Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi

Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi is a U.S.- and U.N.-designated Algerian is currently the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  Al-Anabi was previously the leader of AQIM’s Council of Notables, served on AQIM’s Shura Council, and was also AQIM’s media chief. Al-Anabi was announced as the next emir of AQIM on November 21, 2020, following the death of former leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, by French troops in June 2020.Julie Coleman and Méryl Demuynck, “The Death of Droukdel: Implications for AQIM and the Sahel,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, June 9, 2020, https://icct.nl/publication/the-death-of-droukdel-implications-for-aqim-and-the-sahel/; Agence France-Presse, “French troops kill Al-Qaeda’s North Africa chief Abdelmalek Droukdel,” Telangana Today, June 6, 2020, https://telanganatoday.com/french-troops-kill-al-qaedas-north-africa-chief-abdelmalek-droukdel; “Al-Qaeda in North Africa appoints new leader after killing,” Press News Agency, November 22, 2020, https://pressnewsagency.org/al-qaeda-in-north-africa-appoints-new-leader-after-killing/?fbclid=IwAR3ygg4tr_niifrQSngiphJjNh2irK8vcxvrxBtgSSJvpndf4wH2i33SDRA.

Before being appointed emir of AQIM, al-Anabi was the reported leader of the Council of Notables, which is AQIM’s central decision-making body, as well as a member of the Shura Council that governs Islamic legal matters. Furthermore, al-Anabi often appeared in AQIM’s videos that are produced through AQIM’s own media wing, Al-Andalus Media Productions, which al-Anabi reportedly headed as media chief.“Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb,” Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, accessed February 10, 2015, http://www.trackingterrorism.org/group/al-qaeda-lands-islamic-maghreb-aqim-salafist-group-preaching-and-fighting-see-separate-entry. Before joining AQIM, al-Anabi held similar roles in AQIM’s Algerian predecessor, the Groupe salafiste pour la prédication et le combat (GSPC). Founded in 1998, GSPC was an Islamic insurgent group that broke away from the violent Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), which emerged during the Algerian civil war. Droukdel assumed leadership of GSPC in 2004 and in 2006, GSPC swore allegiance to al-Qaeda before Droukdel rebranded the group to AQIM in 2007.Julie Coleman J.D., LL.M, Méryl Demuynck, “The Death of Droukdel: Implications for AQIM and the Sahel,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, June 9, 2020, https://icct.nl/publication/the-death-of-droukdel-implications-for-aqim-and-the-sahel/. Allegedly, al-Anabi was almost killed in an Algerian army ambush against AQIM in Bouzguen, north-central Algeria, in November 2009.Nicholas A. Heras, “May Briefs,” Jamestown Foundation, May 31, 2013, https://jamestown.org/brief/may-briefs/.

Within AQIM, al-Anabi’s was often considered second-in-command which created a level of rivalry with Droukdel. The two allegedly disagreed over the management of AQIM as Droukdel sought to marginalize al-Anabi and the Council of Notables. Some AQIM insiders allege that al-Anabi demonstrated an attempt to seize power from Droukdel when he released a March 2010 recruitment video in which he—speaking for the entire AQIM—called on Muslim youth in the Sahara and the Sahel to join the jihad.Nicholas A. Heras, “May Briefs,” Jamestown Foundation, May 31, 2013, https://jamestown.org/brief/may-briefs/.

In a video released on April 25, 2013, al-Anabi called for armed conflict by violent extremists against French interests throughout the world. The call to arms was supposedly in response to France’s intervention in Mali.“Terrorist Designation of Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi,” U.S. Department of State, September 9, 2015, https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/09/246716.htm.

Given al-Anabi’s advocacy for local and international jihad, on September 29, 2015, U.S. Department of State designated al-Anabi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.“Terrorist Designation of Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi,” U.S. Department of State, September 9, 2015, https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/09/246716.htm. In January 2016, al-Anabi released another audio message calling on Libyans to join the fight against the Libyan army and the “French forces” in Benghazi.“Substantial bombardment of Benghazi terrorist positions,” Libya Herald, June 27, 2016, https://www.libyaherald.com/2016/06/27/substantial-bombardment-of-benghazi-terrorist-positions/; “Report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed to Libya and neighbouring countries, including off the coast of Libya, by foreign terrorist fighters recruited by or joining Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities,” United Nations Security Council, July 18, 2016, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2016_627.pdf. Shortly afterwards, on February 29, 2016, the United Nations Security Council listed al-Anabi as an individual associated with “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities” by AQIM.“Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi,”United Nations Security Council, February 29, 2016, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/abu-ubaydah-yusuf-al-anabi.

