A West African Islamist group that has participated in a string of grisly attacks aimed at foreigners across multiple countries is now officially part of ISIS, the Islamic State said Sunday.
“The Murabitin Brigade under leadership of Abul-Walid as-Sahrawi in northern Mali pledges allegiance to Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and joins the Islamic State,” ISIS’ Amaq news agency said in a statement.
ISIS released a video in which as-Sahrawi reads a statement of allegiance, then masked fighters put their hands in team-style while reciting a pledge to al-Baghdadi. They then cheered “Allahu Akbar.”
As-Sahrawi, an Algerian, pledged allegiance to ISIS last year, but it was not publicly recognized by the Islamic State. Divisions within al-Mourabitoun rendered that more of a personal declaration than speaking for the whole group. In particular, al-Mourabitoun co-founder Mokhtar Belmokhtar, also Algerian, was reportedly not on board. In December, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb announced that al-Mourabitoun was part of AQIM once again.
Al-Mourabitoun began as a merger of two jihadist groups: the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), linked to as-Sahrawi, and Belmokhtar’s al-Mulathameen Brigade. Belmokhtar has maintained his loyalty to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al-Mourabitoun and AQIM attacked the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mail, last November, killing 20 including American development expert Anita Ashok Datar. In January, the two groups attacked the the Cappuccino restaurant and Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, killing 30 including two former members of the Swiss parliament and American missionary Michael James Riddering. In March, AQIM and al-Mourabitoun again teamed up for an attack on a beach resort in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast, killing 18.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last week at the Council on Foreign Relations that one of the gravest threats coming from Africa is the “tremendous politic ferment across the continent.”
“What worries me about it again are the conditions that give rise to extremism — ungoverned areas… weapons, countries with economic challenges, large population bulge of disaffected young males,” Clapper said. “So these conditions prevail in many places in Africa, which could of course give — already is giving rise to forms of extremism: Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, AQIM.”