By Stephen Ulph
Militant Islamist forums have circulated a statement dated May 8 purporting to announce the formation of a new al-Qaeda cell in Algeria. The group, Qa’idat al-Jihad fi al-Jaza’ir (al-Qaeda [base] of the Jihad in Algeria), has modeled its name on the group led by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, which is known as 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 group is laying claim to an ‘official’ status, and are using this status to call together the remnants of the Algerian mujahideen who are refusing the government amnesty, to join a "new project".
In December last year a similar announcement was made on the jihadi website al-Ma’sada of the formation of a new al-Qaeda group in Algeria (see Terrorism Focus Vol.2 issue 1). On this occasion the group called 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 transferring its allegiance to Osama bin Laden [www.alm2sda.net]. It is not known if the earlier group is related to this present group, or even existed in fact.
This latest Arabic statement, included in full on the jihadist Kalimat al-Haqq site [www.rightword.net], begins by giving its assessment of the situation of the mujahideen in Algeria. "The Algerian regime has succeeded in entangling the Islamic groups in what no God-fearing Muslim would give his blood or honor for, and which has cost these Islamic groups their credibility in the Nation" and goes on to describe how "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 then broadens the analysis to illustrate how the regimes in Algeria and Egypt have succeeded in putting down the previous attempts by Islamists at power, and how the leadership of these Islamists movements have caved in, all the while claiming religious justification as an act of ‘repentance’.
The ‘al-Qaeda of the Jihad in Algeria’, it underlines, "is unblemished [by such things] 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 then goes on to give some interesting details of its proposed strategy. The role of the new group’s leadership, it explains, "in the first phase will be one of incitement and direction, which will leave the field open to all who wish to operate in this arena in small cells independent of each other." Each operation, however, is to be flagged as a ‘al-Qaeda of the Jihad in Algeria’ operation, and the aim is to "consolidate media communications and dispatch video tapes of operations to satellite channels or jihadi websites on the internet" [www.rightword.net].
In conscious imitation of the al-Qaeda model, the statement attempts to provide a ‘legal’ dressing to its projected operations. It clearly takes into account the type of objections voiced by Algerian contributors to jihadi forums, deploring the attacks on "powerless soldiers or policemen" which "only widens the gap between [the Islamists] and the people" (See Terrorism Focus, Vol 2 issue 7). "From day one" it insists, "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 an unexpected call for Ali Benhadj, the leader of the Front islamique du Salut (FIS) (the most significant Islamist organization in Algeria, but one that has eschewed violence) to renew his leadership of a jihadist force. "The solution to the defeat which has befallen the Muslims in Algeria," it argues, "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."
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.