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Yahya Abu al-Hammam: From dangerous al-Qaeda terrorist in the desert to charred body in the Sahel

Sunday 24/February/2019 - 01:49 PM
Yahya Abu al-Hammam
Yahya Abu al-Hammam
Asmaa al-Batakoshi and Ahmed Lamlom

Senior al-Qaeda terrorist Djamel Okacha, known as Yahya Abu al-Hammam, was killed on Thursday, February 21, 2019 by French troops in Africa’s Sahel region.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said that Abu al-Hammam, who was of Algerian origin, was killed by French troops in Operation Barkhane, according to Al Arabiya Net.

Terrorist from birth

Abu al-Hammam was the leader of al-Qaeda’s Sahara Emirate in North Africa. He was one of the most important members of the organization, having been responsible for al-Qaeda in Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Libya, Mauritania, and Chad.

He was born Djamel Okacha in 1978 in Reghaïa, eastern Algiers. He was among the prisoners released during Algeria’s “Black Decade” of the 1990s just 18 months after being sentenced.

Intensive training for extensive terrorism

Abu al-Hammam joined the armed groups being led by Hassan Abu Hattab in the 1990s in Algeria. He trained for long periods of time until he excelled. Then in July 2004, Abu Hattab sent him to southern Algeria to support Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of al-Qaeda's branch there.

Abu al-Hammam then took on leadership positions, with Belmokhtar entrusting him to lead the Sahara’s ninth region. He also established a base to smuggle arms and deliver them to the al-Qaeda leaders in Algeria, which he succeeded in, making him one of the most important funders of the organization.

He was also the architect of kidnappings of Westerners in the Sahara and the most prominent leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which reached the Sahara in the second half of 2004.

Abu al-Hammam planned many military operations against the Mauritanian army. He led the attack on the Ghalawiya area in which three Mauritanian soldiers were killed, as well as the 2005 attack on a Mauritanian military barracks, which killed more than 15 Mauritanian soldiers.

An Algerian court sentenced Abu al-Hammam to death in 2006 on terrorism-related charges. He then plotted a suicide attack near the French embassy in Nouakchott in August 2009.

He was also in charge of the suicide attack that targeted the headquarters of the 5th military zone in Néma, eastern Mauritania, in August 2010.

In 2013, the United States listed Abu al-Hammam on its terrorism list due to his long record of terrorist operations.

He has also been connected through a voice recording to the attack on the Radisson Hotel in Bamako, Mali, which took place in November 2015 and killed more than 27 hostages.

In an interview with the Mauritanian News Agency in October 2016, Abu al-Hammam said he was coordinating with Ansar al-Din and the Macina Liberation Front in "all matters related to the war inside the country."

Abu al-Hammam was then chosen in March 2017 to be a deputy of Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, a pro-al-Qaeda coalition of four terrorist groups involved in the fighting in northern Mali.

In mid-2018, he met with al-Qaeda leaders in Libya. He reportedly sought to establish cooperation between them in the Sahara region. He had continued planning to expand his terrorist activities until he was killed by the French forces in Operation Barkhane.