Citing a well-informed source within the Sahel Jihadist movement, the Mauritanian news website Sahara Media is confirming the death of al Qaeda commander Abdel Hamid Abu Zeid but denying the killing of Mokhtar Belmokhtar the Qaeda-linked militant who masterminded the deadly attack on Algeria’s In Amenas gas field in January of this year. Both Al-Qaeda leaders evaded capture by Algerian forces for many years.
The passing of Abu Zeid and the pressure on Belmokhtar will force the Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to disperse its fighters in the region where militants count mounting terror operations to fight back the French and their allies. AQIM’s emir, the Algerian Abdel Malek Droukdel, will relocate his groups’ operations into Algeria and Niger until French and African Military actions subside.
Sahara Media, a website that Jihadists use as a news gateway for their communiqués, reported that Abu Zeid, who was one of the senior leaders of AQIM, died during a French raid and not at the hands of Chadian forces as reported in the international press. According to the same source, Abu Zeid died in Taraghrarit in the Ifoghas Mountains where he was fighting along his forces.
The French air raid that killed the AQIM leader and fifty of his followers, including operational leaders , was a Close Air Support mission during the pitch battle that led to the death of more than thirty Chadian soldiers.
The death of Abu Zied puts the life of French hostages held by his group in grave danger and will incite, without a doubt, revenge attacks against French interests in the Sahel and Algerian Sahara.
On the other hand, the Jihadist source denied the death of Mokhtar Belmokhtar who happens to be in the Gao region and not in areas where French and African forces are engaging militants. Belmokhtar became notorious in the West after his group’s bloody attack against an Algerian gas plant in which more than 60 people were killed including foreign workers.
The death of Abu Zied may disturb terror operations in Northern Mali in the short term. However, AQIM, that is rooted the Islamic insurgency in Algeria, will find “capable young militants” to take over the reign of the organization. In fact, Droukdel, safe in his hide out in the Algerian mountains, will waste no time designating a replacement for Abu Zied.
As changes at the helms of AQIM grow so does the terror’s group strategy. Algeria’s support for the French military operations in Mali and the death of several AQIM fighters in recent days will compel armed groups to move more terror operations into Algerian territory including the capital Algiers where the local security forces have been in high alert since the start of hostilities in Mali.