Are there lessons to be learned from Algeria’s past?

tags: Algeria, ISIL, GIA

Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck is a research analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut

Almost two months after the start of the coalition’s military intervention, ISIL maintains strongholds in Iraq and Syria. The bombings have, at least, slowed the jihadist group’s expansion and reduced their assets, but realistically these tactics have no prospect of destroying the group. Indeed, ISIL will use these attacks to fuel its propaganda offensive against the “crusader armies” and recruit more fighters. 

When examining ISIL, it seems comparable to the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) in Algeria. Between 1991 and 1993, the group became one of the most prominent jihadist organisations in the world and plunged Algeria into a civil war that lasted more than 10 years and claimed some 150,000 lives. It proclaimed a “Khalipha” across localities of the plain of Mitidja, the communes of Greater Algiers, as well as in entire cities such as Lakhdaria and Medea. They called these regions El Manatik el Mouharara or liberated areas, governed them as a “parallel-state” with their own social programmes and applied Sharia strictly. Children were indoctrinated to denounce “un-Islamic behaviour” such as smoking, playing dominoes and listening to music.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the GIA and ISIL resides in the fact that the former’s actions did not cross international borders. In addition, the conflict did not involve foreign intervention. Notwithstanding these differences, the Algerian analogy remains pertinent as it provides insight on how the People’s National Army (PNA) engaged with this dangerous jihadist group. 

The Algerian authorities focused on two main tactics: decay and infiltration. The army deliberately left entire regions in the hands of militias, surrounded them but did not actively try to dislodge them. Leaving these areas to rot, the army effectively catalysed the emergence of conditions adverse to the GIA. The ultra-violence of the “Kalipha” eventually unsettled the relationship between the extremists and their population...

Read entire article at The National

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