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Those Who Sign With Blood
Masked Battalion / el-Moulethamine Battalion
Jama’at Tawhid Wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya
Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa MUJWA / MUJAO

The U.S. military said 14 June 2015 it was evaluating whether an airstrike in Libya killed al-Qaida-linked militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Libya's internationally recognized government said the strike happened 13 June 2015 in the eastern part of the country and did kill Belmokhtar. US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters at the Paris Air Show that American F-15 fighter jets were used in the attack

Al-Qaeda in North Africa denied reports its former leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed in a US airstrike last week in Libya. “The mujahid Khaled Abu al-Abbas is still alive and well,” Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ IM) said, using his name known among militants. Libya’s internationally recognized government said that Belmokhtar was killed in an airstrike. There have been unconfirmed reports of his death on at least three previous occasions.

Digging out the truth about these matters is exceptionally difficult, especially with the Algerian military intelligence disinformation efforts thrown in. Any self-respecting Jihadi group would normally have several names, and that eppears to be the case in this matter. There are probably personal differences between some leaders, but this fragmentation, this separation into different groups, appears to be a way to manage those differences.

The two main Islamic militant movements operating in northern Mali are Ansar al Din (“Defenders of the Faith”) and Jama’at Tawhid Wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya (“Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa,” or MUJWA). The Movement for Tawheed [Unity] and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA / MUJAO) consists of members who broke off from AQIM in 2011. This group wants to establish Islamic law across west Africa. The rank and file are mostly Tuaregs, Mauritanian and Malian Arabs, as well as sympathizers from Nigeria and other Sahelian countries. Most members are from outside Mali, and the group has abducted aid workers and diplomats for ransom. Very little is known about the group except that it seemed to be heavily funded by drug trafficking and kidnapping for ransom.

Tawhid as a theological formula usually refers to God's absolute oneness. Islam came into the world to wipe out Shirk, (partnership with Allah) and establish Tawhid, oneness of Allah. The antithesis of Tawhid is Shirk [polytheism] considered the worst sin by Islam. Pilgrimage to Mecca was an institution of the heathen Arabs ages before the birth of Mohammed. The objects adored were the idols within the Kaabah; and to the annual fair held during the religious ceremonies the city owed its commercial prosperity. When he conquered Mecca, Mohammed destroyed the idols [too deeply versed in human nature to root up ancient customs, he preserved the Pilgrimage].

From a Muslim philosophic point of view, as nothing exists without a cause, it must be assumed that there is a Being, the first cause of all things, existing of necessity and self-sufficing. This Being must be one, and one only. This unity, or tawhid, is said to be either tawhid ar-rububiya or tawhid al-'ulahiya. The former means that God creates and sustains all things, but belief in this does not necessarily make a man a believer; belief in the latter does, for he who accepts it worships the one God only.

Muhammad laid great stress on the Divine unity. His creed, 'There is no god but God,' contains the negation of false gods and the affirmation of the unity of the one true God. The principal passages in the Qur'an referring to this are: 'Say: "He is God alone; God the eternal; He begetteth not, and He is not begotten; And there is none like unto Him"' (cxii. 1-4). 'Truly your God is but one ; Lord of the heavens and of the earth' (xxxvii. 4'God, there is no God but He; most excellent His titles' (xx. 7). 'This is God your Lord ; there is no God but He, the Creator of all things ; therefore, worship Him alone' (vi. 102). In a Medina Sura, a verse which is probablv Meccan occurs: 'Your God Is one God; there Is no God but He, the Compassionate, the Merciful' (ii. 158).

In the same Sura (II. 255) is one of the most beautiful passages in the Qur'an, the 'verse of the throne': 'God, there is no God but He, the Living, the Eternal; nor slumber seizeth Him, nor sleep; His, whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, who is he that can intercede with Him but by His own permission! He knoweth what hath been before them and what shall be after them: yet nought of Hie knowledge shall they grasp, save what He willeth. His throne reacheth over the heavens and the earth, and the upholding of both burdeneth Him not: and He is the High, the Great.' 'There is no God but He, the Living, the Merciful.'

According to orthodox Muslims there are five 'pillars' of Islam. One of these is the saldt [prayer], including the tahdrah [purification] connected with it. The zakat [almsgiving], the hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca], and fasting belong also to them, and the fifth pillar is the confession (shahddah), consisting of the well-known 'two words': 'I confess that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah' [inscribed on the Saudi flag]. For it is reported in tradition that the Prophet said: "Islam is built on five foundations]: on the shahddah, the saldt, the zakat, the hajj, and fasting in the month of Ramadan."

Al Qaeda established itself in Iraq in October 2004, well after the US invasion, when its leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, fused his ' Tawhid and Jihad' group with al-Qaeda, forming al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia [al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers]. But the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa is a different group.

