Libya: Woman arrested in Mechili is not the wife of Mokhtar Belmokhtar

Last Saturday night reports emerged that the wife of AQIM’s Al-Mourabitoune leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar had been arrested in Mechili, about 75km south of the Cyrenaican city of Derna, the announcement came from Beida’s ‘Anti-terrorism and subversion directorate’. According to reports did the counter-terrorist unit act on intelligence received from a hospital in Derna with the information that a foreign woman gave birth to a child with the father of the child not being present. The port city of Derna is controlled by the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna (MSCD).

The woman who was said to be Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s wife is named as Asma Kaddoussi from Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. The woman was accompanied by another woman and their driver who was supposed to transport them to Jufra in the south. Several photos of the women’s Tunisian identity cards and vroot apk download fake passports were published the following day together with images supposedly from their mobile phones showing Al-Qaeda and AQIM propaganda.

asma-kaddoussi
Asma Kaddoussi

Reports from LNA sources on Asma Kaddoussi’s arrest also featured other elements seen before in LNA propaganda like the fact that her husband referred to as Mokhtar Belmokhtar was hosted by Zied Bel’am in a camp in Jufra, a camp that Kaddoussi herself had visited prior being sent to Derna to give birth, Bel’am being the commander of the Omar al-Mukhtar Brigade and part of Benghazi Defense Brigades/Saraya Defend Benghazi. It was further said that a suicide belt was seized in connection to the arrests in Mechili, later added that the women wore suicide belts. Additionally, it was also stated that the women had forged documents coming from the areas of Soltan and Gaminis south of Benghazi (SDB), possibly insinuating another connection to the Benghazi Defense Brigades and the Operations Room for the Liberation of the city Ajdabiya and support Benghazi rebels (GATMJB) who in June and July this year carried out an offensive in those areas, located along the axis Ajdabiya – Benghazi. The reports on the arrests come timely as LNA fears an attack on the ‘Oil Crescent’, an area it recently captured from Ibrahim Jathran’s Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG). Note that remnants of PFG withdrew to Jufra just like SDB did after their offensive along the axis Ajdabiya – Benghazi in June-July was repelled by LNA, consequently being expelled from the Ajdabiya region.

The claim that the wife of Mokhtar Belmokhtar (whether dead or alive) had been arrested raised suspicion early on and the credibility of the claim perceived as highly dubious, especially with regard to previous unreliable reports of arrests or killings of high-profile terrorists in Libya, but also that it seems unlikely that a senior AQIM leader like Belmokhtar would stay in a camp with Bel’am in Jufra, or for that matter send his wife on a long and risky trip to Derna to give birth. Just to mention a few incidents, some gained significant media attention, the killing of late Algerian-Tunisian terrorist Khaled Chaïb known as Lokmane Abu Sakhr at the Baghlah junction southwest of Sirte as announced by the media center of Bonyan al-Marsous on May 29 this year, the arrest of Moez Fezzani (nom de guerre Abu Nassim) with his arrest reported to have taken place between al-Jmail and Roqdalin and carried out by Zintanis as reported on August 16, 2016, and the possible killing of Talha al-Libi, Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelmalek Droukdel in Gardah al-Shati on November 14. All these mentioned incidents have proven to be fake, although circumstances regarding the last incident are still unclear.

In reaction to the badly investigated and sensational media reports stating that Asma Kaddoussi was Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s wife, her sister Olfa Kaddoussi published photos of her sister Asma and her sister’s husband Mokhtar Akkouri, further providing Akkouri’s birth certificate to show that the media reports are wrong, since the certificate shows that Kaddoussi and Akkouri are married, at least as of 2014 with reference to date on the document. Akkouri or by his full name Mokhtar Ben Mokhtar Ben Amor Akkouri is himself an individual known for terrorist activities, in 2006-2007 being part of the “Soliman group” or Soldiers of Assad Ibn al-Fourat, a Tunisian branch of the Algerian terrorist organization Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) which during the same period evolved into Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Akkouri received an eight-year sentence in 2008 accused of having sold the family home he inherited to help finance a terrorist organization. Akkouri like several others of the Soliman group enjoyed general amnesty after the revolution, although Akkouri resumed his terrorist activities, on November 17, 2014 the Tunisian Ministry of Interior issued a search warrant for him, Khaled Chaïb (Lokmane Abu Sakhr) and Abdallah Gharbi, all being members of AQIM’s Tunisian branch, the Uqba Bin Nafâa Brigade (KUBN) and sought for the planning and execution of terrorist attacks.

