On June 5, Florence Parly, Ministry of the French Armed Forces, announced that Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb’s chief was killed -together with other important members of his inner circle- two days before, during a military operation carried on by the French Army. Without any doubt it was a shocking information, especially for the jihadist movement that Abdelmalek Droukdel used to lead in the Maghreb and Sahel regions. With the Algerian chief dead, it is necessary to know a bit more about his role in Northern Africa’s terrorist scenary.
Abdelmalek Droukdel was born in Meftah, southern Algeria, on 20 April 1970, in a very religious family. He completed school studies and then obtained a bachelor degree in the University of Bilda (1989-1993). At the same time, he was preparing his way towards jihadism and terrorism, something he had already begun at the end of the 80s, when he even went to fight the Soviet troops during Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. His first steps toward an extremist group are dated in 1993, when he started having contact with the Movement of the Islamic State (MEI). After that, in the 90s, he advanced to the ranks of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and, in 2001, to the Salafist Group for the Preaching and Combat (GSPC). In 2004, he became the leader of this latter one, which he finally merged with Al Qaeda, forming, in 2006, the known movement of the Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI).
Droukdel’s role in Mali’s fragmentation
After Muammar Al Ghadaffi’s fall and murder, in October 2011, hundreds or even thousands of veteran and young fighters, now armed with the arms that they received as Ghadaffi’s mercenaries, started to escape to other bordering countries, such as Mali. This latter one was the perfect place for Tuaregs that came from Libya and wanted to revive, once again, the dream of an independent State. Therefore, in 2011 they founded the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) and in March 2012 they defeated the Malian government and declared the birth of the Azawad, which is an independent State for the Tuareg people.
With a direct collision of governmental forces, Tuareg independentists, jihadists and terrorist groups, the ground was prepared for the irruption of Abdelmalek Droukdel’s into Mali’s arena. After merging with Ansar Eddine (AE) -group that received AQMI’s financial, logistical and military help since 2011-, AQMI decided to form an alliance with AE and the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in Western Africa (Mujao), something that was concretised in 2012. Since then, Malian, French and international troops and installations have been objectives of this terrorist merge, consolidating Droukdel’s change from a local to a regional terrorist leader.
His last years
With less power and control than before, he needed to recover importance, as the Islamic State had won a lot of ground in Africa and even provoqued a fracture in the ranks of AQIM, with important members leaving the group and joining the IS. Even worse, the intervention of France in Mali, since 2013, weakened the strength of AQIM and Droukdel, making him to disappear from the main scenes. According to local sources and medias, Droukdel was capable to enter Tunisia in 2016, where he established his operation center. Nevertheless, he was still active and, in fact, was planning his return to Algeria, country in which he seemingly hid before being able to pass the Tunisian border. The consolidation of the Western Africa as a jihadist hub was one of his goals as Droukdel only controlled some feuds in Kabilya and the Sahara region.
In this context, his last victory was the creation, thanks to the ties with Iyad ag-Ghali -an important islamist leader in Mali- of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM). It was a merge of different terrorist associations that, according to some sources, had nearly 2.000 fighters and that counted with the presence of Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Al Mourabitoun, Ansar Eddine and Macina. Eventhough it was a great moment for the jihadist movements in Africa, Droukdel’s weakened status and influence seemed to be evident as he did not participate in the ceremony and was not part of the official photo. Instead, he sent an envoy.
Some final comments
He never received training in Yemen or Afghanistan, being a strange case in Al Qaeda. His ideological thought was a mixture between Arab nationalism and islamism (political islam) and he had the capacity to make alliances with groups that shared with him the same goals. That explains, for example, his close collaboration with jihadist groups in Mali and his plans to extend his collaboration to other terrorist cells in Western Africa.
His mentor was Abou Mousab al Zarqawi, a former leader of Al Qaeda in Irak. He had a strong character and was a tough person. Nevertheless, he had excellent oratory skills and, therefore, he used to be seen as a charismatic leader. Also, he was very ambitious and cold-blooded, as he did not have any problem to eliminate or leave aside other member, that is what happened with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran jihadist that was “expelled” from AQIM in 2012 due to ‘ideological differences’ (according to Droukdel).
His harsh line can be seen with the fact that he transformed the SGPC into a terrorist group that could attack and kill civilians. Then, as AQIM, he did not have any problem to kidnap algerians or foreigners in order to demand randsoms. He was also an intelligent leader, which allowed him to obtain massive sums of funds and to increase the number of terrorist incidents in which AQIM had a direct participation.
His main legacy was to expand jihadism through Africa, especially in the Maghreb and the Sahel. He was able to organize and carry on attacks in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Morocco, always fighting against foreign activities and spreading the roots of radical islam.
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