Chapter 2: Terrorism in Algeria

Terrorism in Algeria

The Transnationalisation of Domestic Terrorism



Monograph No 144, June 2008


Anneli Botha

A number of historical developments have influenced the emergence of Algeria as one of the hotspots for terrorism-related activities in Africa. These developments have influenced not only Algeria and its immediate region but also terror networks elsewhere, including Europe. As well as posing a domestic threat, Algerian Islamists have also contributed to transnational terrorism. In addition to these two dimensions, the development of extreme political thought was influenced by internal as well as external developments over a relatively long period. In order to understand and analyse current developments, one needs to consider the historical background of the primary role-players and the underlying factors contributing to these developments.

This chapter also corrects the common misconception that the trouble in Algeria started with the return of Algerian Afghan Mujahideen and the cancellation of the elections in 1992. Although the Mujahideen played an important role in the establishment of radical groups such as the GIA and later the GSPC, existing domestic circumstances provided favourable circumstances for Salafi principles to flourish in the political cells of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS).

As indicated in Chapter 1, the influence of al-Qa’eda is also not a new phenomenon. In addition to the fact that Salafi theory and ideals cut across organisations in providing a common language between organisations throughout the world, the open alignment of the GSPC with al-Qa’eda should rather be seen as a return to an earlier relationship with extremists in Algeria that was tarnished by the GIA during its indiscriminate killing of civilians. It should, indeed, be observed that nothing develops overnight and that an apparently new situation should be seen and studied in context. This includes the open alignment of the GSPC with al-Qa’eda and subsequent changes in its modus operandi and target selection. Through mobile training camps, the impact of this organisation is far-reaching in Africa as well as in Europe and the Middle East, including Iraq.

The history of terrorism in Algeria

Algeria’s independence from France in 1962 brought the National Liberation Front (FLN) to power after a violent liberation war that most likely also psychologically influenced developments in the 1990s. The ‘Kabyle smile’ – or the slitting of a victim’s throat – which was a tactic used during the liberation struggle, especially against French collaborators, was again used by the GIA. In another example, the liberation war was fought by ‘Patriots’ who, when threatened, installed a culture of public participation. This led to the formation of groupes d’autodéfense (self-defence groups) or Patriotes (Patriots) to counter the terrorists.

Political, socio-economic and cultural developments since independence further encouraged the formation of fundamentalist and later extremist parties and movements. These developments can be summarised as follows:

Ideologically, a number of factors influenced the emergence of extremism in Algeria:

In reaction to growing frustration, Algeria decided to open up the political landscape by allowing the FIS to participate in elections. But this move had come too late, as by the time the FIS became the first Islamic party to be recognised, this Islamist movement had become a major political force. As a result, the FIS performed well beyond expectations and won 188 seats in the first round of the 1991 general election, compared with only 18 seats won by the governing party, the FLN (Stora 2004:210).

To prevent an overwhelming FIS victory in the second round of elections in January 1992, high-ranking military officers ‘forced’ President Bendjedid to resign and took power. The elections were cancelled and the military launched a crackdown against the FIS. However, the loss of the first round of elections and the intervention of the military ultimately led to a serious legitimacy crisis, and the security situation deteriorated rapidly as Algeria plunged into the ‘Dark Period’. The FIS however unfortunately did not limit its targets to the security forces but fought indiscriminately against the Algerian people.


The following paragraphs discuss the primary actors

The primary actors

Mouvement Islamique Armée (Armed Islamic Movement)

The Armed Islamic Movement (MIA) was the first reformist group to opt for a military approach. Mustafa Bouyali, a supporter of Sayyid Qutb and the founder of the group, had been outspoken since the mid 1970s before he went into hiding in 1982. Radicalised by Sheikh Alili (who left for France in 1986/1987), Bouyali formed the MIA as a loose association of a number of small groups. This period also saw the first clash between Islamists and the government, which took place on 2 November 1982 at the Ben Aknoun university housing complex outside Algiers. After 1992 most of the members of the MIA, including Ali Belhaj, left to join the FIS and other armed groups (Kapel 2003:163).

