BAMAKO, Oct 15, 2012 (AFP) -
BAMAKO, Oct 15, 2012 (AFP) –
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s supremo has appointed a new deputy and relieved Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of two top commanders in northern Mali, security sources said.
“Abdelmalek Droukdel has appointed Yahya Abou El Hamame as ’emir of the Sahel’ to replace Nabil” Makhloufi, a Malian security official told AFP on condition of anonymity late Sunday.
All three are Algerians, like most of the leadership of AQIM, which evolved from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), itself an offshoot of the fundamentalist GIA group active during Algeria’s civil war in the 90s.
According to several security sources in the region, the new emir’s real name is Djamal Okacha. He is around 40.
Yahya Abou El Hamame’s appointment was decided two weeks ago and made official last week, another regional security source said.
“He is now Droukdel’s representative in the Sahara and Sahel.”
Groups with ties to AQIM took over northern Mali in March, effectively turning the region into an Islamist state and raising fears that the Al-Qaeda franchise could use it as a staging ground for attacks in the region and beyond.
Makhloufi is said to have died in a car crash in September, leaving the Algeria-based Droukdel without a deputy to supervise his top commanders in Mali, Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abou Zeid.
“Droukdel has informed all ‘katibas’ (combat units) in the Sahel that Belmokhtar has been dismissed for straying from the right path,” a Malian official said.
The one-eyed Belmokhtar, seen as a loose cannon within AQIM, “is no longer the leader of the Katibat El Moulathamoune (‘The turbaned ones’ in Arabic),” the official added.
Belmokhtar has acquired a reputation as a smuggling baron in the region that has earned him the nickname of “Mr Marlboro”. Some members of AQIM have questioned his commitment to the group’s puritanical brand of Islam.
A security official from the region confirmed that Belmokhtar had fallen out of favour with the group’s overall leader.
He was relieved of his duties for “continued divisive activities despite several warnings,” the official said, adding that he had not yet been replaced.