Maybe I’m a little late to the party, but I had no idea that the Associated Press had captured AQIM Emir Abdelmalek Droukdel’s “Instructions concerning the Islamic Jihadi Project in Azawad,” a strategic manifesto sent to his commanders in the Sahel. Droukdel (also known as Abu Mus`ab `Abd al-Wadud) probably distributed the letter sometime in the summer of 2012, and warned of the possibility of an international intervention in Mali and the necessity of establishing close ties with local militant groups in the Sahel (such as Ansar Eddine).
The letter contained a fair amount of criticism for all the major brigade commanders under Droukdel, including Nabil Makhloufi, Emir of the Sahara region, Abu Zeid, Emir of the Brigades of Tariq Ibn Ziyad, and the now infamous Mokhtar Belmokhtar, at that time Emir of the Veiled Brigade, or al-Mulathimeen. He criticized his commanders’ lack of patience in declaring the “Islamic State of Azawad” and their premature application of the Shari’a. Droukdel admonished his lieutenants: “[The] extreme speed with which you applied Shari`a Law…in an environment ignorant of religion” was “wrong,” because “our previous experience proved that applying Shari`a this way, without taking into account the environment into consideration will lead to people rejecting religion and engender hatred toward the mujahidin.”
The letter illustrates the deep divisions between AQIM central leadership and its commanders in the field. According to many sources, the letter was a catalyst for Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s eventual defection from AQIM in October 2012. Belmokhtar’s smuggling activities had earned him black marks with AQIM’s leadership in the past. When Makhloufi was killed in a car accident, Belmokhtar was passed over for promotion to his position and a rival commander (Yahya Abou El Hamame) was chosen instead. The snub prompted Belmokhtar to make a drastic strategic move: he officially renounced his position within AQIM and renamed his brigade “Those Who Sign Their Names in Blood” or al-Mua’qi’oon Biddam. Convinced of imminent international military intervention in Mali, Belmokhtar sought refuge with local Malian groups around the city of Gao and prepared for the attack on the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria in January 2013.
The letter is a fascinating look at the internal machinations of AQIM as well as the petty bureaucratic rivalries that motivate egotistical commanders. For a more in depth analysis, check out AQIM’s Playbook in Mali over at CTC.