Front Islamique du Salut (Islamic Salvation Front) and Armée Islamique du Salut (Islamic Salvation Army)

The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was headed by Abassi Madani and Ali Belhaj. Many considered Madani to represent the moderate, while Belhaj represented the more radical side of the FIS. Salafi scholars, including Ibn Taymiyya and Hassan al-Banna, influenced Belhaj. Rejecting Western democracy, Belhaj accepted that the Islamic political system was based on consultation, which provided its source of legitimacy. The people’s ‘free choice of rulers, the accountability of the rulers to the nation and the precept that a state cannot claim loyalty unless it is legitimate’ were presented in Belhaj’s book The Decisive Statement on Confronting the Aggression of Rulers (Shahin 1997:131-132).

The FIS and groups such as the Front des Forces Socialistes, or the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), and the Mouvement pour la Démocratie en Algérie, or the Movement for Democracy in Algeria (MDA), were the first to oppose the military-controlled government. Winning both local and legislative elections, the FIS presented a clear policy to address local challenges. It was the first opposition party to call for a return to the values of equal opportunity, justice and accountability. It also called for the establishment of a free and independent Algerian state based on Islamic principles. Similar to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the FIS provided much-needed welfare and social services, which were seldom provided by the government. Using a network of mosques, the FIS also provided religious and social programmes (Shahin 1997:138).

According to Mossaad (1995:186-187), the FIS was ideologically influenced by two schools of thought:

In an attempt to counter rivalry and confrontation among the different Islamist movements (not all discussed), the League of Islamic Call, an umbrella organisation, was established in March 1989 under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Sahnoun (Shahin 1997:135).

Although a legitimate political force, the FIS however also hosted a faction with more extreme ideals. For example, after the municipal elections, ‘some municipalities focused on addressing the immediate problems of the people, while others were more preoccupied with symbolic and moral issues, such as closing down bars, prohibiting mixing at beaches or imposing the veil’ (Shahin 1997:140).

More extreme splinter groups emerged after the military cancelled elections. These included the AIS, formed in 1993 under the leadership of Abdel Qadir Shabbouti, alias General Shabbouti, as a coalition between the MIA and the Movement for the Islamic State in Algeria (MEI). Prior to the elections, Shabbouti, who did not believe that the government would transfer power, began preparing for armed resistance. Said Makhloufi, a former Algerian propaganda officer in the military established the MEI in the end of the 1980s. The AIS also attracted members of the FIS who were imprisoned and oppressed, but limited its attacks to military targets (Shahin 1997:157).

At first, Islamic rebel groups targeted military bases and specific individuals who were opposed to their cause. In June 1992, the State Council President, Mohammed Boudiaf, was assassinated while delivering a speech (AFP 1992). Trade unionists, journalists, women’s group leaders, teachers and others who spoke out against the rebels were also subsequently targeted. In reaction, the government detained thousands of suspected Islamic sympathisers without trial, many of whom disappeared.

As the violence across the country increased, it became clear by 1993 that there had been a major split in the Islamist camp between the FIS and the GIA. The GIA issued a warning to all foreigners to leave the country or to become legitimate targets. The situation improved in 1997 when the AIS declared an unconditional, unilateral ceasefire, apparently to prove that it was not responsible for the atrocities that damaged its popularity. More insurgents surrendered during amnesty in 1999.