Originally part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the al-Mulathamun Battalion became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split from AQIM. In Belmokhtar’s first public statement after the split he threatened to fight against Western interests and announced the creation of the sub-battalion, “Those Who Sign in Blood,” reportedly made up of the organization’s best fighters. Soon after, the sub-battalion claimed responsibility for the January 2013 attack against a gas facility near In-Amenas, Algeria.

An entirely new al-Qaida affiliate, calling itself "Those Who Sign With Blood," attacked a BP natural gas facility in Algeria 16 January 2013, taking dozens of foreigners hostage. The militant group said it was retaliating for Algerian cooperation with the French military operation against Islamist rebels in Mali. Algerian helicopters attacked the BP site the next day, killing most of the hostages and their captors. The four-day siege resulted in the death of at least 38 civilians, including three United States citizens. Seven other Americans escaped the attack.

The group that launched the kidnapping was led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former commander of al-Qaida's North Africa branch, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which had been active in northern Mali since 2007 when the Algerian-based Salafist group officially joined al-Qaida. He reportedly broke off from AQIM in December 2012 with the aim of spreading jihad beyond the Sahara. This new group appears to draw from a core of fighters from Belmohktar's cell under AQIM - the so-called "Masked Battalion." It remained closely linked to the al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants currently fighting French and Malian forces in north and central Mali.

In May 2013, the al-Mulathamun Battalion cooperated with the E.O. 13224-designated Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in twin suicide bombings in Niger, which killed at least 20 people. In August 2013, the al-Mulathamun Battalion and MUJAO announced that the two organizations would merge under the name “al-Murabitoun.” The newly formed al-Murabitoun extremist group constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel.

On December 18, 2013 the US Department of State designated the al-Mulathamun Battalion as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under section 1(b) of Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. The consequences of the FTO and E.O. 13224 designations include a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with, the al-Mulathamun Battalion, and the freezing of all property and interests in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States or the control of U.S. persons. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury.

Both the “Those Who Sign in Blood” battalion and “al-Murabitoun” are included in the designation as aliases of the al-Mulathamun Battalion, and, as a result, all consequences of these designations will also apply to them.

The general opinion was that France underestimated the risk represented by MUJAO. Originally considered as "simple" narcotraffickers, or even "go-barefoot", according to an expression used by a senior Algerian authority, they proved to be a tough enemy, particularly well established in the region from Gao.

In this respect, it emerged that the MUJAO could represent a lasting terrorist risk of the same "caliber" as AQIM , whereas it could have been considered for a time, perhaps wrongly , as a local organization of traffickers. This recent organization, a division of AQIM led by a Mauritanian, which only appeared in October 2011, with the kidnapping of three European co-workers, of Spanish and Italian nationality, set itself the goal of spreading terrorism. to all of West Africa. Recruitment, mainly Mauritanian and Malian, ensures a very good local roots in the Sahel. Some even believe that, thanks to a particularly lucrative temporary recruitment system for families (600 euros for a 14 to 16 year old, then 400 euros of "income" per month were the estimates put forward), The MUJAO staff could have reached up to 10,000 people (the number usually cited is however almost 10 times lower: between 400 and 1,000 fighters at the highest ).

MUJAO hit Algeria harshly: whether it's the attacks on Tamnarasset or Ouargla in 2012, or the taking of European hostages in Tindouf in 2011, security sources encountered in Algiers have clearly questioned. MUJAO's strength had been in combining the effects of ideology and narco-trafficking to recruit and indoctrinate young people, mainly in the Gao region. This movement remained in the eyes of the Algerian authorities the main terrorist threat in Mali and in the region.

Algiers highlighted the mutation of terrorist groups, from a doctrinaire terrorism to a "narco-terrorism", adorned with an ideological varnish borrowed from radical Islamism to better recruit. However, while "narco-terrorism" may indeed be a reality with which government will have to rely more, it does not evade the issue of Islamist terrorism.

Mokhtar BelmokhtarMokhtar Belmokhtar (aka "one-eye") was born July 1, 1972 in Ghardaia. Other nicknames include "the Uncatchable" and "Mr. Marlboro," for his heavy involvement in cigarette smuggling in the Sahel. He became a soldier in the Algerian army. After gaining military experience -- and losing an eye -- in Afghanistan, he returned to southern Algeria and joined a smuggling ring that eventually became part of the GSPC. Observers characterize Belmokhtar as a smuggler and racketeer first and foremost, profiting from trafficking arms and contraband from Mali and Niger into Algeria. Belmokhtar's marital union with at least one Malian Tuareg woman brought him loyalty from Tuareg clans that reside near the Mali-Algeria border and secured his smuggling business. Belmokhtar has been linked to dozens of kidnappings-for-ransom and hostage negotiations in the Sahel in the past decade.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combats (GSPC) transition to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) aggravated existing leadership splits within the organization. By 2007 southern region leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar was seeking a deal with the government to allow him to retire and live peacefully in Mali. Belmokhtar's stature within GSPC/AQIM had diminished. Belmokhtar did not support AQIM's tactics and as a result AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdal, who was in northern Algeria, isolated Belmokhtar from AQIM activities. But Belmokhtar had not made a clean break from AQIM because he did not want to provoke Droukdal to attack him. In any case, the extent of Belmokhtar's involvement in AQIM operations and leadership was increasingly unclear.

