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Al-Qaeda in North Africa appoints leader to replace Droukdel

The leader was announced by the militant group this week [Twitter]

Date of publication: 22 November, 2020

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Algerian Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi was named as the head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has chosen a new leader to replace Abdelmalek Droukdel, who was killed in June by French forces, the SITE monitoring group reported on Saturday. 

Algerian Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi, the head of AQIM's "Council of Dignitaries", was named as Droukdel's successor, SITE said. 

Al-Annabi has been on the American "international terrorist" blacklist since September 2015, according to the Counter Extremism Project. 

He has regularly appeared in the group's propaganda videos, and in 2013 famously demanded that Muslims retaliate against France's intervention in Mali.

AQIM also confirmed the death of Swiss national Beatrice Stoeckli, who was abducted in Timbuktu while working as a missionary in 2016.

It blamed her death on an attempt by "French crusaders" to free her.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb emerged from a group started in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists, who in 2007 pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

The group has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on troops and civilians across the Sahel region, including a 2016 attack on an upmarket hotel and restaurant in Burkina Faso that killed 30 people, mainly Westerners.

France has more than 5,000 troops deployed in its anti-jihadist Barkhane force in the Sahel.

'Al-Qaeda chief dead'

Meanwhile, rumours on the death of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri circulated online last week, with reports suggesting he died of natural causes one month ago.

Journalist and NYT Best Selling Author Hassan Hassan broke the news on Twitter after reportedly "corroborating" with sources close to Al-Qaeda.

“Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda leader & Osama bin Laden successor, died a month ago of natural causes in his domicile. The news is making the rounds in close circles,” he said.

Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group also weighed in with a tweet saying the rumours are yet to be verified but noted it was typical of Al-Qaeda not to announce deaths.

“Unconfirmed reports circulating that Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has served as leader of al-Qaeda since Usamah bin Laden was killed in 2011, died of illness a month ago. Al-Qaeda has not yet confirmed these reports,” Katz said on Friday.

“If he is dead, it is unclear who would be the successor. Ra’uf was a recent candidate but was killed 2 wks ago. Besides Hamza bin Laden, whose fate AQ still has not acknowledged, no other officials have been publicly groomed to take a leading role in the organization.

“It is very typical of AQ to not publish news about the death of its leaders in a timely manner. For instance, the group never confirmed the death of Hamza bin Laden. When Adam Gadahn (AKA Azzam the American) died in 2015, it took the group five months to acknowledge his death,” she added in subsequent tweets.

The militant leader’s death has yet to be announced by the group but his health has been reportedly deteriorating since last year, according to US officials, who suggested he may have heart issues.

The Egyptian born al-Qaeda leader - who took charge after Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in 2011 - is thought to be somewhere in Pakistan's unruly border region hiding from a global manhunt.

He communicates with the group's remaining supporters through semi-regular video lectures, reiterating - as in his latest message - the need to target the United States.

He last appeared in a video to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people when airliners slammed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

In that video, Al-Zawahiri called on Muslims to attack US, European, Israeli and Russian targets.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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