From AP via Qatar’s The Peninsula, Sept. 15 (link added):
PARIS — Al Qaeda has for the first time announced a union with an Algerian insurgent group that has designated France as an enemy, saying they will act together against French and American interests.
Current and former French officials specialising in terrorism said yesterday that an Al Qaeda alliance with the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known by its French initials GSPC, was cause for concern.
Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced the “blessed union” in a video posted this week on the Internet to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
France’s leader have repeatedly warned that the decision not to join the US-led war in Iraq would not shield the country from terrorism. French participation in the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon could give the extremists another reason to strike. The national police had no immediate comment on the announced alliance, but officials have long regarded the GSPC as one of the main terror threats facing France. French experts agreed, but also noted the group has been severely weakened by internal divisions, security crackdowns and defections in Algeria, a former French territory still working to put down an insurgency that reached its most murderous heights in the 1990s.
“The GSPC is losing speed and has suffered very significant losses in recent months,” said Louis Caprioli, former assistant director of France’s DST counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence agency.
Some GSPC fighters took advantage of a recent Algerian amnesty for insurgents and others have been killed, said Caprioli, who works for Geos, a risk management firm.Of the 800 combatants that GSPC was estimated to have had last year, probably no more than 500 remain, and the group has had no operational cells in France since the late 1990s, he said. But Caprioli and others also said an alliance of GSPC and Al Qaeda could increase the terror risk for France — not least because Al Zawahiri’s designation of the country as a worthy target could inspire extremists to take action.
In his video, Al Zawahiri hailed “the joining up” of the GSPC with Al Qaeda as “good news”.
“We ask him God to guide our brothers in the Salafist Group for Call and Combat to crush the pillars of the Crusader alliance, especially their elderly immoral leader, America,” he said.
Although GSPC leaders had previously sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda, Al Zawahiri’s video marked the first Al Qaeda recognition of a union between the two, French terror experts said.
“From now on, the links are official, legitimate, and they are taking part in the same combat,” said Anne Giudicelli, a former French diplomat specialising in the Middle East who runs the Paris-based consultancy, Terrorisc.
The GSPC, in its own statement on a Web site used by militants, confirmed the alliance and urged other militant groups to also join Al Qaeda.
Giudicelli said the alliance could act as a green light for Al Qaeda and GSPC militants to operate together and thus raises the risk for France.
“The Americans have become harder to target domestically, so they are trying to widen the field of action and strike their allies,” she said.