Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi, an Algerian, is the new leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He is a well-known member of the jihadists that are terrorizing North Africa. He is replacing Abdelmalek Droukdel who was killed in a French operation in Mali last June.
Al-Annabi, who is also known as Sheikh Mujahid Yazid Mubarak, was formerly the head of AQIM’s council of dignitaries. He has been on a U.S. terrorism blacklist since 2015. A key proponent of an Islamic jihad against the French military’s ongoing counterterrorism mission in the Maghreb, Al-Annabi has been calling for a jihad against the French since 2013. He has regularly appeared in al-Qaeda’s propaganda videos.
AQIM began as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). It initially wanted to overthrow the Algerian government and install an Islamist state.
In January 2007, the GSPC announced that it would thenceforth operate under the name of AQIM. In the same year, Abdelmalek Droukdel announced an alliance with al-Qaeda. He said that he had consulted with Osama bin Laden and pledged loyalty to the terrorist and his organization.
In 2011, Al-Annabi pledged allegiance in the group’s name to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the main al-Qaeda chief.
According to U.S. Army General Carter Ham, the former Head of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), AQIM, the Somalia-based al-Shabaab, and the Nigeria-based Boko Haram have since 2012 been attempting to synchronize and coordinate their activities by sharing funds, training, and explosives.
AQIM eventually set its sights on Mali, especially with the number of Taureg recruits it was drawing in. It initially made big inroads in northern Mali before being pushed back by French forces in 2014.
The terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on troops and civilians across the Sahel region. These have included a 2016 attack on a hotel and restaurant in Burkina Faso that killed 30 people, mostly Westerners.
Al-Annabi will be leading a terrorist organization that faces both internal and external pressures.
According to terrorism analysts from the Counter Extremism Project quoted by Al Jazeera, al-Annabi will face strained relations with Iyad Ag Ghaly the head of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, a terrorist organization and an AQIM ally. Ghaly and his group have been enjoying significant autonomy in Mali.
Elie Tenenbaum, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations, said that things have not been smooth between AQIM in Algeria and the fighters in Mali. “There have always been tensions between fighters on the ground in northern Mali, and an extremely isolated AQIM emir in Algeria,” she said.
Another area to monitor will be how al-Annabi handles negotiations with the Malian government.
The Malian government is convinced that it can engage Ghaly and the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, but not the Islamic State. This means the infighting between the two groups is unlikely to stop.
France is adamant that there should be no negotiations between the Malian government and the al-Qaeda affiliate.
In the video that announced the promotion of al-Annabi, AQIM showed the body of Droukdel and also announced the death of Beatrice Stoeckli. Stoeckli was a Swiss missionary who, in 2016, had been kidnapped in Mali by the terrorist organization. The video claimed that her death was caused as a result of “French crusader” forces attempting to rescue her.