Al-Qaeda announces Algeria franchise

Stephen Ulph of the national-secuity think-tank The Jamestown Foundation writes that “militant Islamist forums” in Algeria are circulating a statement dated May 8 purporting to announce the formation of a new al-Qaeda cell, apparenrly seeking to revive Algeria’s dormant civil war. The group, Qa’idat al-Jihad fi al-Jaza’ir (al-Qaeda [base] of the Jihad in Algeria), has modeled its name on Iraqi resistance leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (al-Qaeda of the Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers). Signed by one Abu Suheib Miliani, the statement calls for the remnants of the Algerian “mujahedeen” who are refusing the government amnesty to join in a “new project.”

In December 2004 a similar announcement was made on the jihadi website al-Ma’sada of a new al-Qaeda group in Algeria, calling itself Tanzim al-Qaeda fi Bilad al-Berber (The Organization of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Berbers). The posting detailed how the “Nur Brigade,” an affiliate to the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC), was pledging its allegiance to Osama bin Laden. It is unknown if this formation is linked to the new group.

The new Arabic-language statement, included in full on the jihadist Kalimat al-Haqq site, begins by giving its assessment of the situation of the mujahedeen in Algeria. “The Islamic groups who have taken up their positions in the hills are living through a period of crisis and agitation, poised between responding to the amnesty and [thus] descending into ignominy, or remaining where they are.” It accuses the leadership of these Islamists of caving in to government pressure.

Al-Qaeda of the Jihad in Algeria, it underlines, “is unblemished in that its active leadership is an international leadership free of [geographically located] pressures, which means its leadership can not be arrested or ‘turned,’ a fact which guarantees that the fire of jihad will burn on.”

The statement deplores attacks on “powerless soldiers or policemen” which “only widens the gap between [the Islamists] and the people.” It insists: “From day one we say that we are not responsible for operations targeting innocent people, believers and the Algerian people. Our targets are Jews, Crusaders — their prominent people, embassies and interests – for they are the [real] enemy against whom the [Muslim] Nation is united in calling for attacks to be mounted in every place.”

The declaration ends with a call for Ali Benhadj, the leader of the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), the most significant Islamist organization in Algeria, to renew his leadership of a jihadist force. “The solution to the defeat which has befallen the Muslims in Algeria lies in your hands… you need only disappear to a safe place where you can act to direct the deluge of those who place their trust in you … Your leadership is vital now… We call you to a matter which will upset all the scales.”

Concludes Ulph: “The tone of the statement, with its appeal to patriotic values, betrays anxiety and demoralization at a time when there is strong evidence that the response to the government amnesty is increasing in momentum. Last month the chief of Algeria’s General Amnesty Commission (CNGAG), Abdel Razzak Ismail, said that at least 400 terrorists were prepared to lay down their arms. The question is, therefore, whether the statement announces a genuine new formation, or represents a last ditch attempt to rally the mujahid remnants under a new banner, in the hope that increased prestige will replace the shortfall in muscle.”

NOTE: Ali Benhadj and other FIS leaders were released from prison in 2003, but under stringent conditions restricting their ability to speak to the press or engage in any political activity. (Islamic Human Rights Commission, July 18, 2003) They had been arrested in the wave of unrest which followed the regime’s suspension of the FIS electoral victory in 1991. The “mujahedeen” refered to are presumably the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which launched a guerilla insurgency in the mid-’90s and was led by many veteran volunteers for the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets. The 2005 annual report from Reporters Without Borders notes that the Algerian government ordered closed the local office of al-Jazeera TV last June after it ran an interview with FIS leader Abassi Madani.

For more on the human rights situation in Algeria, see WW4 REPORT #s 17, 68, 96

For more on the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, see WW4 REPORT #99