoune refers to a state launched from the desert a thousand years ago and expanded to form the first empire in the West. Back then the Mourabitoune extended their influence to North and West Africa, in addition to Andalusia," he explained.
Mohammed Benhammou, who heads the African Federation for Strategic Studies (FAES) and the Moroccan Centre for Strategic Studies (CMES), noted that after the military campaign in northern Mali, armed terrorist groups "chose escape over confrontation, and urged their members to disperse in neighbouring countries, especially in the south of Libya, Chad, and Niger".
"Some of them merged even with the local population," he said. "Today, these groups are starting to resurface and come out of their dens, as indicated in the increasing frequency of terrorist operations in the north of Mali since last September."
Benhammou continued, "We are now facing an imminent danger with the reshaping of the ranks of these groups."
"What exacerbates this risk is the apparition of new areas where security is vulnerable, such as Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt."
As to the connections between the groups, Benhammou said, "There are ideological ties, as well as some form of co-ordination and consultation but no organizational links."
"Most groups declared and pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, like in Tunisia and the Shabaab in Somalia. Belmokhtar did the same thing. There are also some groups that did not declare explicitly their allegiance to al-Qaeda, although they adopted the same thinking and have the same salafi jihadist beliefs," the FAES chief said.
"What distinguishes all these groups is that they are independent in terms of funding, decision making, and organization. Although they all belong to the network of global terrorism of al-Qaeda, their objectives, operations, and organization tend to be local in nature."
Benhammou said, "The goal in the short term is to prevent these terrorist groups from conducting operations. We reach that goal by having the countries of the region share intelligence, and by having co-operation between security services and border controls."
"In the long term, eliminating this phenomenon requires a strategy that includes economic, social, religious and security dimensions. We must eliminate the recruiting capabilities of these terrorist groups and dry up their sources of funding, and reduce the social, political and religious deficiencies that feed them."
|Rewards offered for wanted terrorists|
|[MAGHAREBIA] The recent capture of al-Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Raghie (aka Abu Anas al-Libi) in is highlighting a programme that offers millions of dollars in rewards for leads on wanted terrorists.|
Described by his wife as " 's bodyguard", al-Libi was wanted in connection with the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 victims, including 212 civilians.
Rewards are an effective formula to collect information, according to Abdul Baset Chibi, one of the founders of the Libyan intelligence service. "It is common in this field and has proven successful in many countries," he noted.
The US offered a $5 million reward for help to capture Abu Anas al-Libi, or providing information leading to his arrest.
For her part, Salma Senhaji, a student in her twenties said, "I think that the amounts provided by the FBI are very attractive even to those who are close to and wanted criminals."
Ayman al- has the largest price on his head. The FBI is offering $25 million to those who can help in his arrest. The FBI also posted for ten others of various Arab nationalities and Guyanese national Adnan Shukrijumah.
It is believed that Shukrijumah took over the duties of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in training for al-Qaeda. He plays a pivotal role in the recruitment of young people and in the creation of new cells for al-Qaeda.
"Offering rewards for the identification of people involved in terrorism is effective and should be used by all nations, especially since it has proved its efficacy on more than one occasion," S.A., a retired Libyan army officer who requested anonymity for fear of his life, said.
He added, "Many crimes have occurred in our city, Benghazi, and many of my comrades from the Libyan army were killed. To this day, we have not found the real killers. Yet if the Libyan government or one of the wealthy residents of Benghazi had offered a reward to identify the killers, we would not have waited all this time and we would not have seen more victims."
Basma Khalfaoui, wife of slain Tunisian opposition politician Chokri Belaid, was asked whether a financial reward to help identify the killers would be a positive step. "Why not?" she replied. "We have to consider this option as perhaps it will lead us to the truth."
Tunisian authorities accused of involvement in the of Belaid but have failed to track down the murderers.
Abou Iyadh, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, could be one person to add to the list, according to Walid Aisha, a civil society activist in Tripoli. Aisha also suggested adding the names of people wanted in connection with the murder of the US ambassador to Libya, including Ahmed Boukhtala.