Although no longer part of the systematic acts of terror, the FIS again attracted attention when its deputy chairman Ali Belhaj in an interview with al-Jazeera on 27 July 2005, made the following statement in reaction to the kidnapping of Algerian diplomats in Iraq:

(…) when our brothers captured these two diplomats, they did not capture them as individuals; but rather as diplomats and ambassadors, that is, they were appointed by the state. When the state appoints ambassadors and diplomats in a land which is under occupation, this means giving legitimacy and legality to the occupation, and this issue is impermissible in terms of religion, politics, or logic (…) I say to my brothers in the land of jihad that I am praying to God Almighty to help them conquer the occupation and the enemies; the tyrants of the twentieth century; an empire that has tyrannised countries through its military, media, political and economic force; a power that wants to dominate the world without having the right to that. However, history has taught us that regardless of the might of empires and of how long they last, they will finally collapse (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2005a).

In reaction, Algerian security officials arrested Belhaj for questioning, which led to the following statement:

In the interview with your respected channel, Sheikh Ali Belhaj wanted to complete his message to the Mujahideen who are holding the two Algerian hostages and wanted to tell them to release the hostages as a mark of respect to the Algerian people who have always supported the Arab cause, particularly the Iraqi cause against the occupier (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2005b).

Ali Belhaj again caught the attention of the state, this time through his son Abdelkader, who joined the GSPC in Boumerdes in 2006 and who was suspected of being involved in the attack on the gendarmerie station in Yakouren on 13 July 2007 (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007b).

Afghan Mujahideen

According to Rédha Malek (2004:441), at the end of 1980 between 3 000 and 4 000 Algerians went through training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to General Tounsi in an interview with the author in May 2007, approximately 1 000 returned to Algeria, while an estimated further 1 000 Algerians left for Bosnia and Chechnya (the impact of the Bosnian Mujahideen had a particular impact on European terror networks). On their return, in contrast to the majority of the population, they wore Afghan-style clothing, beards and turbans and became known as les Afghanis. The Algerian Afghans became instrumental in the establishment of Islamist organisations such as the GIA. Although the GIA will be discussed under a separate heading, the following will provide a brief overview of the military campaign.

Simplistic analyses date the onset of Islamic-motivated terrorism to the interruption of elections in January 1992 and the banning of the FIS. It is, however, interesting to note that the campaign of terrorism and armed subversion began almost immediately after the elections were cancelled. This campaign followed a few smaller attacks, which were influenced by a long philosophical development. Emphasising this point, Ambassador Ramtane Lamaara in February 1998 told a US House subcommittee hearing on Africa that ‘Islamist militants organised themselves into paramilitary groups much earlier, partly as a result of the return of the Algerian Afghans, who formed the hard core of the armed wing of the FIS’.

Veterans of the war in Afghanistan against the communist regime and Soviet troops took advantage of the new climate of freedom heralded by the February 1989 constitution to preach radicalism in mosques, telling their inspirational ‘holy war’ stories and sharing their military knowledge and training with others, mostly among large sections of the socially disadvantaged and marginalised youth. Indeed, a spirit of rebellion became associated with the FIS. Driven by hard-line theologians and paramilitary activists, this fundamentalist/extremist umbrella organisation launched an open confrontation with the government in June 1991. Two FIS leaders were then arrested and sentenced to 12 years in jail. In November 1991, before the first round of parliamentary elections, a major attack on a border security check-point, Guemmar, was led by a veteran of the Afghanistan war known as Emir Abderrahmane Abu Siham, alias Tayeb al-Afghani, a notorious terrorist who was finally killed by the security forces in 1993 (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2006a).

Islamist movements which were prepared to impose their rule through their own paramilitary groups launched a full-scale campaign of terror, killing thousands of people, including foreigners, journalists and women, burning schools and industrial facilities and blowing up bridges, railways and power lines. Based on subsequent attacks, the target selection of terrorism operations in Algeria could be classified into four stages:

The period between 1995 and 1998 could probably be described as a black period in Algeria’s history, categorised inter alia by collective massacres directed at rural and isolated communities. According to eyewitness reports, terrorist elements responsible for the massacre in Bentalha (Baraki), south of Algiers, on 22 and 23 September 1997 had a list of primary targets. This was an action that confirmed that these attacks were intended to terrorise and punish the population hostile to them, or those who formerly supported them but who had since withdrawn their support, or relatives and current supporters of rival armed groups (Amnesty International 1997:7-8).

