Top al-Qaida-linked leaders in northern Africa

AP News
Posted: Mar 23, 2013 7:18 PM

The killing of an al-Qaida commander in Mali by French-led troops hurts the terrorist group and may shift the power balance among the region's extremists. Here is a look at leaders of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other radical groups operating in northwest Africa, as portrayed in documents and by experts:


The No. 1 figure in AQIM, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, is an Algerian in his early 40s thought to live around the Kabylie region east of Algiers. In 2004, he became top emir of the main Algerian insurgency movement at the time, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which he transformed into al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, anointed in 2006 by al-Qaida central. A deadly year followed for Algeria, including the suicide bombing of U.N. offices and government buildings in Algiers that left dozens dead.


The Algerian el-Hammam is the emir of the Grand Sahara for AQIM, appointed by Droukdel last fall to lead the powerful Mali operations of the Algeria-born AQIM after the death in a car accident of Nabil Makloufi, also appointed by Droukdel.


A feared Algerian warlord, he was killed in fighting with French-led forces last month, the French president's office announced Saturday. Thought to be 47, he became known for his involvement in high-profile hostage-taking, including a Briton and Frenchman who died in captivity.


Nicknamed The Blind One because he lost an eye in Afghanistan, Belmoktar is an Algerian operating in Mali and a rival of Abou Zeid. Belmoktar fought in the Algerian insurgency in the 1990s and was among the first to set up a base in Mali, and became known as a master trafficker and kidnapper. He recently left AQIM, then orchestrated the Jan. 16 attack and four-day siege on a gas facility in southern Algeria that ended with the deaths of 37 hostages and 29 terrorists from his Signers in Blood brigade. Chad claims its soldiers helping the French military in Mali killed Belmoktar, but this hasn't been independently verified.

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The head of the armed Tuareg movement Ansar Dine, he is a Malian Tuareg from the northern Kidal region. Appointed by Mali as a diplomat in Saudi Arabia, he is a known negotiator for hostage releases.


A Mauritanian who broke with AQIM to form the MUJAO, the Movement for the Oneness of the Jihad in West Africa. MUJAO is another force targeted by the French-led military operation in Mali. He was based in the northern Mali city of Gao before the French intervention.