A more recent photo of Akkouri
A more recent photo of Mokhtar Akkouri
mokhtar-akkouri-mugshot
Mugshot of Akkouri featured in the search warrant from 2014 by the Tunisian Ministry of Interior

 

Akkouri's birth certificate which states that he is married to Asma Kaddoussi
Akkouri’s birth certificate which states that he is married to Asma Kaddoussi

Libya: ISIS attacks beyond the frontlines of central Sirte (interactive map)

On August 1, US initiated ‘Operation Odyssey Lightning’ on request by Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) which is supported by a coalition of militias mainly from the city of Misrata that fights the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) in Sirte, hometown of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The GNA-backed coalition of militias fighting ISIS go by the name Operation Bonyan al-Marsous, translated as Operation Solid Structure. The battle of Sirte was in fact initiated by ISIS who on May 5 launched a blitz that targeted Fajr Libya’s (what later became Operation Bonyan al-Marsous) staging area for the upcoming Sirte offensive in the area of Abu Grein between Sirte and Misrata. ISIS spearheaded the surprise attack on Abu Grein with SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) attacks that paved the way for ISIS technicals and fighters who swiftly overran the Misrata militias and took control of Abu Grein and surrounding villages. Although ISIS was able to take control of the area between Sirte and Misrata and briefly expand their territory westwards they did not manage to defend it successfully and keep it under their control. The forces of Bonyan al-Marsous (BAM) managed to recover, mobilize and push back ISIS to Sirte and its outskirts.

The US intervention supporting the BAM-coalition with significant airpower has become a real gamechanger in the Sirte offensive against ISIS, an offensive that has been ongoing for more than five months, in periods stalling or progressing very slow with high casualties as the cost for small advances, especially as the battle moved to the more dense built districts of Sirte. The most deadly threat and ISIS cost-effective “shock and awe” and strategic asset is the SVBIED attacks, a threat that with US air support has been significantly minimized, as of October 15, around thirty of ISIS’s vehicle-bourne explosive devices neutralized by US airstrikes, “loads” with the potential to inflict huge damages and casualties within the ranks of Bonyan al-Marsous forces.

On August 10, ISIS lost its last asset of symbolic value, the Ouagadougou Conference Centre, the capture marking a milestone of the Sirte offensive, less than a week later Operation Bonyan al-Marsous Media Center claimed that ISIS had been pushed further back, now confined to the central districts of downtown Sirte. Despite the fact that territory under ISIS control notably decreased in this period, surrounded by forces of numerical superiority with an own air force and also supported by foreign airpower, the group has shown remarkable resiliance with operational capabilities reaching far beyond its last pockets in Sirte as shown on the interactive map.

Bonyan al-Marsous forces claimed via their media center on October 22 that they had seized the whole of ‘Amarat al-Korniche, also known as the ‘600 Buildings’ neighbourhood, thus leaving ISIS holed up in a single neighbourhood covering a surface of approximately 0.18 sq km. Despite being surrounded and in “control” of such a limited space, ISIS has made use of its external cells and operatives who have planted IEDs on the Coastal Road west of Sirte with detonations on an almost daily basis. Beyond Sirte and its surroundings, ISIS still very active and present in Benghazi clashing with and targeting LNA in Gawarsha and Ganfouda, and a slight resurgence of activity in the Sabri district and Souq al-Hout noted. An ISIS cell was also detected on October 11 in Sebha, forced to leave their rental house after a shootout with local youth from the Qadhadhfa/(Gaddafi) tribe.

The monitoring of ISIS’s “remote” attacks take its departure with the attack on the en-Naga Oil Field on August 9 with incidents following as displayed. ISIS’s days with Sirte as its stronghold have come to an end and the final and total loss is inevitable, but ISIS presence and activities in Libya will remain, in Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the south with a fallback somewhat already established, from the valleys soutwest of Sirte down to Sebha, the fight is entering a new phase with ISIS adapting to a changing environment.