The new leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Abu Ubaida Yousef Al-Anabi, is working to unite small regional Jihadi, in order to gain control over the region, hindering the ISIS expansion, according to analysts and specialists on jihadi movements. Al-Annabi is trying to create a new balance in the conflict between al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Sahara, where many armed militias are present and trade in arms.
Following the oath of allegiance that the Shura council members have made to Annabi, al-Qaeda tries to be back to the forefront by re-arranging ranks and prioritizing fighting ISIS.
ISIS seeks to control areas of its “rival” in jihad, which extend to the southern coast, desert, and the Horn of Africa.
Expanding Al-Qaeda Influence
Reports and research made by experts onjihadism suggest that al-Qaeda aspires to expand its influence in North and West Africa.
Since joining the central organization, the Maghreb branch has followed Al Qaeda’s ideological principles. In 2014 it renewed its commitment and loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s leader, but at the same time it maintained a significant level of autonomy from Al Qaeda’s supreme leadership.
Security experts predict that the period of al-Annabi will be bloody. Annabi, in a video released in April 2013, called for an armed mobilization against French interests around the world. Analysts presumed that his call was a response to France’s intervention in Mali, but this condition continues.
Against the backdrop of Annabi’s call for local and international jihad in September 2015, the US State Department has classified him as a prime global terrorist, especially after providing support to terrorists. A year later, he issued another voice message, calling on Libyans to join the fighting against the Libyan army and French forces in Benghazi.
Annabi was not far from the Algerian popular movements, as in March 2019 he delivered a speech in which he called Muslims to unite and guarantee that Algeria will be ruled by Islamic law, and that Algerian people shall adopt Islamic morals and Sharia ethics in the demonstrations against President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika.
Coalition with armed groups
Despite many years of pressure by counterterrorism actions of the international community, al-Qaeda’s top command is still active and leads a large-scale network. The senior leaders are boosting the network’s global leadership structure and encouraging attacks against the West, including the United States and France.
According to security experts, it seems that al-Qaeda has become coherent again and its structure is growing steadily.
However, the capabilities of the cross-border terrorist group from Afghanistan to West Africa is unclear, as it maintains alliances with dangerous armed groups and will be strengthened with the new leadership of Annabi.
Experts in Jihadi movements believe that the changes which al-Qaeda witness internationally, especially on command level, and after neutralizing many of its symbols in Iran and Afghanistan, and the circulating news of Al-Zawahri’s death, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may be pushed into conflict with ISIS affiliate organizations in the African coast and in the south of Sahara, in order to reposition and arrange a new map in the entire region.
As for al-Qaeda relations with ISIS in the Maghreb countries, Annabi claimed at the beginning that the two groups would not clash in the Sahel region, however, he stressed that al-Qaeda is bigger threat than al-Baghdadi’s organization, considering it as gangs of guerrilla warfare but not a legitimate organization in the region.
The CIA warns that both organizations have far-fetched global networks, and only ISIS still has thousands of fighters in both Syria and Iraq, which refutes the claims of the US administration that ISIS has been defeated.
Searching for Safe Havens
Al-Qaeda is aware that terrorism and civil strife in the Middle East and North Africa requires different operational method. Based on that, Annabi has been a supporter of popular movement in his home country, Algeria. Due to that fact, the tension will always be hidden between him and ISIS because of his followers’ disobedience and their unrestrained tactics.
Africa is considered one of the places that might witness competition between Al-Qaeda and ISIS, where the latter attempts to penetrate in many places to attract groups affiliated to al-Qaeda.
Analysts believe that the areas of Derna and Agidabiya in Libya are expected to witness a stronger terrorist activity than those witnessed between 2014 and 2016. Until 2018, Libya was the fourth epicenter for terrorists, where more than 10,000 jihadis from ISIS and al-Qaeda were there.
Among the terrorist organizations in Libya are Ansar al-Sharia, the Benghazi rebel Shura, and the Mujahidi-Derna and Agidabiya Shura Council. Those organizations are likely to return due to the good relation between Annabi, Muhammad al-Zawi, and the Abu Salim Brigade.
All al-Qaeda members are involved in the rebel movements in Africa and the Sahel, especially the fighters of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb led by Annabi, where they maintain safe havens and resources. They have intention to strike local and regional US interests, in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, according to the CIA.