Algeria: old-school Islamists diss al-Qaeda

Hassan Hattab, founder of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)—now dubbed “al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb,” which has claimed responsibility for last week’s deadly Algiers bombings—called on militants to put down their weapons under a government amnesty. Hattab made the comments in an open letter to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika published in the Echorouk daily. “I call on the militants to give up the fight,” he wrote, accusing the organization of being “a small group that wants to transform Algeria into a second Iraq.”

He added without elaboration: “We urge the president to reopen the national reconciliation file and extend its deadline. I can thump those seeking to take Algeria to its painful past.”

Hattab remains an influential figure among Algeria’s Islamists even though the group he helped found is now headed by another man, Abdelmalek Droudkel, also known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud. Bouteflika, who has yet to directly comment on the attacks, offered an amnesty for rebels last year as part of a reconciliation policy aimed at ending more than ten years of political violence. More than 2,000 rebels were freed from prison and dozens of fighters surrendered under the amnesty, which lasted from late February to late August 2006.

Droudkel has rejected the amnesty offer and it is not known whether Hattab himself has officially accepted amnesty. But speculation Hattab had won some kind of accommodation with the government came last year after he gave an interview to Asharq al-Awsat daily supporting the amnesty.

The GSPC was formed in 1998 when Hattab broke from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA)—itself a radical offshoot from the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)—in protest at its massacres of civilians. GSPC was to focus its attacks on police and military targets.

FIS founders Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj have also condemned the attacks. “Al-Qaeda made a big mistake in using violence in a country in desperate need of a political solution,” Madani, who lives in Qatar, told the daily El Khabar. The FIS remains banned in Algeria. (Reuters, April 16)

Arrests of figures linked to al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb are also reported from the Sahel nation of Mauritania.

See our last posts on al-Qaeda, Algeria and the struggle in the Maghreb.