"Offering financial rewards is not restricted to a particular state," criminologist Walid al-Hani noted. "It is used by several countries that suffer from terrorism and organised crime. Even poor countries could not help but to offer awards to eliminate the growing phenomenon of terrorism."
"In September, Yemen's Supreme Security Committee published the names of 25 planning to carry out operations in the country. The committee offered rewards worth $230,000 for information leading to their arrest. This amount is very tempting in a country that is among the poorest in the world," al-Hani said.
In June of last year and in order to face growing terrorism in West Africa, the US offered for the first time lucrative financial rewards to those who provide information leading to key leaders in regional terrorist organizations.
Rewards were posted for leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and the Signed-in-Blood Brigade.
Five million dollars were offered for information on AQIM leader Yahya Abou El Hammam as well as for Mokhtar Belmokhtar (aka Khaled Abou El Abbas or Laaouar). Three million dollars were offered for help leading to the location of senior AQIM official Malik Abou Abdelkarim and MUJAO spokesperson Oumar Ould Hamaha. Seven million dollars were also offered for information leading to the arrest of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
|Belmokhtar defection weakens al-Qaeda|
|[MAGHAREBIA] Mokhtar Belmokhtar's split from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) raises questions about the overall strength of the parent organization, analysts say.|
In late August, al-Qaeda splinter group Katibat El Moulethemoune ("Brigade of the Veiled Ones") led by Belmokhtar (real name Khaled Abou El Abass) joined forces with the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) to create the "Mourabitounes".
To local experts, the move looks like the only option left for jihadists ostracised by al-Qaeda's Maghreb leadership. The former AQIM commander had already been cut off by the organization.
|Tunisians join Mourabitounes terrorist group|
|[MAGHAREBIA] Some 300 Tunisian joined the new "Mourabitounes" terrorist group, Mosaique FM reported on Wednesday (September 18th), citing security sources.|
Most of the Tunisians came from northern Mali, while others had been in Libya since the toppling of the Moamer Qadaffy regime.
According to the radio station, a majority of Mourabitounes are now based in training camps in southern Libya.
The group was formed in August, when the al-Qaeda offshoot led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar joined forces with the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
"The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) threat is real, and whoever doubts that can look at the Jebel Chaambi massacre in which 8 of our best soldiers were killed last Ramadan," Col. Mohammed Ahmed, general co-ordinator of the Veteran Military Officers Association, told Magharebia.
"That organization is well trained, and more importantly, it is capable of collecting information, and this is only done by groups that have extensive experience in the field of terrorism," he added. "They are a mix of returnees from various battlefronts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali."
Last July, the interior ministry received more than 20 "warnings of plots and bombings targeting Tunisia's Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, former prime minister and leader of Nidaa Tounes Béji Caid Essebsi, Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) Secretary-General Houcine Abbasi, and other ", Echorouk reported Thursday.
These terrorist plots never succeeded, thanks to tight protection provided for targeted figures and efforts made by the counter-terrorism agency unit," the paper added.
Security agencies in Maghreb, Sahel and southern Europe countries warned late last month that the new Mourabitounes terror group was likely contemplating terrorist operations "bigger" than the deadly siege at Algeria's Tiguentourine gas complex last winter, El Khabar reported.
Efforts were under way to convince AQIM, Ansar al-Din, as well as terrorist brigades active in Tunisia, to join the new organization, the paper added.
declared Tunisia "a land of jihad", National Union of Tunisian Security Forces Syndicates (UNSFST) member Sahbi Jouini said on September 9th.
"The terrorist threat in Tunisia is real, and serious co-ordination is now needed between the various agencies in Tunisia," UNSFST spokesperson Imed Belhadj Khlifa told Magharebia.
"The matter shouldn't be restricted to the interior ministry alone; rather, it should include the judiciary, the ministry of religious affairs and the finance ministry," he added.