During this stage, peaks of violence corresponded with major political activities, such as the 1995 presidential elections and the 1997 legislative elections. The aim was to intimidate the population to boycott the elections and to punish it for rejecting the extremist strategy and therefore to abort the dialogue process initiated in September 1997. The darkest period in the chronology of massacres in Algeria began in the summer of 1997 and continued until the middle of 1998. During this period, civilians in villages were massacred weekly. Especially during August and September 1997, a series of massacres took place in dramatic succession that claimed the lives of hundreds of people. As the massacres continued, and the government and military forces seemed unable to protect them, villagers took up arms – with the assistance of the state through Executive Decree 97-04, which established Groupes de Légetime Défense (GLD) or better known as the Patriots – to defend themselves and their families against the GIA.


The frequency and intensity of attacks began to change during 1998. This phase was characterised by the disintegration of terrorist organisations due to:

The adoption of a reconciliation strategy that included President Liamine Zeroual’s 1995 rahma or clemency law directed at the AIS. Under this initiative, approximately 2 000 fighters, predominantly from the Mitidja region, laid down their arms. In the same spirit, President Bouteflika’s Civil Concord of 1999 resulted in the ‘repentance’ of approximately 6 000 terrorists (AFP 2005)

During this period, influenced by important losses suffered in their ranks, terrorist groups chose new and less hazardous tactics, including explosive attempts, car bombs and fake road-blocks. The damage and losses caused by terrorist operations were particularly destructive and had harmful effects. Beside human losses, terrorist actions caused important material damage through the destruction of industrial installations as well as schools and hospitals.

Groupe Islamique Armé or Armed Islamic Group

Probably the deadliest organisation in the conflict, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) was formed as a result of an amalgamation of:

Abdelkrim Gharzouli, alias Kari Saïd, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, motivated the formation of the GIA at a meeting organised by Arab Afghans in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1990 (Malek 2004:441). Under the leadership of Meliani, a number of Algerian Afghans began to organise themselves for what they viewed as an inevitable struggle with the government. The most radical members of the group considered the participation of the FIS in the elections as a betrayal. Ideologically, the GIA had since its establishment been divided into a number of different factions or cells that caused a number of rivalries and that ultimately led to infighting, thus weakening the organisation (Kepel 2003:257-260). The factions included the following:

Cherif Gouasmi, a veteran of the Afghan war, largely formulated the GIA’s philosophy and tactics. The GIA was immediately distinguishable by its willingness to target civilians. Its targets included government officials, members of the security forces, journalists, feminists, intellectuals and French-speaking individuals in what appeared to be a bid to eliminate the educated classes that according to them have been contaminated by Western values.

Farid Hamani, alias Abu Selman, who was appointed leader in December 1996, was blamed for advocating the policy of village massacres. He was reportedly killed in January 1997. From 1996 onwards the ‘eradicator’ faction of the GIA undertook massacres of villagers aimed at terrifying the rural population, resulting in many fleeing to the cities and causing an internal displacement crisis. The group had always targeted civilians, including women who refused to wear the veil, as well as journalists and academics.

The GIA’s controversial strategy of slaughtering villagers – including women and children – by cutting their throats, took place under the leadership of Antar Zouabri who asked Mustapha Kamel, alias Abu Hamza al-Masri (a veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan) who preached at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, to write fatwa’s and collect funds as well as weaponry and explosives intended for the conflict in Algeria. Hamza, on behalf of the Religious Affairs Committee, requested Abu Moundher to write a 60-page manifesto, ‘The Sharp Sword’, in justification of its campaign against civilians who, according to the GIA, had ‘forsaken religion and renounced the battle against its enemies’.

