BY: THOMAS JOSCELYN
Al-Qaeda’s senior management, or general command, has released a two-page statement praising the jihadists in Mali and Somalia. Al-Qaeda has strong branches in both East and West Africa, and the international organization’s leaders signal their approval for the jihadists’ ongoing wars in the new missive.
“Salutations for the Defenders of Islam in Mali” was released online on Jan. 18, with al-Qaeda’s propagandists making both Arabic and English versions available on various websites and social media channels.
Much of the statement is focused on the battles in Mali, though it ends with praise for the jihadists’ efforts in Somalia as well.
Though al-Qaeda’s senior men don’t name the parties they have in mind, they are clearly lauding Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM, or the “Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims”) and Shabaab, among other al-Qaeda groups. Both JNIM and Shabaab remain openly loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri and have claimed attacks as part of al-Qaeda’s “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Will Never Be Judaized” campaign.
The statement reflects al-Qaeda’s ongoing role in guiding the insurgencies. “We consider it our duty to encourage them, guide them to the correct course, offer them sound advice and praise their valuable efforts,” the statement reads.
Al-Qaeda’s senior leaders praise the jihadists in Mali for confronting the “invading forces” and for “terrorizing the Crusaders and their allies.”
Indeed, the statement frames the conflicts almost entirely as battles against the West and Western influence.
“Rest assure that if liberal, hedonist [and] animalistic France attains control over your lands and resources, it will spread great corruption in the land,” the statement reads. “You must realize that you are the sword of Allah that will make the French and their allies taste bitterness in the world.”
“You are fully aware of the economic and cultural projects of the enemy, just as you know that they have strategic interests, besides missionary aims, in Mali and the broader Sahel region,” al-Qaeda’s management team tells their followers. “So make sure that the trail of coffins sent back to enemy’s lands does not stop.”
Al-Qaeda’s leadership advises the jihadists to “[p]lay an active part in dismantling the French and American project that is represented by the combined forces of the five states in the Sahel region,” adding that they should “[u]se all military resources at your disposal for this cause.”
“We support your brave raids against the French and their toadies in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger,” the authors state. “We encourage you to target American forces, contractors, and their security companies in the region.”
The statement’s authors “congratulate” their loyalists in West Africa for successfully “liberating” some unidentified prisoners, and for supposedly intimidating Germany to the point that the country refuses “to send their special forces to fight you.” The latter is allegedly “an obvious sign of the terror that you have struck in the hearts of the Crusaders and their apostate allies.”
Al-Qaeda’s general command encourages the fighters in West Africa to continue producing propaganda, because the “Islamic Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims]” closely “follows” their “statements and media productions.” Their jihad is part of an “Islamic military awakening in the Islamic Maghreb” that “shall spread and its flame will set alight the lands of the invaders,” the statement reads.
“In the end, we call upon the honorable Muslim Ummah to fulfill its historic duty regarding the Islamic cause in Mali and Somalia by supporting the blessed Jihadi movement with everything at their disposal,” al-Qaeda’s senior men write. “We call upon the virtuous people of Mali and Somalia to unite under the banner of Tawhid (Unity of Allah), and rush forth to fulfill their duty of Jihad in the Way of Allah and defense of the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him).”
The statement doesn’t mention the Islamic State’s presence in either East or West Africa. The self-declared caliphate built a presence in both areas from 2014 onward, but failed to supplant al-Qaeda’s regional branches.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) spawned JNIM in 2017 as part of al-Qaeda’s reorganization efforts. AQIM and its local allies, including Ansar Dine, which plays a prominent role in JNIM, were laying the groundwork for a jihadist emirate in Mali when the French intervened in early 2013. The U.S. has backed France’s efforts to contain al-Qaeda and the Islamic State across the region in the years since then, while also attempting to prevent Shabaab from building its emirate in Somalia and East Africa.
The total American military presence in Africa is estimated to be between 6,000 and 7,000 troops. However, America’s military footprint across Africa is much in doubt, as the Defense Department is reportedly considering plans to withdraw forces from the continent.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.