A new armed group calling itself the “Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria” has split from al-Qaeda’s North African branch and sworn loyalty to the group calling itself the Islamic State (IS), fighting in Syria and Iraq.
In a communique released on Sunday, a regional commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said he broke away from the group, accusing it of “deviating from the true path”.
Gouri Abdelmalek, nom de guerre Khaled Abu Suleimane, claimed leadership of the splinter group, and was joined by a AQIM commander of an eastern region in Algeria.
“You have in the Islamic Maghreb men if you order them they will obey you,” Suleimane said in reference to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-professed “caliph” of the IS group.
Algerian officials did not immediately comment on the statement.
The “Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria” is the latest group to break with AQIM and side with Baghdadi, after veteran Algerian jihadist, Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group, “Those who sign in Blood” pledged allegiance to the IS group.
But experts say the announcement will not have a major operational impact on the ground as AQIM has been focused on the Sahel region rather than OPEC member Algeria.
“The new group will try hard to make some noise, but it will be very difficult to execute big terrorist actions as Algerian security forces have knocked out most of the armed groups in Algeria,” security analyst Anis Rahmani told the Reuters news agency.
AQIM is a mostly Algerian and Mauritanian group that has been present in northern Mali since 2003, and a source of thousands of young fighters travelling to Syria and Iraq.
Tuaregs and Arabs joined AQIM in Mali, and youths from Senegal, Niger, and other countries have also reportedly joined the group’s fight.
Baghdadi, who has declared himself the “leader of Muslims everywhere”, fell out with al-Qaeda in 2013 over his decision to expand into Syria, where his followers carried out beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.