On March 9, 2019, al-Anabi delivered a speech in which he called on Muslims to unite to ensure that Algeria is ruled according to Islam “alone” and that Algerian people employ “Islamic morals and sharia ethics” in their street demonstrations against the 20-year rule of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.“Al Qaeda official calls for Algeria to become Islamic state governed by sharia law,” Barnabas Fund, March 26, 2019, https://barnabasfund.org/news/al-qaeda-official-calls-for-algeria-to-become-islamic-state-governed-by/; Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIM official calls for sharia governance in Algeria,” Long War Journal, March 14, 2019, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/03/aqim-official-calls-for-sharia-governance-in-algeria.php.

In an interview with France 24 in early 2019, al-Anabi discussed how AQIM will continue their attacks against French military presence in the Sahel, the negotiations concerning the French hostage Sophie Pétronin—who was eventually released on October 9, 2020 after almost four years as a hostage—and al-Qaeda’s relations with ISIS. In regards to AQIM’s relations with ISIS, al-Anabi initially claimed that ISIS and AQIM did not clash in the Sahel, but did assert that AQIM was a much more threatening force than ISIS—which he considers to be guerilla gangs rather than a legitimate organization—in the region.Wassim Nasr, “Exclusive: AQIM jihadist leader answers questions from France 24,” France 24, May 31, 2019, https://www.france24.com/fr/20190530-abou-obeida-youssef-al-annabi-chef-jihadiste-aqmi-ei-terrorisme-france-petronin-algerie; Fanny Bobille, Pierre Bairin and Schams Elwazer, “French hostage Sophie Pétronin released in Mali after 1,381 days in captivity,” CNN, October 9, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/08/africa/french-aid-worker-sophie-petronin-mali-hostage-released-intl/index.html.

Following the death of AQIM leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, by French troops in Mali on June 4, 2020, AQIM did not immediately appoint a new leader.Agence France-Presse, “French troops kill Al-Qaeda’s North Africa chief Abdelmalek Droukdel,” Telangana Today, June 6, 2020, https://telanganatoday.com/french-troops-kill-al-qaedas-north-africa-chief-abdelmalek-droukdel. The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism suspected that al-Anabi would be a possible contender as Droukdel’s replacement.Julie Coleman J.D., LL.M, Méryl Demuynck, “The Death of Droukdel: Implications for AQIM and the Sahel,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, June 9, 2020, https://icct.nl/publication/the-death-of-droukdel-implications-for-aqim-and-the-sahel/. According to SITE Intelligence Group, on November 21, 2020, AQIM released a video that showed a body of its former leader while also announcing al-Anabi as the group’s new leader.“Al-Qaeda in North Africa appoints new leader after killing,” Press News Agency, November 22, 2020, https://pressnewsagency.org/al-qaeda-in-north-africa-appoints-new-leader-after-killing/?fbclid=IwAR3ygg4tr_niifrQSngiphJjNh2irK8vcxvrxBtgSSJvpndf4wH2i33SDRA.

On June 2, 2021, the U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice Program offered a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to the identification or location of al-Anabi.“Rewards for Justice – Reward offer for Information on Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi,” U.S. Department of State, June 2, 2021, https://www.state.gov/rewards-for-justice-reward-offer-for-information-on-abu-ubaydah-yusuf-al-anabi/.

United States

The U.S. Department of State designated Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on September 29, 2015.“Terrorist Designation of Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi,” September 9, 2015, U.S. Department of State, https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/09/246716.htm.

United Nations

The United Nations Security Council listed Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi as an individual associated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb on February 29, 2016.“Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi,”United Nations Security Council, February 29, 2016, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/abu-ubaydah-yusuf-al-anabi.

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On October 16, 2020, while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” 18-year-old Abdoulakh Anzorov decapitated history teacher Samuel Paty in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. Paty had recently received death threats after showing caricatures of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in class as part of a lesson on freedom of speech.  

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