For a project I’m working on I recently revisited an autobiographical sketch of Abdelmalek Droukdel (1970-2020), the emir of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) who was killed in Mali this past June 3. Droukdel provided the sketch to the site Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad in 1426 hijri, which mostly overlaps with 2005. Droukdel was at the time the emir of AQIM under its old name the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat, best known by its French acronym GSPC.
Droukdel gives the following dates:
- 1970: Born in a village called Zayan in Meftah, Algeria.
- 1989: Obtained a baccalaureate in mathematics.
- 1990-1993: Attend the University of Blida, Algeria.
- 1992: Came into contact with Said Makhloufi, who at the time was leading a group called the Movement for an Islamic State (French acronym MEI).
- 1993 (December): Joined the “mujahidin,” perhaps the MEI (parts of which were brought into the Armed Islamic Group (French acronym GIA) in a 1994 merger, though Droukdel does not explicitly say which group he joined in 1993 nor does he mention the merger). He was immediately put to work as an explosives maker because of his science and technological background.
- 1996: Put in charge of “all the workshops for military production for the ‘shock troops’ affiliated with Zone 2.” I am assuming that by “shock troops” he means the literal phrase, but that could be (Jund al-Ahwal) the proper name of a unit.
- Unspecified date between 1996 and 2001: Took charge of the “Jerusalem Battalion,” later renamed the “Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Battalion.” For reference, Abu Bakr was the first Caliph after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
- 2001: “Called upon to join the leadership of the [GSPC] and appointed a member of the Council of Notables, for [representing] Zone 2.” Droukdel does not say in this account when he left the GIA for the GSPC; he was a protege of the GSPC emir Nabil Sahraoui/Mustafa Abu Ibrahim/Abu Ibrahim Mustafa (in power 2003-2004), who helped form the GSPC in 1998, so he may have come to the GSPC then.
- 2003: Appointed head of the Council of Notables, replacing Sahraoui in that role when Sahraoui became emir after the departure/expulsion of the previous emir, Hassan Hattab.
- 2004: Appointed emir of the GSPC after Sahraoui’s death.
The sketch ends in 2004/2005, obviously, but it captures most of the important stages in Droukdel’s career, given that he remained in that last position, as GSPC/AQIM emir, until his death.
Looking back at the sketch, I also caught a mistake I made in my new book (p. 72). The mistake was to put the date of Droukdel joining the Council of Notables as 2003 instead of 2001. I also referred to him as the Zone 2 commander when that might not be quite right – I will have to check into that further. Looking again at what he said, he wrote that he was appointed “a member for Zone 2” rather than “the member for Zone 2.”
On Another note, establishing who led the GIA’s and then the GSPC’s zones (beyond Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Zone 9), or even precisely where each zone was, is a pretty tricky endeavor in my experience. Someone should write something definitive on that!