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Nov 24, 2006 4:24 pm


AL QAEDA MOVES TO NORTH AFRICA



This Le Monde Diplomatique report on the inroads made by Al Qaeda in North Africa is so alarming (most especially to France) that I have posted it in its entirety bellow. It ends thus:

The dynamics of internationalisation are also apparent in the descriptions of the fighters. One video report praises Munir the Tunisian, head of a GSPC training camp in Algeria. Another focuses on a joint operation with the Mauritanian mujahideen.

To underline the strength of unity across Arab North Africa, there are party scenes showing Algerian, Moroccan, Libyan, Tunisian and Mauritanian jihadis making merry together while al-Qaida chants sound across the vast emptiness of the Sahara.

Import of jihad and martyrdom Algeria’s al-Qaida franchise By Mathieu Guidère

Al-Qaida’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, used the fifth anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the United States to announce on video that the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) had officially joined al-Qaida. He had a message for France (despite its government’s refusal to follow the US into Iraq as part of the war on terror: “This blessed union will be a bone in the throat of the American and French crusaders . . . and will bring fear to the hearts of the miscreant sons of France.”

The GSPC was created in the late 1990s by dissident members of Algeria’s Islamic Armed Group (GIA), which had been responsible for bombings on public transport in Paris in 1995. The GSPC wants to install an Islamist regime in Algeria, and remains active there despite infiltration and manipulation by the Algerian secret services (1). The group is active elsewhere in North Africa, and has designated France as its western enemy number one. Several GSPC cells in France and elsewhere in Europe have been dismantled in recent years before they had a chance to carry out attacks.

The GSPC emir (leader), the Algerian Abu Musab Abd al-Wadud, responded to al-Zawahiri’s announcement by publishing a letter the next day that pledged allegiance to al-Qaida and promised to follow Osama bin Laden “all the way to martyrdom”. It explained the reasoning behind the decision: al-Qaida’s position was “in accordance with the Qur’an and the tradition of the prophet. Its fatwas are in accordance with sharia and its politics are sensible and well-guided.” Above all, wrote al-Wadud, “we have full confidence in the faith, the doctrine, the method and the modes of action of [al-Qaida’s] members, as well as their leaders and religious guides.”

The GSPC move is a significant example of a phenomenon that is defining global Islamic terrorism: armed groups with solid local bases collaborating in a vast transnational network. The war in Iraq has triggered much of this consolidation; its symbolic reference point remains al-Qaida, despite the network’s diminished operational capacity. There may be some truth in security service claims of practical successes against al-Qaida, but its influence has never been stronger, and its ideological grip is increasing on radical movements across the Muslim world. Until recently this affected North Africa less than other regions. By “joining” al-Qaida, the GSPC has shown how things are changing.

The GSPC, still firmly established in Algeria, is hostile to the charter for peace and national reconciliation which was adopted in September 2005, and seems to have successfully aborted the reconciliation process. The charter was supposed to bring peace to Algeria, but results have been limited. Officially, more than 250 combatants have laid down their weapons and more than 2,000 Islamist militants have been amnestied. But the interior minister has admitted that 500 terrorists have been killed or captured by the security forces in a year (2). Factions of the GSPC have claimed responsibility for about 100 operations, almost always murderous, over a wide geographical spread. They have attacked police stations, gendarmeries, military patrols and armored vehicles, as well as carrying out targeted assassinations and planting anti-personnel mines.
In search of a wider network

The GSPC has tried to set its domestic actions in an international context. It has positions on Afghanistan, Chechnya, Lebanon, Somalia and Sudan, and never misses an opportunity to make them known. It has consistently sought to associate itself with al-Qaida, seeking to fulfill the conditions of official membership (which is a status not open to just anyone). Al-Wadud mentioned “intense negotiations and discussions that lasted almost a year” in his statement announcing the union. This was not a sudden and opportunistic move, but the culmination of a long process bringing the GSPC into line with the wider network.

The war in Iraq played a crucial role. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s operation in Iraq, “al-Qaida in the land of the two rivers”, generally known as al-Qaida in Iraq (3), held talks with the GSPC and provided the Algerian group with an organizational template. The al-Qaida leadership posted numerous messages on jihadist intranet sites congratulating the GSPC for its jihadist action in Algeria.

A key turning point was the GSPC’s successful attack on a barracks in Mauritania. This first major operation in a neighbouring country earned it a letter of congratulation from Abu Maysara al-Iraki, described as head of al-Qaida’s media division. It was followed by similar actions ultimately leading bin Laden to salute the “Algerian mujahideen”. The GSPC reciprocated when it congratulated al-Qaida in Iraq for capturing the Algerian diplomats Ali Belarussi and Izzedin Belkadi and invited al-Qaida to “apply the judgment of God” to them — meaning execution. A month later al-Wadud repeated his support for their murder.

