Abu Yahya al-Libi death deals blow to al-Qaeda
By Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 08/06/12
The announcement of the death of senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, killed in an air strike in Pakistan last Monday (June 4th), was the beginning of the end for a relationship that linked the parent al-Qaeda organisation in Afghanistan and its North African branch, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Even when the latter carried the name the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) and had yet to expand its bloody operations against governments in Sahel, Abu Yahya al-Libi was inciting extremists and seeking to strengthen terrorism in region.
In recent years, al-Libi was hoping that the Maghreb branch would support an al-Qaeda central that was facing collapse as a result of the global war on terror and the drying up of its financing resources.
Journey to extremism
Abu Yahya al-Libi is the alias of Mohamed Hassan Qaid, a Libyan terrorist specialised in chemistry. In the 1980s, he joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) which fought against the Soviets and sought to overthrow former President Moamer Kadhafi.
He went to Mauritania in the early 1990s where he spent three years studying Sharia sciences. At that time, he was not a leader of the LIFG, but was just a student sent by the group, according to Noman Benotman, a former LIFG leader.
A salafist detained in Nouakchott for taking part in terrorist operations told Magharebia on condition of anonymity that "al-Libi tended to be extremist and used to advise his Mauritanian colleagues to seek to establish an Islamic emirate. He was investigated by the police in Nouakchott and was later released. However, he was kept under continuous surveillance."
Al-Libi married a local woman, Tut Bint Abderrehmane, now aged 34, in 1993 in the Sebkha area of Nouakchott.
In 1994, he told his wife that he would complete his studies in Sudan where he moved with his family before he sent them back to Nouakchott. He then travelled to Afghanistan where he worked as internet expert for the radical Taliban movement before he was arrested by Pakistani intelligence in 2002.
In 2005, he escaped from a prison in Afghanistan with three other men. Al-Libi took advantage of his break out to appear as a radical leader. He began running the media arm of the parent al-Qaeda organisation, appearing in many videos and trying to justify terrorist acts with religious texts.
Later, al-Libi bought a house for his wife and children in the Dar al-Naim suburb of Nouakchott. At that time, the security authorities believed that his family was receiving financial assistance from an unknown entity. Yet, his family suffered much in his absence, with his wife and children saying in press interviews that his engagement in terrorist acts had denied them familial stability.
However, al-Libi managed to transfer his wife and children to Libya in April 2011 in ambiguous circumstances while al-Qaeda elements were infiltrating in the country during the revolution against Kadhafi's regime. His family now resides in Libya, family sources told Magharebia.
AQIM assistance for ailing al-Qaeda
Documents recovered from bin Laden's Abbottabad compound and released by the US last month, revealed the importance of al-Libi as "a bridge between generations" who could unite al-Qaeda's geographically dispersed branches.
After bin Laden's death, several names were floated for his successor, including Abu Yahya al-Libi. However, he remained the second-in-command to current al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Terrorism expert Bill Braniff told AFP that al-Libi's ranking on the chain of command was not as important as his value as a propaganda specialist.
"It's very difficult for al-Qaeda to find someone to be its spokesperson and publish its instructions," he added, noting that "the organisation needs someone who all can look and listen to."
"Al-Libi's loss will aggravate the leadership problem in al-Qaeda which has already lost its ability to direct the work of its allied groups, as shown by the documents that were found at bin Laden's house," the expert said.
According to Hamadi Ould Dah, an expert in terrorist groups and strategic analyst, al-Libi "supervised and implemented programmes that would consolidate relations with allied groups all over the world, especially AQIM. Therefore, his killing will put an end to ties between the parent al-Qaeda and its Maghreb branch."
While assuming a senior place among the leaders of parent al-Qaeda, al-Libi posted 17 audio or video recordings between 2006 and 2008 in which he explained al-Qaeda's goals and strategies, according to IntelCenter, which monitors jihadist websites.
In early June 2009, Abu Yahya al-Libi tried to incite more terrorist operations in Algeria at a time when the parent al-Qaeda's abilities in Afghanistan dropped.
He dedicated a full video to talk about the GSPC, which changed its name to AQIM under the leadership of Abdelmalek Droukdel (aka Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud) in an attempt to forge closer ties between the parent al-Qaeda and the Maghreb branch. He issued a fatwa, from his own personal views of Sharia, claiming "jihad" was permissible in Algeria, and even more important than in Palestine.
In the same month, he came up with statements against the rulers in the Maghreb and issued a fatwa that their residences were among the targets for terrorist groups. He talked about "occupation" in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya, and urged the Maghreb peoples to support the terrorist groups in an endeavour to mobilise more young people and overcome Maghreb citizens' rejection of violence committed by these groups.
According to journalist Mohamed Ould Sid al-Mokhtar, al-Libi "used to resort to fill his speeches with verses from the Qur'an to deceive his followers, using verses out of context".
In a June 2009 video, he called on Maghreb young people to support the terrorist groups in the Sahara. "Join them with your capabilities and know that their victory is your victory," he said.
Al-Libi also tried to use his position in the parent al-Qaeda to boost the deteriorating morale of terrorists because of successful co-ordination efforts. In one terror tape, he called on "the heroes of Islamic Maghreb in Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco to unite their ranks".
Last December, he appeared in a video criticising post-Kadhafi Libya's implementation of law and said that the country "must be ruled by Sharia", warning against the "building of a democratic state" and the "creation of political parties". Al-Libi called for creating a commission to set the post-revolution trend to liquidate Kadhafi's loyalists and take a strict decision to establish "an Islamic emirate" and reject openness.
But for Libyan blogger Abu Bakr Said, "The revolution in Libya was not staged to realise the demands of terrorists," adding, "The revolution was staged to realise freedom, openness and justice."
"Abu Yahya al-Libi is a terrorist who committed criminal acts and met his normal end; whoever sows thorns will harvest wounds," the Libyan blogger said.
Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.