Al Qaeda leader in North Africa grants exclusive interview to FRANCE 24

Algerian Islamist Abu Obeida Youssef al-Aanabi, the current leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), granted an exclusive interview to FRANCE 24 in which he officially confirmed his group is holding French journalist Olivier Dubois, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2021, and discussed the role of jihadism in the Sahel.

As FRANCE 24's terrorism expert Wassim Nasr explains, it took a year from requesting the interview to securing the responses, with the militant leader imposing "many conditions" including the submission of all 17 questions in advance.

Nasr said he requested a "stamped" audio file from the militant group so he could be certain it was al-Aanabi who was speaking.

When asked whether AQIM was planning attacks in France, al-Aanabi said his group's dispute with France was limited to local issues in the Sahel and wider Africa. He went on to criticise Western leaders for failing to acknowledge that AQIM's interests were exclusive to Africa.

The AQIM leader's admission was the first official confirmation from his group that it is holding Dubois, but he denied AQIM had lured Dubois into being abducted. Dubois was kidnapped in April 2021 as he was trying to interview a local al Qaeda commander. Al-Aanabi said his group is open to negotiations and that it is up to French authorities to make the first move towards opening talks.

Al-Aanabi has been on the US watchlist of "international terrorists" since September 2015.

Read more on FRANCE 24 English

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