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Aya Burweila
(RIEAS Junior Analyst on the international and regional security implications embodied by the alliance of the Algerian GSPC with Al-Qaeda, as well as en expert on energy security) 

Copyright: www.rieas.gr

In what is regarded as the deadliest attacks in at least five years, on April 11, 2007, al-Qaeda’s Committee in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) conducted two suicide car bombings in Algiers, the capital of Algeria. Crushing the assumption that Islamic violence in Algeria had long passed its expiration date, the attacks targeted the prime minister’s office, a police station, and purportedly a local office of Interpol,(1) killing 33 people in total and wounding over 200 others.(2) Heralding the increasing importance of North Africa in international terrorism, the AQIM is the result of the alliance sealed between al-Qaeda and the region’s best-organized and most prolific terrorist group, Algeria’s The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, known by its French acronym as the GSPC.

Upon allying itself with al-Qaeda, the GSPC leadership pledged that to bin Laden, ‘We will give him the proceedings from our hands and the fruits from our hearts, to continue our jihad in Algeria as soldiers under his (Emirate) instructions. He can use us to strike whomever and whenever he wishes and he will find nothing but obedience from us and shall only receive what pleases him.’(3)

Not ones to disappoint, having killed at least 165 people within five months into their membership and expanding their target group to include foreign employees,(4) the AQIM have continued to intensify this trend by having conducted yet another resounding series of suicide attacks during September 2007. The first attack took place on September 6, 2007, when a suicide bomber killed 22 people and wounded 100 more when he exploded himself in a crowd awaiting a public appearance of President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika. This attack was followed by another one only two days later in the town of Dellys when two suicide bombers rammed a van carrying 800 kg of explosives into navy barracks, killing 30 servicemen and wounding 47 more.

The third attack took place during the first week of Ramadan on September 14, 2007, when a bomb was detonated outside a police compound in the town of Zemmouri, killing three and wounding five. The most sobering attack of this latest spree by al-Qaeda is the attacks of Dellys, which shed a new and darker light on the reality of Islamist recruitment in Algeria. What made this attack especially poignant in the history of the nation’s conflict with the Islamists is not only the fact that the GSPC has incorporated suicide bombing into its repertoire of tactics after the style of al-Qaeda, but also the fact that one of the two suicide bombers was no less than a fifteen-years-old boy nicknamed ‘Abu Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi.’ According to the boy’s mother, who spoke to the Algerian daily newspaper El-Watan,‘He was the quietest of my children…He never talked about politics and even less about the government and political parties.

Then he started to attend the Apreuvel mosque in Kouba on a regular basis, but continued to go to school. He never skipped class until the day he stayed overnight at the mosque, and then he disappeared…[One day], he called me on a mobile phone…[and said]: ‘Mother, I’m scared. I don’t know where I am. I’d like to run away, but I am afraid they will kill you. They told me that if I ran away, they would take revenge on you. But don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get out of her’. Then he hung up. [After that], he called again only two to three times. I informed everybody [about what was going on]. I did everything I could to save him but they ended up killing him. I am certain they forced him to get into that cursed van…I am certain that he wanted to run away but that the driver kept him there by force. He was only a child. How can you explain a man of 35 hanging around with a boy of 15?...Why do they choose children [to carry out terrorist attacks]?
 
Indeed, the tragic case of this young boy is neither unique nor the last in the prolific and unbound life of Islamic terrorism yet it serves to emphasize yet again ‘the need for an ideological response to the concept of self-sacrifice in the name of Allah as mandatory component of the effort to curb its dissemination to new recruits by al-Qaida and its affiliates.’(5) In al-Qaeda’s asymmetric warfare, suicide bombing is terror’s most potent and cost-effective weapon, and it is because of this that the responses of governments to this category of soldier and the ideological processes of recruitment by which these soldiers are manufactured is of paramount importance. One such response which is in desperate need of galvanization is a media and educative response -both among Muslim populations and their counterparts in Europe and the West, which is considered both the primary targets of Islamic terrorism as well as the theater where most of the logistical and operational phases of an attack takes place. 

As Amine Allami, a columnist for the Algerian daily Liberte stressed on September 10, 2007, ‘It is inconceivable that we should stand idly by while the GSPC propaganda [machine] disseminates misinformation and falsehood, with the help of Al-Jazeera and other Middle Eastern media [outlets] and websites, and manipulates young Algerians in order to recruit them [for terrorist activities].’(6)   He also points out that the GSPC, unlike the government that it combats, is well aware of the importance of psychological warfare: ‘In order to counter the daily media attacks by the terrorists, it is necessary, and even urgent, to launch a new anti-terrorism media campaign.’(7)

This ‘Educative Solution,’ as Wilkinson elaborates, is a solution in which the combination of education effort by democratic political parties, the mass media, trade unions, churches, schools, colleges and other major social institutions succeed in persuading the terrorists or a sufficient number of their supporters that terrorism is both undesireable and counterproductive to the realization of their political ideals.(8) Today, Algerian Islamists constitute the largest national grouping in al-Qaeda while Algerian jihadists have been involved in successful or thwarted attacks in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Iraq.(9)

Clearly, instead of dissolving under the intense pressure exerted by the Algerian security forces, the GSPC chose to re-emerge and survive by formally allying itself with al-Qaeda, with whom it enjoyed long shared links, a common cross-section of personnel as well as parallel agendas. Confirming that with its new-found alliance to al-Qaeda, the formerly domesticated terror group acquired a new modus operandi wherein the unique set-skills of recruits from Iraq not only introduced suicide terrorism, but also the depraved use of children as instruments of destruction and propagation.

Notes:

1 Evan Kohlmann, ‘Al-Qaida Claims Suicide Attacks in Algeria, Possible Links in Morocco’ The Counterterrorism Blog, April 11, 2007. 
2 ‘Explosions Rock Algerian Capital,’ BBC News, April 12, 2007.
3 ‘The Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) in Algeria Joins al-Qaeda,’ SITE Institute, September 14, 2006.
4 Jill Carroll, ‘How Did Al Qaeda Emerge in North Africa?,’ The Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 2007.
5 Yoram Schweitzer and Sari Goldstein Ferber, ‘Al-Qaida and the Internationalization of Suicide Terrorism,’ Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, (Tel Aviv: 2005) p. 12  
6 R. Barducci, ‘Surge of Terrorism in Algeria Intensifies Debate Over Government’s National Reconciliation Policy,’ Inquiry and Analysis Series No. 392, MEMRI, September 25, 2007.
7 R. Barducci, ‘Surge of Terrorism in Algeria Intensifies Debate Over Government’s National Reconciliation Policy,’ Inquiry and Analysis Series No. 392, MEMRI, September 25, 2007.
8 Paul Wilkinson, ‘Terrorism versus Democracy: The Liberal State Response,’ Second Edition, Routledge (New York: 2006) p. 198
9 Jill Carroll, ‘How Did Al Qaeda Emerge in North Africa?,’ The Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 2007.

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