The Union of Tunisian Magistrates (UMT) and the UNSFST issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying that they would "unify their efforts to protect the country, put its supreme interests above anything else and confront all forms of terrorism".
|AQIM lashes out at Morocco|
|[MAGHAREBIA] In an unprecedented move, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) launched a 41-minute provocative video about Morocco last Wednesday (September 11th).|
Styled as a "documentary", the internet video mocks the domestic and foreign policy of the country and its efforts to fight terrorism.
It also shows an image of the Moroccan monarch engulfed in flames.
The video includes footage of al-Qaeda training in the forests and mountains of Algeria under the personal supervision of (aka Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud).
The tape ends with a call by Droukdel for young people to join the ranks of jihadists.
According to Mohamed Darif, a Moroccan researcher specialising in Islamic groups, the new video reveals the real "dilemma faced by the organization when targeting Morocco".
"AQIM has achieved some success in attracting Moroccans and sending them to hotbeds of tension and battlefronts, particularly Syria and Iraq, but they did not succeed in general at targeting Morocco and compromising its institutions," he told Magharebia.
"This failure has exacerbated the group's anger and rage," he added.
What provokes al-Qaeda is the exception posed by Morocco, Darif explained.
The world has seen al-Qaeda operations "expand into Libya and along the Algerian-Tunisian borders, as well as in Sinai, Egypt", he said. "Morocco is today the only country that still eludes al-Qaeda and this provokes its anger."
"Consequently, issuing this tape is an expression of frustration in the face of the successes achieved by Moroccan security authorities in dismantling terrorist cells and preventing them from carrying out sabotage operations," he said.
Indeed, the new tape comes not long after yet another Morocco AQIM cell was dismantled.
"There is a strong desire in AQIM to carry out a quality operation in Morocco, in order to shake its self-confidence and steadfastness, and put an end to its exclusive condition in the region", political analyst Driss Kassouri confirmed.
Ksouri noted that the leader of the dismantled cell was in direct contact with the ship of the organization in , Algeria, and was planning a retaliatory strike at Guelmim airport, among other targets.
Mohamed Benhammou, president of the African Federation of Strategic Studies, shared that view.
"Al-Qaeda seeks an operation in Morocco because of its symbolism and the fact that such an operation, if completed, would be considered a resounding victory, especially in the current period," Benhammou said.
This is a crucial time in terms of restructuring these groups, he said, after the blows they received during the military intervention in Mali. "They witnessed disintegration and dispersion, as well as a flight of fighters," he added.
The airing of the tape coincided with the publication by al-Qaeda central of an audio recording by Ayman al- , which also included incitement against Morocco.
Amazigh activist Boubaker Ounghir downplayed the impact of these threats but said they required due diligence and caution, "especially since al-Qaeda in the region is now in possession of a variety of weapons after the collapse of the Qadaffy regime in Libya and the chaos that followed".
"In addition, there is also a factor of competition and a race between the various terrorist groups, especially AQIM and Mokhtar Belmokhtar new group, Mourabitounes in order to destabilise Morocco and end its exclusive condition," Ounghir said.
Cherkaoui Roudani, a member of parliament and an expert on strategic issues said, "Al-Qaeda seeks to transform the North African region into a new Afghanistan, the so-called green fascist state which is totally incompatible with what Morocco represents in terms of its successful building of democracy. This model has become an obstacle to the ambitions of al-Qaeda."
He added, "They will make every effort to wage war on the borders with Morocco, as they did with Tunisia in Jebel Chaambi."
"They will do their utmost to conduct terrorist operations inside Morocco," he warned. "We have to be vigilant and to be on the lookout in order to thwart all their attempts and protect our societal democratic project."
|Mokhtar turns to propaganda to boost image|
|[MAGHAREBIA] As part of a struggle to improve his name since losing his al-Qaeda command, terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar just released a "greatest hits" video of his freelance work in Mali, Algeria and Niger.|
The MUJAO and al-Mua'qi'oon Biddam -- Laaouar's group -- for the Niger violence, saying the actions were to avenge the February killing of Al-Qaeda brigade commander terrorist Abdelhamid Abou Zeid by international forces in Mali.
