'You never answer your phone, you don't file expenses and you miss important meetings': International terrorist Moktar Belmoktar receives dressing down from al-Qa'ida leadership in newly discovered letter

Letter also denounces Belmoktar for failing to commit a single 'spectacular' terror attack in the Sahara desert

John Hall
Wednesday 29 May 2013 14:24 BST
Mokhtar Belmokhtar
Mokhtar Belmokhtar (AFP)

A fascinating insight into the inner workings of al-Qa'ida has been provided via a letter from the terror network’s central command, berating international terrorist Moktar Belmoktar for not answering his phone, failing to file expenses and missing important meetings.

In the letter - discovered by Associated Press in a Timbuktu building once occupied by Belmoktar’s troops and formally authenticated by three terror experts - senior members of al-Qa'ida issue what amounts to a formal written warning for the Algerian terrorist.

Denouncing him for failing to commit a single “spectacular” terror attack in the Sahara desert, despite numerous opportunities and significant resources, al-Qa'ida’s 14-member Shura Council – the umbrella organisation that regulates independently-run but ideologically and financially-affiliated terror cells – suggest Belmoktar is an unmanageable rebel whose hostility to leadership is looked upon as a “bleeding wound”.

Dated October 3, 2012, the letter precedes Belmoktar’s very public split with al-Qa'ida, after which he established the autonomous jihadist unit Those Who Sign in Blood - also known as the Masked Brigade.

That group has since claimed responsibility for one of the largest hostage-takings in history – at a BP-operated gas plant in south-east Algeria in January, and for twin suicide bomb blasts in Niger just last week.

In total these attacks have left 101 people dead and, somewhat ironically, were described as “spectacular” acts of terror by the French newspaper Le Monde.

Belmoktar, born in Ghardaia, Northern Algeria in 1972, is a notorious kidnapper and weapons dealer based in remote Saharan areas of southern Algeria, north-eastern Mali and north-west Niger. Throughout the letter he is addressed by his nom de guerre, Khaled Abu Abbas.

Interested in hardline Islamism from childhood, Belmoktar travelled to Afghanistan at the age of 19 to fight in the civil war. He claims he lost an eye in battle and received training at al-Qa'ida terror camps; providing him with the network of international jihadist contacts he would later utilise in becoming commander of al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Occasionally known as Mr Marlboro for the huge cigarette smuggling network he established in the Saharan desert, Belmoktar is also reported to have employed a three foot six inch executioner known as ‘Mohamed the Dwarf’, who would behead or slit the throats of the group’s enemies during a series of massacres that took place amid the Algerian Civil War.

He has reportedly fallen out with successive al-Qa'ida leaderships since becoming a commander, a fact noted in the letter when the Shura Council writes: “Abu Abbas is not willing to follow anyone… he is only willing to be followed and obeyed”.

“Why do successive emirs of the region only have difficulties with you? You in particular every time? Or are all of them wrong and brother Khaled is right?” they add.

Elsewhere in the letter, Belmoktar is criticised for not answering phone calls from al-Qa'ida’s leadership, failing to file administrative and expenses reports, airing personal grievances via public jihadist internet forums, and failing to attend an important meeting in Timbuktu which he'd branded “useless”.

Another reproach focuses on Belmoktar’s habit of agreeing to release hostages for considerably less than the ransom fees agreed by al-Qa'ida’s central command.

The letter says: “Rather than walking alongside us in the plan we outlined, he managed the case as he liked… Here we must ask who handled this important abduction poorly?... Does it come from the unilateral behaviour along the lines of our brother Abu Abbas, which produced a blatant inadequacy: Trading the weightiest case - Canadian diplomats!! - for the most meagre price - €700,000!!”

The original text of the 10-page letter can be found on an AP-hosted website at the following addresses:

(In English): http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_international/_pdfs/al-qaida-belmoktar-letter-english.pdf

(In the original Arabic): http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_international/_pdfs/al-qaida-belmoktar-letter.pdf

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