Since then, the two organisations seem to have stayed on the same wavelength. In August 2005 the GSPC relayed an al-Qaida communiqué to the “youth of the nation” calling on them to join “the jihad against the renegades in Algeria”. Al-Qaida supported a GSPC line by denouncing “the French crusader’s hostility to the Muslim veil” (referring to the French government ban on wearing the hijab in schools). At the same time the GSPC issued a statement via Islamist websites and forums condemning French support for the Algerian government and calling on all Algerians living in France “to support their mujahideen brothers in Algeria” in a campaign for vengeance.

This year the links between al-Qaida and the GSPC have been reinforced. Their statements on international issues, such as the conflicts in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Sudan and Lebanon, now seem coordinated. When al-Zarqawi was killed in Iraq on 7 June, al-Wadud issued a long letter of condolence. Al-Iraki thanked Al-Wadud and congratulated him for his “effective communication to mobilise the nation in favour of jihad”.

The message signalled al-Qaida’s satisfaction with the GSPC leadership’s response to a recommendation early this year that the GSPC pay more attention to propaganda. The subsequent development of GSPC communications techniques is clear evidence of its alignment with al-Qaida.
Weekly mailings

It has made several major innovations. Recently it has put together a regular, protected bulletin, sent to an established mailing list, with reports of its operations, statements claiming responsibility, official videos and sound recordings. Mailings were monthly but became more frequent, and are now weekly. The content of GSPC mailings is distributed on other Islamist lists, proof that the group is integrated into the closed circle of jihadist groups with recognition across the Muslim world and not just in their local sphere.

The GSPC relaunched its magazine Al-Jama’a (the group) along the lines of the Iraqi insurrection publications, especially those of al-Qaida in Iraq and the Ansar al-Sunna group. The 30-page monthly now has much the same layout as its Iraqi relations and is divided into the same sections. Al-Jama’a number six covers not only GSPC business, but events in Iraq, Morocco and Chechnya. It publishes extended opinion pieces by Salafist theoreticians (Salafism is the rigorous and conservative vision of Islam that inspires most jihadists). The magazine is widely available on internet forums, and can be accessed via websites in Europe as well as in Muslim countries.

The GSPC has worked hard since January to maintain a comprehensive and up-to-date website. Its site has frequently changed address to escape crackdowns by the security services and is available only intermittently. It offers information about all GSPC activities, including reports on its armed actions, official declarations, videos and sound recordings. By 10 September it had registered 85,000 hits, an average of more than 10,000 a month.

The site’s doctrine page carries an article by Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a leading light of radical Islam in the Middle East. Al-Maqdisi, who has been in prison in Jordan for several years, positions the GSPC within the sphere of influence of the Tawhid and Jihad group (4), which al-Zarqawi founded and led before swearing allegiance to Osama bin Laden and taking the reins of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Since al-Zarqawi’s death, the GSPC leaders have sought to defend their extreme positions through interviews on the website. Particular attention is paid to justifying attacks against civilians. The interviews reveal an ideological and theological radicalisation among the GSPC leadership: Salafism has been increasingly giving way to jihadism and an ideal of martyrdom as part of the fight against the infidel. The GSPC has not yet reached the same level of hard-line intransigence as shown by al-Qaida in Iraq but it is heading in that direction, as the latest GSPC videos show.

Video has been the main addition to the GSPC strategy in recent months. Imitating al-Qaida in Iraq’s propaganda techniques, the group has set up a media committee and has begun to require its commanders to film their attacks, night or day. This decision to record all actions galvanised fighters and energised a group often isolated in remote desert and mountain regions of Algeria. Two videos were released online in three months. The first, barely 15 minutes long, was a report to camera by a GSPC commander. Internet users did not spare their criticism, said it was “useless” and “void” and compared it unfavourably with propaganda masterpieces produced by al-Qaida in Iraq.

The second video, released in September, had made considerable progress. An hour and a half long, it contained far tougher imagery and showed fighters in spectacular action. The actions, presented as a compilation of operations all over Algeria, gave the impression that the GSPC could do anything.

Although these films always show the GSPC as victorious, they do recognise losses. This is where the shift towards an al-Qaida-style doctrine of martyrdom is most in evidence. The films show fighters going through spiritual initiation before action, and glorify the dead. Given that the GSPC has yet to claim responsibility for a suicide attack in Algeria, these videos have a peculiar resemblance to the “al-Qaida Martyrs” films that accompany most major suicide bombings in Iraq. The trend, in the group’s propaganda at least, is towards the spectacular, suicidal terrorism that is al-Qaida’s trademark.

What is more worrying is that the GSPC media committee has enthusiastically adopted al-Qaida in Iraq’s repertoire of battle songs, and most of its music and sound effects. It has also copied the format of filming confessions and bloody executions.

The dynamics of internationalisation are also apparent in the descriptions of the fighters. One video report praises Munir the Tunisian, head of a GSPC training camp in Algeria. Another focuses on a joint operation with the Mauritanian mujahideen.

To underline the strength of unity across Arab North Africa, there are party scenes showing Algerian, Moroccan, Libyan, Tunisian and Mauritanian jihadis making merry together while al-Qaida chants sound across the vast emptiness of the Sahara.




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