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RABAT, Morocco (AP) — The notorious extremist Moktar Belmoktar rejected a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State group made by a member of his organization, suggesting splits in his operation in a statement that surfaced Friday.
Belmoktar, who is known for daring attacks and for kidnapping foreigners, allegedly said the earlier pledge violates the rules and principles of his organization that is still loyal to al-Qaida.
The statement was translated by the U.S. monitoring outfit, the SITE Intelligence Group.
On Wednesday, an audio pledge to the Islamic State on behalf of Belmoktar's Mourabitoune organization appeared, though it was signed by another member of the group, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi.
There is a competition between the older al-Qaida and IS to gain adherents among radical Islamic groups around the world. While many around the world have already pledged allegiance to IS, Belmoktar was long seen as loyal to al-Qaida.
Belmoktar confirmed his allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in the statement and said al-Sahrawi's pledge "clearly violates the foundational statement that determined the method and behavior of the organization."
Belmoktar was part of al-Qaida's North Africa operation, expanding its reach deep into the Sahara and making money off kidnapping and smuggling before he split off to form his own group in 2012, the Masked Brigade.
In August 2013 he merged it with al-Sahrawi's Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa to create the Mourabitoune (The Sentinels) that attacked a restaurant filled with foreigners in Bamako, Mali in March.
The contradictory statements suggest a split in the movement.
Several high-profile members of the group were caught and killed in the past year during French-led operations in northern Mali, where the group is believed to operate.