The Corporate Shortcomings of Al Qaeda’s Most Difficult Employee

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Photo: STR

Al Qaeda's mission may be "overthrowing godless regimes" and replacing them with Islamic ones, according to its handbook, but even that is still a tangible goal, and the group has corporate-style protocols for achieving it. And just like any corporation, Al Qaeda has to deal with personnel problems. On Tuesday, the Associated Press told the story of the group's biggest human resources headache yet, in the form of Moktar Belmoktar, an ambitious regional commander in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who bridled under the group's strict structure and, after AQIM sent him a letter detailing his shortcomings, split off to form his own organization. That scolding letter, which sounds remarkably like a corporate communique rebuking an out-of-line middle manager, was Belmoktar's last straw. And the AP found a copy.

After he split from AQIM, Belmoktar went on to take credit for January's hostage crisis at an Algerian gas field, and an attack on a French uranium mine in Nigeria this month, attacks he apparently carried out to show up his former AQIM managers and rivals. The AP found the copy of the letter to Belmoktar in a building in Mali formerly occupied by Al Qaeda fighters. It details his faults, from failing to file his expense reports to a lack of teamwork. The highlights, below:

Does not work well with others: "Abu Abbas is not willing to follow anyone," AQIM wrote, referring to Belmoktar by his nom de guerre, Khaled Abu Abbas. "He is only willing to be followed and obeyed."

Failed to meet fund-raising targets: Belmoktar's men held Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler and his colleague hostage for four months in 2008. Fowler wrote a book about it. AQIM "referred the case to al-Qaeda central to force concessions in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan," but Belmoktar made his own deal, releasing both hostages for 700,000 euros, well below the going $3 million rate.

Poor allocation of resources: AQIM's Osama bin Ladenapproved business model was to kidnap tourists and aid workers, hold them for ransom, then use the money to buy arms and carry out attacks. But Belmoktar didn't manage his resources to their satisfaction, per the letter: "(The chapter) gave Abu Abbas a considerable amount of money to buy military material, despite its own great need for money at the time. ... Abu Abbas didn't participate in stepping up to buy weapons," it says. "So whose performance deserves to be called poor in this case, I wonder?"

Insubordination: "He ignored a meeting in Timbuktu, calling it 'useless.' He even ordered his men to refuse to meet with al-Qaida emissaries. And he aired the organization's dirty laundry in online jihadist forums, even while refusing to communicate with the chapter via the Internet, claiming it was insecure."

Failure to achieve performance goals: "Any observer of the armed actions (carried out) in the Sahara will clearly notice the failure of The Masked Brigade to carry out spectacular operations, despite the region's vast possibilities — there are plenty of mujahedeen, funding is available, weapons are widespread and strategic targets are within reach," AP quotes from the letter. "Your brigade did not achieve a single spectacular operation targeting the crusader alliance."