The Associated Press recently got its hands on a fascinating and at turns hilarious letter from Al Qaeda’s Shura (leadership) Council to one Mokhtar Belmokhtar (MBM), a disgruntled Assistant Regional Manager of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). Belmokhtar, who goes by the nom de guerre Khaled Abu Abbas and who lost an eye while mishandling explosives in his rough and rowdy jihadist youth, is a mass murderer who orchestrated an attack on BP oil fields in Algeria, in which 39 hostages died. He is also, based on the letter, a real insubordinate prig. Below are highlights from the letter.
AWOL in Algeria
MBM “remained an obstacle blocking the efforts” of his AQIM supervisors to unite the different terror brigades in the region. He frequently broke the chain of command to complain directly to Afghanistan/Pakistan. He didn’t answer phone calls or e-mails, even as he boasted of his deeds to jihadist web groups. He refused to attend a meeting with superiors, calling it “useless,” and ignored emissaries and reinforcements sent to him from central command. And so on.
For his part, Belmokhtar complains that he is being underutilized, and that his brigade “got bored with” the “routine . . . abductions” with which they were tasked. And he blamed any performance issues on the deficiencies of the North African “emirs” to whom he was supposed to report. But the Shura Council wasn’t buying it.
Al-Qaeda are skinflints
The hits keep coming. Second to his insubordination, the Shura Council’s main complaint about MBM is his handling of finances. The letter criticizes MBM for his poor accounting, asking pointedly, “How many administrative and financial reports have you sent up to your Emirate?” They also ding him for failing to extract a large enough ransom payment for a kidnapped Canadian diplomat. “The unilateral behavior along the lines of our brother Abu Abbas . . . produced a blatant inadequacy: trading the weightiest case (Canadian diplomats!!) for the most meager price (700,000 euros)!!”
Nor, it seems, did MBM do much with the resources he did have. Despite being given “a considerable amount of money to buy military materiel,” the letter says, “the practical reality testifies to the fact that [MBM] did not contribute to increasing weapons purchases, despite the historical and social weight he has in the region enabling him to play an important role in this field.”
“To the contrary, we found the other emirs’ contributions to be much more effective and greater in size than Khaled’s, which was negligible.”
‘God Rest His Soul’
Sometimes when organizations are dealing with internal divisions, senior management will go off on a corporate retreat to sort through their problems. So why didn’t A.Q. gather at some swanky yurt for an airing of grievances? For one, because a lot of the key players were already dead, something the letter’s 20 iterations of “God rest his soul” make apparent.
At the top of the list is Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan jihadist from way back who had been held at, and escaped from, the Bagram detention center in Afghanistan. A former CIA analyst called Abu Yahya “a man for all seasons for A.Q. . . . He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander.” He was also, per the letter, something of a travel agent, who “took care of all the travel arrangements” for MBM, though apparently not to the Cycloptic Moor’s liking. Abu Yahya was a “charismatic, young, brash rising star” who was at one time thought to be the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden. Right up until he was droned into oblivion in Waziristan last June.
Also named in the letter is Nabil Abu Alqama, a deputy emir in AQIM and head of Mali operations, whom Belmoktar apparently gave fits during his tenure. Abu Alqama died on the road to Timbuktu when Allah saw fit to explode a tire on his ATV, sending him tumbling down a mountainside. There is also an “Abdel-Haq, God rest his soul” mentioned as having been dispatched from “the east group” to conduct operations in the Sahara (without, Belmokhtar complained, his permission). This might be Abdel-Haq al Turkistani, the Chinese national who served as an important AQ emissary in the tribal regions until he was Predatorized in early 2010, or it might be somebody else.
There are other late mujahedeen mentioned, including a couple of franchise consultants, dispatched from AQHQ to get AQIM off the ground, called “Ayoub and Masoud al-Bara, God rest their souls” along with “other brothers, some of whom got their wish[!] and some of whom remain alive and well, God keep them.”
Just a few weeks after the letter was sent, MBM would officially announce he was breaking off from AQIM to work on a solo project with the catchy name “Those Who Sign in Blood.” It makes sense. AQ brass’s tone in the letter, dripping with sarcasm and condescension, makes clear that this is the last straw in an employer-employee relationship that had been strained for years. This acerbity undoubtedly peaked in their transcendent reproach of MBM for “whispering” complaints about his regional emir.
“We consider it as derisive and snide and denigrating a figure who by our ancient Islamic law should be esteemed and respected,” the Shura write. “Even if he were a black Ethiopian with a head like a raisin.”
At the end of the letter the Shura do extend an olive branch, writing: “Our great hope . . . is that you receive [this letter] with a welcoming and open heart and that these messages, with their harshness, will be a true beginning towards a serious self-review to fix the state of our jihad, which is our pride in this life and our savior in the next.”
Nice words, to be sure, but when you’re bringing raisin-headed Ethiopians into the equation, it’s a sign your jihad might just be too broke to fix.
– Daniel Foster is news editor of National Review Online.