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Terrorism: does Al Qaeda, after the end of the Zawahiri era, look to Africa?

The end of the Ayman al-Zawahiri era changes the balance within al Qaeda and the weights at the regional level. New leader of AQIM appointed: Algerian Abu Ubaidah Yusef al Annabi

The death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al Qaeda since the killing of Osama bin Laden in a raid in Abbottabad, is already beginning to have its first effects. Within the network, the balance changes and with them the leaders of the regional groups. In particular in Africa. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has in fact announced in a video the appointment of a new emir, as Long War Journal reports. This is veteran Abu Ubaidah Yusef al Annabi who replaces Abdelmalek Droukdel (aka Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud) killed by the French military in a raid in Mali in June. The new leader is an Algerian who has held several high positions within AQIM. From head of the Council of Notables to a member of the Shura, up to becoming Droukdel’s deputy. It is not certain, however, that he was so loved by the supreme leader.

The announcement was made only a few hours after the Egyptian doctor’s death and after months of interim. Will AQIM and Africa return to the center of interests of the network founded by Osama bin Laden? Will it be war against ISGS?

The long period of time elapsed for the succession between Droukdel and Annabi confirms, in fact, that there was no agreement on the new head of AQIM. Furthermore, it suggests that the leaders of al Qaeda viewed activities in Africa as secondary, trying to concentrate the core above all in the Middle East and Asia. The timing of the appointment, which took place only a few hours after the Egyptian doctor’s death, suggests instead that there could soon be a change of pace and strategy in the group. Africa, especially Sub-Saharan, could suddenly become strategic. This would have two consequences. On the one hand, the increase in activities – including offensive – in the countries of the quadrant. On the other hand, the outbreak of an “internal” war against Isis (ISGS) which is gaining more and more weight on the continent day by day. Even in countries that were considered “quiet” until recently, such as Mozambique, which are now victims of waves of violence that local institutions are unable to counter.

It remains to be seen know who will be the new emir of al Qaeda. At the moment there is an internal struggle between “traditionalists” and “youngsters”, where the former are the weakest. There is a risk of a return to an offensive posture and Africa would be the ideal territory

It remains to be seen, however, who will be the new emir of al Qaeda. He will determine the new “area of ​​operations” and strategies. At the moment there is an internal struggle between the various souls of the group, but the traditionalists are now weak and demoralized, especially after the killing of Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama and a leader designated and trained ad hoc by Zawahiri himself. Instead, the “younger” and more active ones are strengthened. The risk is that the formation, from a defensive posture, can switch back to an offensive. In this sense, Africa would be an optimal place. Both because of its geographic vastness and well-trained and armed veterans operate within AQIM. They come from the former Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and, unlike ISGS jihadists, know the territory and local tribes well. This is confirmed by the fact that, despite the rise of Isis in sub-Saharan Africa, they have continued to act undisturbed and their illicit trafficking has not suffered any repercussions.

Photo Credits: Long War Journal

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