AQIM confirms leader’s death

After two weeks of silence, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has finally confirmed the death of its emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel.

AQIM released a short audio statement from Abd al Ilah Ahmad, one of the group’s top media officials, earlier today. Ahmad confirms Droukdel’s death in northern Mali, while giving a short background on Droukdel’s long history in jihad. The video includes multiple snippets of archival footage.

Ahmad tries to encourage al Qaeda’s men across North Africa and the Sahel to continue fighting, especially against the French. And the jihadist spokesman uses Droukdel’s life and career as inspiration.

AQIM’s media team includes footage from a July 2010 speech given by Droukdel in order to bolster morale. In that speech, entitled “We Don’t Surrender, We Win or Die,” Droukdel promised a generational fight against those states waging war against AQIM.

Ahmad also warns local governments, primarily Algeria and the Sahelian states, that they will soon meet the same fates of Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi, Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

No indication of who might be the new leader of AQIM was made by Ahmad.

Droukdel, who also went by Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, was killed in a French operation on June 3 in northern Mali. Local reporting has placed the operation near the locality of Talhandak in Mali’s far north, near the Algerian border.

The French tracked Droukdel’s vehicle by drone. After receiving signals intelligence that confirmed his presence, French special forces then intercepted the vehicle alongside several helicopters. According to the French Ministry of Defense, the French troops and the al Qaeda men engaged in a brief gunfight before Droukdel and three of his men were killed.

One jihadist, a local Malian, was captured by the French soldiers and was later handed over to Malian authorities after being interrogated. Footage from the raid obtained by Le Monde also appear to confirm France’s version of events.

Not long after France’s statement, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed that it also took part in the operation, providing further drone support overhead.

“U.S. Africa Command was able to assist with intelligence and ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) support to fix the target,” Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, told CNN’s Ryan Browne.

A follow up statement released by AFRICOM also stated that the United States performed its own independent assessment to confirm Droukdel’s death following the operation.

At the time, Florence Parly, France’s Minister for the Armed Forces, added that France had killed Droukdel and “several of his close collaborators.” One of these individuals is Toufik Chaib, a high-ranking member of both AQIM’s media and administrative wings.

So far it is unclear if Droukdel was already in Mali or if he had a made a special trip to the region from Algeria.  French outlets Jeune Afrique and Libération have indicated that his arrival was possibly recent.

Additionally, a local journalist who cited a source close to al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) reported that JNIM’s emir, Iyad Ag Ghaly, had recently requested a meeting with Droukdel.

If true, it is possible that Droukdel was in the region to meet with his deputies following increased hostilities with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, among other concerns.

Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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