who are the heads of al-Qaeda that Paris would like to see fall

Macron at the G5 Sahel summit. Photo François MORI / AFP

“In recent weeks, we have consolidated a convergence with our interlocutors from the G5 Sahel to consider that Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Koufa are enemies and in no case interlocutors”, declared the French president. “They are terrorist leaders” who have “responsibility” for the “death of thousands of civilians” and that “of our Sahelian, European and international soldiers,” he insisted.

These two pillars of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a rival jihadist nebula of the Islamic State (IS) organization responsible for numerous attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso, have also been designated as possible interlocutors by successive governments in Bamako.

Emissaries sent to Ag Ghaly and Koufa did not bring tangible results, however, and attacks against soldiers from local armies and international forces have not ceased.

Iyad Ag Ghaly, chef touareg

In 2017, several groups united under the same banner of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, or Jnim according to its Arabic acronym): Ansar Dine (created in 2012 by Iyad Ag Ghaly), the katiba Macina ( created by Amadou Koufa in 2015), and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi, led by the Algerian Droukdal until his death in June 2020 in Mali under fire from the French army and whose current leader is a figure of the Algerian jihad, Abou Oubaïda Youssef al-Annabi).

GSIM is headed by Iyad Ag Ghaly. This member of the Tuareg tribe of Ifoghas, originally from Kidal (northern Mali), has been essential for several decades on the Sahelian chessboard: first at the head of a Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s, he then retired to doing business before returning to center stage in 2012.

He is not a man who thinks about terrorism, he is a man who practices it on a daily basis

It was at this time that this charismatic character created Ansar Dine, a jihadist group which first collaborated with the independence rebel movement MNLA to take control of large swathes of northern Mali.

But he quickly ousted the latter and asserted himself as one of the main actors in the conflict in the north of the country. Several cities remained under jihadist domination there until the French military intervention in 2013.

“Iyad Ag Ghaly embodies the strategy of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel. He is not a man who thinks about terrorism, he is a man who practices it on a daily basis. (…) He does not hesitate to take himself arms “, underlined on February 1 Bernard Emié, the head of the French foreign intelligence, in a rare public intervention.

Amadou Koufa, Fulani preacher

Within the GSIM, the Fulani preacher Amadou Koufa is certainly “subordinate” to Ag Ghaly, but he has continued to gain importance since the creation of his katiba Macina in 2015.

Capitalizing on the old antagonisms linked to the land, fertile but disputed, between herders and farmers, between ethnic groups and even within these communities, Koufa has embraced all in the center of Mali in recent years.

Initially marginal, the conflict in central Mali has continued to grow until it has today become one of the key points of the Sahelian crisis. Jihadist or intercommunity attacks are now incessant.

Koufa had been given for dead in late 2018 by Paris and Bamako after a French military operation, before Aqmi denied his death and reappeared in a video a few months later.

Source: A la Une – Le Progrès | Le Progrès by www.leprogres.fr.

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