Mokhtar Belmokhtar–“Mr. Marlboro”—allegedly leads the al-Mulathamun Battalion. The U.S. Department of State designated the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) on Wednesday, December 18.
This group appears to be an amalgamation between “Those Who Sign In Blood,” the group that Belmokhtar formed when he separated from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2012, and the Malian-based group “Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa” or Mujao. But, the exact relationship between the two groups is unclear. The State Department characterizes the al-Mulathamun Battalion as “among the most dangerous” to U.S. interests in North and West Africa.
The designation as an FTO is the same as that applied to Boko Haram and Ansaru in October this year. It prohibits any material assistance being provided to the organization by Americans or American entities. It also denies U.S. visas to adherents and prohibits remittances from the United States. I oppose the FTO designation in this case for many of the same reasons I opposed it for Boko Haram and Ansaru. In the case of Belmokhtar, it has little practical consequence, but designation greatly enhances the profile and prestige of an individual and a group that, arguably, more closely resembles a bandit and smuggling network than a terrorist organization.
Little of Belmokhtar has been heard over the past few months. In March, the Chadian military claimed to have killed him. The fact of the FTO designation now may indicate the U.S. government has reason to believe that he and his organization will soon be more active.