Belmokhtar's partnership with fellow Afghanistan returnee Amari Saifi (aka Abderezzak al-Para) gave the two GSPC leaders control of southern Algeria. With help from Belmokhtar, al-Para carried out the 2003 kidnapping of 32 foreigners that garnered a windfall US$6.5 million ransom for GSPC and increased their stature within the organization. The 2004 capture of al-Para by Chadian rebels started a decline in his ally Belmokhtar's leverage within GSPC. Belmokhtar, like al-Para, was still considered one of the senior members of AQIM, even though al-Para remained in Algerian custody. Belmokhtar has been hiding out in GSPC Zone 9 (Sahara/Sahel) and Belmokhtar paid AQIM to allow him to continue his smuggling business. By 2007 Belmokhtar had only 50 or 100 GSPC members who remained loyal to him.

Echourouq el-Yomi on June 13 noted that in 1997 Belmokhtar issued a statement emphasizing his adherence to Islamist Sunni Salafi principles and goals. He also denounced massacres of civilians in Algeria undertaken by Takfiris linked to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Belmokhtar did not agree with AQIM tactics that had justified the killing of civilians. The the marriage between Belmokhtar and AQIM was very shaky on ideological grounds.

On 17 June 2007 the small French-language paper La Depeche de Kabylie issued a written statement purportedly from Belmokhtar. In it Belmokhtar reaffirmed his dedication to ex-GSPC leader Hassan al-Hattab for harshly criticizing the April 11 suicide car bomb attacks in Algiers. Belmokhtar emphasized that al-Hattab was a leader who deserved a fighter's respect and that his friendship with al-Hattab went back to the days of working with al-Para in Morocco, Mali, Niger and Chad. Hattab and Droukdal were bitterly at odds over AQIM tactics, including the April 11 suicide bombings in Algiers that killed several dozen civilians. The Depeche de Kabylie is another hint of differences between Belmokhtar and Droukdal.

It appeared in June 2007 Belmokhtar had used family members to contact GOA security services to try to broker a deal for him to "repent" under the 2005 Charter of National Reconciliation. According to a 13 June 2007 article in Echourouk el-Youmi, Belmokhtar gave the Algerian authorities the following conditions:

  • Immunity from prosecution for himself and three aides (names of which he would submit at a later date);
  • Permission to settle unhampered in northern Mali;
  • An Algerian passport, on the condition that he reside with Barabsha tribe in Mali, his wife's tribal zone;
  • Guarantee that no harm would come to his family and that his property would not be confiscated; and
  • Assistance to keep his group unified and unharmed, noting that they are spread throughout the desert.

It was said that Belmokhtar wanted a deal because he fears an attack against him by Droukdal. For this reason, Belmokhtar had refused to travel outside his zone in the Mali/Algerian border area. Some thought Belmokhtar's purported deal was a disinformation story manufactured by Algerian military intelligence (the DRS). Both the purported Belmokhtar amnesty deal and the denials made logical sense. An established smuggler like Belmokhtar would want to have as many options as possible available to him. Others thought Belmokhtar sought a deal because he had himself become an AQIM target.

Many people characterized Belmokhtar as more of a smuggler than an ideological warrior; more of an opportunist and bandit rather than a jihadi. Belmokhtar's publicly declared allegiance to ex-GSPC leader Hassan al-Hattab further put him at odds with AQIM leader Droukdal. Belmokhtar's reported offer in 2007 to stop fighting the Government of Algeria -- something that appeared to have occurred -- suggested that he was not particularly close to the AQIM leadership in northern Algeria that was most involved in the terrorist attacks plaguing Algeria. Even if he was not close to AQIM, an opportunist like Belmokhtar might decide there were times when it was in his immediate interest to help AQIM - but he probably weighed each instance carefully.

In Belmokhtar allegedly tasked operatives on several occasions with kidnapping-for-ransom operations, including an abduction operation targeting the German deputy chief of mission in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Concurrently, Belmokhtar also specifically ordered his operatives to avoid targeting American Citizens for fear of retribution from the government. By 2010 it was reported that AQIM leaders Abu Zaid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar had some 200 armed men in Mali and used hostage-taking to generate revenue. AQIM cadres have intermarried with tribes and smugglers in southern Algeria to build up shelter and a constituency.

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Page last modified: 22-11-2017 14:03:59 ZULU