Abd al-Rahman Talha al-Libi is the alleged leader of Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) in the Emirate of Timbuktu of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Al-Libi reportedly was appointed by the Shura Council of AQIM following the death of Abu Yahya al-Jazairi on April 6, 2020.“Letter dated 16 July 2020 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, July 23, 2020, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2020_717.pdf; Ahmed Adel, “Abd al-Rahman Talha al-Libi: First Mauritanian to lead Sahara Emirate,” The Portal-Center, July 22, 2020, http://www.theportal-center.com/2020/07/abd-al-rahman-talha-al-libi-first-mauritanian-to-lead-sahara-emirate/.
Reportedly of Mauritian and Libyan heritage, al-Libi was formerly the head of Timbuktu’s Islamic police—a group of Islamist militants and non-state actors that sought to enforce sharia law throughout the Malian city. The group gained notoriety in 2012 for their activities, such as banning music and stoning alleged adulterers.“Veteran jihadist seeks return of sharia law in north Mali: video,” Reuters, January 7, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mali-violence/veteran-jihadist-seeks-return-of-sharia-law-in-north-mali-video-idUSKBN0UM00320160108. Al-Libi began serving as the leader of Katibat al-Furqan in 2013. The brigade is based in the Timbuktu region and is a sub-command of AQIM. While leading Katibat al-Furqan, al-Libi accused France of “seeking to create tribal conflict after the failure of its intervention in northern Mali.”Andrew McGregor, “Anarchy in Azawad: A Guide to Non-State Armed Groups in Northern Mali,” Jamestown Foundation, January 27, 2017, https://www.refworld.org/docid/589d9f394.html.
As the leader of Katibat al-Furqan, al-Libi sought to cultivate coalitions with the Arabs and the ethnic Tuareg—particularly the Awlad Ich and Awlad Idriss tribes—in the Timbuktu region. In 2015, JNIM released a video in which al-Libi openly addressed members of the Awlad Ich tribe, asking them to join AQIM forces to rebel against French forces in the area.Alex Thurston, “Timbuktu: A Laboratory for Jihadists Experimenting with Politics,” War on the Rocks, January 23, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/01/timbuktu-a-laboratory-for-jihadists-experimenting-with-politics/. Additionally, on January 7, 2016, al-Libi appeared in a video called “From the Depths of the Sahara” that was released by AQIM’s Al Andalus Media Productions. In the video, al-Libi called for the return to sharia law in north Mali.“Veteran jihadist seeks return of sharia law in north Mali: video,” Reuters, January 7, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mali-violence/veteran-jihadist-seeks-return-of-sharia-law-in-north-mali-video-idUSKBN0UM00320160108.
It is reported that al-Libi was quickly named the successor to Abu Yahya al-Jazairi—the former leader of the Timbuktu emirate of JNIM—when al-Jazairi was killed during an attack against Malian armed forces in Bamba, Mali on April 6, 2020.Wassim Nasr, “ISIS in Africa: The End of the “Sahel Exception,” Newlines Institute, June 2, 2020, https://newlinesinstitute.org/isis/isis-in-africa-the-end-of-the-sahel-exception/. Although al-Libi holds a prominent position within both JNIM and AQIM, al-Libi is subordinate to JNIM’s overall leader, the U.S.- and U.N.-designated Iyad Ag Ghaly.“ANSAR EDDINE,” United Nations Security Council, February 3, 2015, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/entity/ansar-eddine.