Sahara militant Belmoktar rejects member’s allegiance pledge to Islamic State
RABAT – The notorious extremist Moktar Belmoktar on Friday rejected a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State group made by a member of his organization, suggesting splits in his operation.
Belmoktar, who is known for daring attacks and for kidnapping foreigners, allegedly said the earlier pledge violates the rules and principles of his organization, which is still loyal to al-Qaida.
Belmoktar, who is also a former chief of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is wanted for having allegedly masterminded a siege in January 2013 of an Algerian gas plant in which 38 hostages were killed, including 10 Japanese.
The statement was translated by a U.S. monitoring outfit, the SITE Intelligence Group.
On Wednesday, an audio pledge to the Islamic State on behalf of Belmoktar’s organization Mourabitoune (The Sentinels) appeared, though it was signed by another member of the group, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi.
There is a competition between the older al-Qaida and the Islamic State group to gain adherents among radical Islamic groups around the world. While many around the world have already pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, Belmoktar was long seen as loyal to al-Qaida.
Belmoktar confirmed his allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in the statement and said al-Sahrawi’s pledge “clearly violates the foundational statement that determined the method and behavior of the organization.”
Belmoktar was part of al-Qaida’s North Africa operation, expanding its reach deep into the Sahara and making money off kidnapping and smuggling before he split off to form his own group in 2012, the Masked Brigade.
In August 2013 he merged it with al-Sahrawi’s Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa to create the Mourabitoune, which attacked a restaurant filled with foreigners in Bamako, Mali in March.
The contradictory statements suggest a split in the movement.
Several high-profile members of the group were caught and killed in the past year during French-led operations in northern Mali, where the group is believed to operate.