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Al Mourabitoun
The Sentinels

Al-Mourabitoun is a group based in northern Mali, consisting mainly of Tuareg rebels and Arabs. In mid-2013 security agencies of the countries of the Maghreb, the Sahel and southern Europe warned of major terrorist operations that may surpass the January 2013 Tigantourine operation. The warning came after the inception of a new terrorist organization called al-Mourabitoun. The announcement of al-Mourabitoun’s birth was a sign to sleeper cells and terrorist elements in the desert to carry out operations that had been agreed upon in advance between the leaders of the Masked Battalion and Tawhid wal-Jihad, just as occurred eight months earlier, when the establishment of the Undersigned in Blood Battalion was announced.

Following a military coup in 2012, an insurgent group took control of northern Mali, prompting a French-led military intervention in early 2013 that forced the fighters from northern towns and cities, though the north remained insecure and attackers have extended farther south this year.

There are several variant spellings of Mourabitoun, which is areally popular name for outfits in the Middle East. The Mali Mourabitoun is not to be confused with the 'Murabitun’ militia arm of the Independent Nasserite Movement (INM). This Murabitun emerged during the 1958 civil war, remained a strong force during the 1970s, and played a prominent role in the civil war in Lebanon between 1975 and 1985. The Murabitun fought in alliance with the Palestinian movement against Phalangist forces, and against Israel. In 1984-1985, the Murabitun was “virtually eliminated” by a Progressive Socialist Party (PSP – a mainly Druze party) and Amal (one of two dominant Shia parties, along with Hezbollah) joint operation, and its leader Ibrahim Kulaylat was forced into exile. By 2007 the Mourabitoun were among former militias that were “reorganising structurally”. It had reappeared as a political entity allied to the March 14 bloc.

In Israel, the northern branch of the Islamic Movement led a mendacious campaign of incitement under the slogan ‘Al Aqsa Is in Danger,’ which falsely accuses Israel of intending to harm the Al Aqsa Mosque and violate the status quo. In this context, the northern branch has established a network of paid activists (Mourabitoun / Mourabitat) in order to initiate provocations on the Temple Mount. This activity led to a significant increase in tension on the Temple Mount. A significant portion of terrorist attacks in 2015 were committed against the background of this incitement and propaganda.

Two groups that fought in Mali in 2013 year and carried out deadly twin suicide bombings in Niger in May 2013 unified to fight back against what they called the "crusader campaigns" of France and its allies against Muslims. Three months after they carried out the Arlit and Agadez suicide bomb attacks together in Niger, the two groups, MUJAO and the Those Who Sign in Blood Brigade, decided to make it official.

MUJAO, or the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, broke off from AQIM in 2011, pledging to spread the fight farther south on the continent. MUJAO controlled the northern Malian town of Gao until French air strikes and ground troops pushed them out in January 2013.

Former AQIM commander and wanted Algerian terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar founded his breakaway group, the Those who Sign with Blood Brigade, just before that French-led intervention. The brigade carried out one of the most ambitious terror attacks the region has ever seen in January 2013. Fighters raided a natural gas plant in Ain Amenas in eastern Algeria, taking 600 people hostage and ultimately killing at least 37. All but one of the dead were foreigners.

French forces led a military operation in early 2013 that largely killed or scattered extremists from the vast area they had controlled in northeastern Mali, and a stabilization mission continues amid sporadic attacks. Among survivors was Belmoktar, the Algerian extremist and trafficker who at one point was the southern chief of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, roaming the Sahel region before he broke with the affiliate.

In press releases published in August 2013 by Mauritanian press agency ANI, the two groups said they were merging into a new one. They already had strong ties. Both were offshoots of al-Qaida's Algerian-dominated franchise in the Maghreb, AQIM. ANI quoted one written statement as saying that the new group brings together fighters "from the Nile to the Atlantic" to fight what it called a "Zionist campaign against Islam and Muslims." The new group pledged support for Islamists in Egypt and promised attacks against France and its allies as revenge for the French-led military intervention against the militants in northern Mali this year.

The militants named their group the "Mourabitounes," Arabic for the Almoravids, the Islamist Berber dynasty based in Morocco nearly 1,000 years ago that reached as far south as Senegal. It was these Berber armies from the Moor ethnicity in the Sahara that conquered North Africa and a part of southern Spain between the 11th and 12th centuries. In taking this name, the new group is drawing on that history and the role that dynasty played in spreading Islam into West Africa. The name also reflects the militants' desire to unite and regroup following losses in Mali.

An audio recording from the Mourabitoune group was sent to a Mauritanian news agency 13 May 2015 that had carried its statements in the past and was in the name of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, rather than the group's founder, Moktar Belmoktar, who gained notoriety for the January 2013 assault on an Algerian gas complex.

"We call upon all the jihadi groups to pledge allegiance to the Caliph, to unify the word of the Muslims and align the ranks in front of the enemies of religion," said al-Saharawi's statement, according to a translation by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group.

On 20 November 2015 militants took 170 captives a the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali. At least five gunmen [and as many as ten originally reported] stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) with guns and grenades. The gunmen released hostages who were able to recite the Quran. The US military's Africa Command said the rescued hostages include six US citizens. It said US military personnel were helping outside the hotel. According to UN peacekeepers, 27 bodies had been found at the Mali hotel [including two attackers].

Veteran militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar's group Al Mourabitoun staged the attack months after he was reported killed in an air strike. Two Islamist militant groups, al Mourabitoun [The Sentinels] and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, according to Mauritania's Alakhbar news agency. A US defense official called AQIM the "leading suspect" in the assault.

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Page last modified: 21-11-2015 18:49:10 ZULU