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 Al-Murabitun

(‘Al-Murabitun’ translates from Arabic into English as ‘the Sentinels’)
(AKA al-Moulathamoun; al-Mulathamun Battalion; al-Murabitoun; the Sentinels)

The following information is based on publicly available information about al-Murabitun. To the Australian Government’s knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Attorney-General must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  1. is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act;
    or
  2. advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

For the purposes of listing a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code, the doing of a terrorist act includes the doing of a specific terrorist act, the doing of more than one terrorist act and the doing of a terrorist act, even if a terrorist act does not occur.

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed the organisation on 5 November 2014.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

Al-Murabitun is an al-Qa`ida aligned Sunni Islamic extremist organisation with the intent of implementing Shariah law in West Africa and uniting Muslim and Islamic movements across Africa against secular and non Muslim influences, by using violent means.

Directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts

To achieve its aims, al-Murabitun continues to conduct attacks in West Africa. Tactics employed include armed attacks, bombings, and kidnappings. The group primarily targets facilities belonging to Malian, French and United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) military forces, and public venues frequented by foreign nationals.

Examples of attacks and actions by al-Murabitun since it was last listed include:

  • 18 January 2017: a suicide car bomb attack against a military base in Gao, Mali, killing 60 people and wounding 115.
  • 29 November 2016: a car bomb attack targeting MINUSMA forces at Gao airport, Mali.
  • 13 March 2016: a joint armed attack with al-Qai`da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) at tourist hotels in Grand Bassam, Cote, d’Ivoire, killing 19 people and wounding 33.
  • 15 January 2016: the kidnap of Australian nationals Kenneth and Jocelyn Elliott from their home in Djibo, Burkina Faso. Jocelyn Elliott was subsequently released but Kenneth Elliot has not yet been recovered.
  • 15 January 2016: a joint armed attack with AQIM at the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso killing 29 people and wounding 56.
  • 20 November 2015: a joint armed attack with AQIM at the Radisson Blu hotel - a hotel frequented by foreigners in Bamako, Mali killing 19 people and wounding seven.
  • 15 April 2015: a suicide car bomb attack against a MINUSMA camp in Ansongo, Mali, killing three people and wounding 16.
  • 4 April 2015: the kidnap of Romanian national Iulian Ghergut from a mining facility in Tambao, Burkina Faso. Mr Ghergut has not yet been recovered.
  • 7 March 2015: an armed attack at a nightclub popular with expatriates in Bamako, Mali, killing five people and wounding nine.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

Al-Murabitun periodically releases public statements claiming responsibility for attacks and pledging to continue to resist secular and non-Muslim influences. These include:

  • A claim of responsibility for an attack in January 2017, vowing continued opposition against French and allied Malian counter-terrorism operations.
  • A declaration of unity with AQIM in December 2015 to oppose occupying Western forces.
  • A call published in January 2014 for violent retaliation against France and its allies, including the complicit Malian Government for perceived misdeeds against Islam.

Details of the organisation

Al-Murabitun was formed in August 2013 through the merger of two AQIM splinter groups and shares AQIM’s core jihadist ideology. Al-Murabitun follows an extreme interpretation of Islam which is anti Western and anti-secular. It opposes elected governments, seeking to remove them through violence if necessary. The group operates primarily in Mali and the bordering regions of neighbouring countries, but it has some capability to conduct attacks further afield in West Africa.

Leadership

The current leadership of al-Murabitun is uncertain, following the reported death of leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar in November 2016.

Membership

The current membership of al-Murabitun is unknown, but a 2014 estimate placed it at around 100 people. Many members are former AQIM fighters.

Recruitment and funding

Al-Murabitun recruits members from northern and western Africa, in particular Mali, Niger, Algeria and Mauritania. Its activities are financed through kidnapping for ransom, criminal activities, smuggling and connections with other terrorist organisations.

Links to other terrorist organisations

At the time of formation in August 2013, the al-Murabitun leader Belmokhtar pledged the group’s allegiance to al-Qa’ida leaders in Afghanistan and al-Qa’ida leader Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri. He stated that al Murabitun adhered to the intellectual and moral methodology promoted by al-Qa’ida and its founder Usama bin Laden. Belmokhtar reaffirmed al-Murabitun’s allegiance to al-Qa’ida in May 2015 following an internal rift with an element seeking to pledge allegiance to Islamic State.

Al-Murabitun has links with several al-Qa‘ida-aligned groups based in North and West Africa.

  • In December 2015, al-Murabitun announced it had rejoined AQIM but continues to function as a distinct unit. The two groups have since cooperated closely, conducting several joint attacks. Both al-Murabitun and AQIM have variously attributed attacks to al-Murabitun, to AQIM, or to al-Murabitun as a battalion of AQIM.
  • Al-Murabitun has also cooperated in attacks with other regional AQIM aligned groups – namely Ansar al Din, AQIM’s Sahara Branch, and the Macina Liberation Front. In March 2017, all four groups formed an alliance under the name Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam Wal Muslimin. Al-Murabitun also continues its activities under this alliance.

Links to Australia

There are no known direct links between al-Murabitun and Australia.

Threats to Australian interests

Al-Murabitun has not made statements specifically threatening Australians or Australian interests; however, al-Murabitun has issued statements threatening Westerners and Western interests in general and has attacked locations known to be popular with Westerners including hotels in Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Mali. Australian nationals are a visible Western presence residing, working or travelling in regions in which al-Murabitun may operate. There are also publicly listed Australian mining and business interests in these regions.

Al-Murabitun has kidnapped Westerners, including Australian nationals, in the region. In January 2016, the group kidnapped Australian nationals Kenneth and Jocelyn Elliott from Djibo, Burkina Faso. The group claimed the primary motive for the kidnapping was to gain the release of their captives “who sit behind bars and suffer the pain of imprisonment, as well as being deprived of their basic rights”. Jocelyn Elliott was released on 6 February 2016; Kenneth Elliott has not yet been recovered.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

  • In December 2013, the United States listed al-Murabitun as an alias of the al-Moulathamoune battalion.
  • In April 2014, the United Kingdom proscribed al-Murabitun.
  • On 2 June 2014, Canada first proscribed al-Murabitun and relisted the group on 20 November 2016.
  • On 2 June 2014, the United Nations listed al-Murabitun under the United Nations Security Council 1267 (al-Qa’ida) Sanctions Committee’s consolidated list as an entity associated with al-Qa’ida.
  • In June 2014, New Zealand designated al-Murabitun a terrorist entity.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

Since it was last listed, al-Murabitun is not known to have participated in peace or mediation processes.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, ASIO assesses that al-Murabitun continues to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts, involving threats to human life and serious damage to property.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, al-Murabitun is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  1. cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endanger life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
  2. are intended to have those effects;
  3. are done with the intention of advancing al-Murabitun’s political, religious or ideological causes;
  4. d) are done with the intention of intimidating the government of one or more foreign countries; and
  5. are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.