Laaouar appears on the tape training fighters for the Niger attacks, dubbed "Sheikh Abdelhamid Abou Zeid's conquest". The video includes photos of Abou Zeid with Belmokhtar, to emphasise their accord.
Going at it alone has not proven successful for the one-eyed terrorist.
The ousted al-Qaeda brigade leader last month joined forces with Mali-based terror group Movement of Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) to create the "Mourabitounes".
The video shows training and preparations for the 2013 siege at Algeria's In Amenas gas plant, which left dozens of civilian hostages dead. The January attack was a joint operation by the MUJAO and Laaouar's katibat.
The tape also features clips of the in action in northern Mali last year. Laaouar's "Brigade of the Veiled Ones" and their MUJAO allies are seen engaged in bloody in Gao against the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
"This latest media production is an attempt by this group to show that it still has the strength and the gear to continue the fight in the Sahel," filmmaker Zine El Abidine Ould Bukhari told Magharebia.
"It is nothing more than a propaganda movie," he added. "This display of military equipment and mental readiness of terrorist elements did not bear fruit in the real field of confrontation, which means that it is mainly promotional material and nothing more."
According to Sahara Media Editor Bashir Ould Babana, Belmokhtar was weakened and his forces divided.
"Therefore Laaouar is seeking to reunite the remaining pieces and trying to rebuild an organization through publicity campaigns and buying weapons," Babana said.
To that end, the terrorist is now in Libya, Mosaique FM reported on Friday.
"Laaouar, who has a network of positive relations with some of the leaders of terrorist organizations in Libya, was accompanied on his trip by Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of Ansar al-Din," the Tunisian radio station reported.
Laaouar is in Libya looking for weapons, unnamed security sources reportedly told the radio station, in order to conduct terrorist attacks in Tunisia and Algeria.
|Belmokhtar, MUJAO launch new jihadist group|
|[MAGHAREBIA] The al-Qaeda splinter group led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) joined forces this week.|
The El Moulethemoune katibat ("Brigade of the Veiled Ones") and fellow al-Qaeda breakaway group MUJAO "decided to unite in a single movement called the 'Mourabitounes' to achieve the unity of s, from the Nile to the Atlantic", the jihadist organizations said in a statement to Mauritanian daily ANI on Wednesday (August 21st).
MUJAO and the brigade led by Belmokhtar (aka "Laaouar") said they had agreed to cede command to a new leader. According to ANI, the unnamed jihadist fought in Afghanistan before arriving in Mali.
"We reaffirm our devotion and our loyalty to Sheikh Ayman al- and reiterate our commitment to the jihadist doctrine conceived by the martyr ," the statement read, adding that the group drew "its inspiration from al-Qaeda and Taliban".
The new entity also threatened in its joint statement to target French interests worldwide.
In a statement reported by ANI, MUJAO explained that the merger was based on the principle that "unity is strength".
But according to local experts, the alliance is a sign of the terror groups' growing weakness and internal splits rather than strength.
"Following the French intervention in Mali, nothing will ever be the same again. The splits within AQIM and the other groups operating in the Sahel-Sahara region were already obvious," analyst Abdou Ould Mohamed told Magharebia. "The dismissal of Belmokhtar by Abou Moussab Abdelwadoud [ ] brought these disagreements to light. Within these groups, it's often the law of the jungle that prevails."
AQIM is "now split along two fault lines", according to former French Ambassador to Jean-Christophe Rufin. "The first is between its leadership, which has remained in the north in the Algerian scrubland around the emir Abdelmalik Droukdel, and the Sahel brigades in the south, which are not only far away from their leadership but also far away from each other," he told Le Figaro.
"These phalanxes have become bigger thanks to their hostage-taking and the vast desert area, which has enabled them to come into contact with all kinds of terrorist and mafia groups. As a result, the leadership of AQIM is having difficulty controlling its troops from the mountains," Rubin added.
