After lying low since early 2013, Iyad Ag Ghaly, the founder and emir of the Malian-based terrorist group Ansar Dine, has appeared in a video expressing solidarity with the group’s mujahideen brothers across the world and calling for the expulsion of France from Mali.
The video featuring Al Ghaly, which was published by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on Aug. 5, urges Muslims to rise up against France. In the video, Ag Ghaly declares that his group is “ready to unite with our brothers on the ground to face up to the crusaders and infidels who have united to fight Islam in our land.”
Ag Ghaly is shown seated with Ansar Dine’s flag to his right and a Kalashnikov leaning up against the wall to his left. Bearded and wearing a white turban, the terrorist group leader states emphatically: “What happened to the Muslims in Azawad, northern Mali, is an affliction through which Allah distinguished the good from the malicious … and to see from His worshippers the truth of their intention …and to humiliate the Haman of the era, the ally of disbelief, the country of the cross France, as America was humiliated before it,” according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Addressing “our Muslim Ummah in general and our people in Azawad in particular,” Ag Ghaly discusses events in Mali over the past two years, charging that Ansar Dine suffered from media distortion of its campaign, and assuring his audience that “we are still present in the field” and “the war between us and them is still ongoing, as you see with the martyrdom-seeking operations carried out against the enemy successively, and the rockets launched from time to time, and the mines that were placed for them everywhere.”
He also refers to a fatwa issued in Chinguetti, Mauritania obliging Muslims to fight against France and its allies.
In the middle portion of the video, clips of Arabic news coverage of France’s intervention in Mali and French President Francois Hollande speaking of the mission are shown.
Connecting with the global jihad, Ag Ghaly calls on “our proud Muslim people whose sanctities were violated by the French and their allies, to stand in one rank in the face of the historical, hate-filled enemy of the Muslims, and revive the spirit of cooperation among Muslims.” He ends the message with greetings and support for Ansar Dine’s “mujahideen brothers in all fields of jihad, in Nigeria, Somalia, Central Africa, the Islamic Maghreb, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus, the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, and Sham.” In conclusion, he states: “We are ready to unite with our mujahideen brothers in the field of Mali to confront the Crusader alliance and global disbelief.”
Background on Iyad Ag Ghaly
Ag Ghaly formed Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”) in October 2011 after Malian Tuareg leaders rejected him in favor of Bilal Al Acherif to lead the secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
An experienced commander, Ag Ghaly had been active in several Tuareg uprisings since returning to Mali after Gaddafi disbanded his Islamic Legion in 1987. Quickly becoming a leader amongst disenfranchised Tuaregs, he led a rebellion against the Malian government in 1990. Throughout the early 2000s, he held several diplomatic roles including negotiating the release of hostages held by AQIM in 2003. Prior to his radicalization, suspected to have begun in the early 2000s during a visit to Pakistan, Ag Ghaly was known for “his fondness for whisky and music.”
Throughout 2012, Ansar Dine worked with al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and local Tuareg separatists to push the Malian government from control of northern Mali in an attempt to form a Muslim state ruled by sharia law. AQIM viewed Ansar Dine as its local arm in Mali; in a “confidential letter” from Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of AQIM, that was found in Timbuktu in early 2013, he instructed his followers to mask their operations and “pretend to be a ‘domestic’ movement” under Ansar Dine so as not to draw international attention and intervention.
With Ag Ghaly at the helm, Ansar Dine demonstrated a penchant for violence through its strict interpretation and adherence to sharia law. While controlling several towns across northern Mali in 2012, the group destroyed tombs in Timbuktu; banned alcohol, smoking, Friday visits to cemeteries, and watching soccer; and required all women to wear veils in public. Those who did not adhere to the new rules were whipped and beaten.
In response to the Islamists’ takeover of much of northern Mali, French forces commenced Operation Serval, a joint French and Malian operation, in January 2013 to regain control. The successful French-led operation pushed the Islamists and their leaders from the northern cities they had ruled.
On Feb. 26, 2013, both the United States and the United Nations added Ghaly to their lists of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The State Departmented noted that Ghaly “cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).” [See LWJ report, Emir of Ansar Dine added to US, UN’s terrorist lists.] Ansar Dine itself was identified as a terrorist organization by the US and the UN in March 2013.
Operation Serval was successful in preventing the Islamists from controlling the north. But since its start in 2013, there have been several guerrilla-style attacks and incidents launched by the retreating Islamists.
France’s mission in Mali has evolved from the limited Operation Serval to the recently launched Operation Barkhane, which aims to combat terrorists across the Sahara, in a partnership with five African nations — Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger, and Burkina Faso. French forces continue to conduct military operations in Mali, however. On Aug. 10, they dropped dropped up to five bombs in the Essakane region west of Timbuktu, targeting al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb positions.
In April 2012, shortly before the merger of Tuareg rebel factions with Ansar Dine into the short-lived breakaway state in northern Mali called the Islamic Republic of Azawad, Ag Ghaly was reportedly seen meeting in Timbuktu with senior AQIM leaders Abu Zeid, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, and Yahya Abu al Hammam. But soon after France began Operation Serval in January 2013, Ag Ghaly went off the radar.