Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)


Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, which is known by its French acronym MUJAO, is a nationalist-Islamist splinter group of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

MUJAO formed in 2011 in Mali and fought to gain control of major northern Malian towns, imposing on them a harsh form of Sharia. It is believed that the group was led by Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou, a Mauritanian militant. MUJAO was forced from towns it controlled in northern Mali in 2013 by French, Malian, and regional forces, but continues to launch attacks from camps in the desert. Of the numerous groups active in Mali since 2012, MUJAO is the most closely aligned with international jihadi ideology.

In August 2013, MUJAO merged with parts of a group run by Algerian militant, trafficker, and hostage taker Mokhtar Belmokhtar. His al-Mulathameen joined MUJAO, and the new group was renamed al-Murabitun and chose a known jihadi, Abu Bakr al Muhajir, as the new leader. He was killed by French forces in April 2014. In May 2015, the purported new leader of MUJAO, Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi, released a message swearing allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but it is unclear if the union with Belmokhtar remains intact, as he has previously sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. 

Emily Mellgard, Centre on Religion & Geopolitics