According to Tahalil editor and terrorist expert Isselmou Ould Moustapha, the merger could have multiple implications for the future of terror groups in the Sahel.
The 'Mourabitounes' may try to "supplant AQIM in the Sahel-Saharan region, where it suffered a loss in Mali in terms of capabilities as well as its main leaders such as Abou Zeid", he explained. "The survivors have returned to Algeria, the south of Tunisia and Libya."
"The merger is partial because it was not signed by the other groups (or what remains of them) including 'Signed in Blood', a battalion of Belmokhtar virtually decimated in In Amenas (January 2013) and other phalanges of MUJAO, such as the Salahedine Brigade and Ousmane Dane Fodio Brigade," the analyst noted.
"The two groups thrown out of Mali and greatly weakened by air strikes and near-suicidal operations seek to restore their capability of supporting an operational tempo that has much abated in recent months in terms of attacks and operations. They do not even have the potential for taking hostages, their main source of income. Yet money is the sinew of war!" Ould Moustapha concluded.
Belmokhtar (aka Khaled Abou El Abass) orchestrated the siege at an Algerian natural gas plant near In Amenas, killing dozens of civilians. Belmokhtar's splinter group also claimed credit for a twin bombing that left at least twenty Nigeriens dead last May.
|Sahara terrorist groups merge, threaten French interests|
The move unites
It was not possible to independently verify the report but North African militants frequently use ANI to publish their statements.
The new name for the group was given as Al Mourabitoun. It was not immediately clear who had been named its leader.
Belmokhtar is quoted as saying the group aimed to create an Islamic state and recent events in Egypt had shown how the "Zionist and Crusader" forces wanted to destroy Islam.
In the statement sent to ANI, Belmokhtar said the group would concentrate on attacking French interests.
"We say to France and its allies in the region ... the Mujahideen have met and agreed to defeat your armies and destroy your plans and projects," he said.
|Al Qaeda's Widening North African Jihad Confounds Foes|
| Inquiries into the bloody assault on an Algerian gas plant are uncovering increasing evidence of contacts between the assailants and the jihadis involved in killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya nearly a year ago.|
The extent of the contacts between the is still unclear and nobody is sure there was a direct link between the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the carnage at In Amenas, where 39 foreign hostages were killed in January.
But the findings, according to three sources with separate knowledge of U.S. investigations, shed some light on the connections between Al Qaeda affiliates stretching ever further across North and West Africa.
At the center of the web is Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has expanded far from its Algerian birthplace and now has links to other jihadi groups in Maghreb countries, including Tunisia and Libya. Their shared ideology combines with other, often financial, interests.
Despite being driven from large parts of the West African state of Mali by a French-led military operation early this year, AQIM are strengthening their presence elsewhere.
Four months after the In Amenas raid, the attack's , Mokhtar Belmokhtar - who has strained but functioning relations with AQIM's leadership - for an attack on a uranium mine run by 's Areva in Niger far to the south.
Belmokhtar has also launched attacks in the past in Mauritania, while AQIM uses the centuries-old Mauritanian tradition of Islamic scholarship to give religious justification to its actions - as well as increasing its regional appeal.
With tension growing in Tunisia between opposition secularists and the Islamist government, hardline are an increasingly important part of the equation there.
AQIM is believed to be involved in fighting with the Tunisian army on the Tunisian-Algerian border, according to an Algerian security source.
At the same time, AQIM is building links with groups such as the Tunisia, which seeks to expand its followers through Salafist missionary work or "dawa" rather than violent jihad.
AQIM's links to Libyan groups have grown stronger during the chaos that ensued after the 2011 overthrow of , who had kept all Islamists in check.
Some of the men involved in the Algerian raid took part in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died, one source with knowledge of the inquiry said.
A second source said there had definitely been some kind of contact between the Benghazi and In Amenas attackers but could not say to what extent.
A third source said some of the jihadis at In Amenas had bought weapons and stayed for months in the Libyan city of El Aouinet near the Algerian border, where they met some of the men behind the Benghazi attack.