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Belmokhtar to surrender, again?

September 20, 2009

El-Sharq el-Awsat reports that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, al-Qaida’s infamous emir of the Sahara, is about to enter into a peace treaty with the government, following a well-publicized call for peace by Hassan Hattab, the GSPC’s estranged founder. According to the report, based on “an Algerian security source”, Belmokhtar has moved with two aides to a designated place of “hudna” (ceasefire)  in anticipation of his negotiated surrender. Earlier, it says, he had been sheltered by Berabiche (a Moorish tribe, not Touaregs, as the article states) in northern Mali. Mediation allegedly took place through his brother, and now that he’s in place in a designated no-war-zone, he’s supposed to surrender to the Algerian army within days.

If true, that would be a major coup for the Algerians, and a painful blow for AQIM — not just the Saharan wing, but also the northern main branch, since it is supplied with money from down south. Belmokhtar was not only the man to construct AQIM’s semi-independent southern wing, he also established contacts (possibly parallel to those of the main leadership) with al-Qaida central from a very early date. Through the years, he emerged as a major smuggler baron (cigarrettes, guns, cars) with jihadism more or less relegated to a sideshow, but that didn’t lessen the importance of his illicit trade networks financing the rebels up north.

Now, this has been reported wrongly so many times — rumors, psychological warfare, etc — that I’m hesitant to put any confidence at all in it, especially given the source. Actually, I’m going to assume it’s false. However, the constant reports about Belmokhtar negotiating a retreat (they’ve been reappearing for years) does remind one of the similar reports about Hattab, which eventually turned out to be true,  suggesting the faulty reports themselves were perhaps part of the negotiations game. These last few years, other commanders have been stealing the spotlight in AQIM’s southern zone, eg. in the recent kidnappings, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that it’s true that he’s more or less retired from active-duty leadership — but from there to reconciling with the state, it’s still a big step. Possibly, whether true, mistaken or deliberately false, it has something to do with the much-talked-about multi-state chase for AQIM/Sahara.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Tidinit permalink
    September 21, 2009 12:11

    Good news alle if this is true. Belmokhtar quiet, dead or alive, is a good thing. He appears to be behind Lemgheity and the killing of the French tourists, if we believe what the press is saying. Wondering why the Mauritanians (Lemgheity)and the French 9the 4 tourists dead) are not asking the lgerian government to transfer him for judgement in Nouakchott or Paris. My belief is definively the guy is DRS.

    I think you got it right is saying this:

    ” These last few years, other commanders have been stealing the spotlight in AQIM’s southern zone, eg. in the recent kidnappings, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that it’s true that he’s more or less retired from active-duty leadership — but from there to reconciling with the state, it’s still a big step. Possibly, whether true, mistaken or deliberately false, it has something to do with the much-talked-about multi-state chase for AQIM/Sahara”.

  2. September 21, 2009 13:04

    It seems to be that he’s been out of the game for so long, he probably isn’t as valuable. Like you said, other people seem to have been running things in his area for a few years now. He’s a has-been. I fully expect Kanye to say:

    “Yo Belmokhtar, I’m really happy for you and I’m gonna let you defect, but Hassan Hattab had one of the best defections OF ALL TIME!”

  3. September 21, 2009 19:57

    Well, it could be that he’s been moving out of the terrorism business, but still wants to stay involved with some of his other trades. For example, one of the alleged mediators in this affair, el-Hadj Bettou, is a former Touareg crime lord who ran the Algerian-Malian borderlands in the 90s, but went legit — whatever that means — after deals with the government. Perhaps Belmokhtar is hoping for something similar? It wouldn’t look too good in Western capitals, given his role as a major AQ profile, but if they can handle the publicity…

    • September 21, 2009 22:57

      On second thought, after looking it up, allow me to correct my poor choice of example: el-Hadj Bettou spent ten years in jail in between being an illegal smuggler baron and becoming a legal non-baron (but probably still a smuggler). So that’s probably not the deal Belmokhtar would be after🙂

  4. September 21, 2009 20:16

    From my impression of Western intel gathering capabilities, allowing MBM to continue to run some of his rackets in exchange for cooperation seems like something it’d be fairy straightforward to hide from Western capitals.

  5. Tidinit permalink
    September 27, 2009 21:38

    Seems Droukdel or Droudekel is also being offered a pardon as he is looking to surrender …

Trackbacks

  1. Rumours of Belmokhtar surrender… « All Things Counter Terrorism
  2. Why Algeria’s Jihadist defectors don’t matter « Maghreb Politics Review
  3. Sunday Blog Roundup: Belmokhtar Surrender (?), Qadhafi and the UN, US Dialogue with Africa « Sahel Blog

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