The GIA did not accuse the Algerian society as a whole of impiety (in contrast to the takfiris) until it became apparent that there was a lack of commitment to participate in the jihad against the unlawful Algerian government (Kepel 2002:411). This was followed by a fatwa declaring non-members infidels and thereby permitting their murder. In an underground bulletin distributed in September 1996, Zouabri issued a fatwa entitled ‘The Great Demarcation’ (al-mufassala al-kubra), in which he called the self-defence committees ‘Harki militias’ and ‘Zeroual’s dogs’.

Zouabri demanded that the population should choose sides and further warned citizens to stay away from places frequented by security forces. The religious judgments contained in the fatwa included ‘application of divine law’ to enemies (ie putting them to death), the expropriation of their belongings (ghanima or war booty) and the abduction of their women. A June 1997 communiqué from the group’s religious interpreter, Assouli Mahfoudh, declared that the murder of women and children consorting with ‘enemies of Islam’ was lawful and that the innocent among them would be admitted to Paradise. His readers were informed that those who had their throats cut in towns and villages were ‘supporters of the tyrant’ (taghout). These texts seem to have set off the massacres, but they also appear to have triggered the defection of several Islamist factions from the central GIA. Zouabri was in charge of the group until his death in February 2002 (Kepel 2003: 268; 411).

The GIA was particularly active in the west and centre of Algeria (under Tirat-Sidi Belabbas and Blida-Mtigah-Midia respectively), as well as in Algiers (Shahin 1997:158). The group also aimed to internationalise its campaign through:

By 1997 the GIA was seriously divided. Support from foreign Islamist groups expected to be sympathetic to their cause had diminished amid accusations that the group was guilty either of un-Islamic slaughter of innocent civilians or of conspiracy with secularists in the security services. As a result, the following factions broke away from the GIA:

Despite the break-up of the GIA, Islamist terror and guerrilla activities remained a serious threat to the security of Algeria. Fighting was particularly concentrated in the two eastern provinces of Jijel and Constantine. However, what remained of the GIA was highly decentralised. As a result the GIA’s indiscriminate modus operandi had led to the above-mentioned break-aways. The GIA was diminished as a result of internal conflict and successes by the security forces.

In addition to its activities in Algeria, the GIA also established a strong presence in Western Europe, where it acted predominantly as a support base, later used in the planning and execution of a number of attacks. One such incident proved to be a forerunner of the events of 11 September 2001 (9/11), when in December 1994 four GIA terrorists hijacked an Air France flight from Algiers. Their goal was to force the pilot to fly the plane into the Eiffel Tower. Their plan failed when the plane landed in Marseilles where French Special Forces stormed it, killing the hijackers in the process (Frontline 2005). In addition to the Air France hijacking in 1994, investigations into a series of bombings on French soil throughout 1995 led to the conviction of several GIA members, including Rachid Ramda. Ramda received a ten-year prison sentence in March 2006 after spending ten years in a British prison before being extradited to France in December 2005 (AFP 2006).

By 1998, due to its indiscriminate killing of civilians, the GIA lost tremendous support in Algeria. As a result, the GSPC absorbed much of the GIA’s international network.

Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat or the Salafist Group for Combat and Preaching

As a breakaway faction of the GIA, the Salafist Group for Combat and Preaching (GSPC) focused its attacks predominantly on members of the security forces, adhering to Salafist interpretations and ideals. Initially, the group aimed to overthrow the secular government of Algeria and to establish a government based on Islamic principles. Hassan Hattab, alias Abu Hamza, the head of the GIA network in Europe, established the GSPC in 1998 and took with him approximately 700 guerrillas under his command. It is important to note that according to the testimony of Mohamed Berrached, a former GSPC member, Osama bin Laden encouraged Hattab to break away from the GIA in an attempt to portray a better image through its tactics and target selection, since al-Qa’eda withdrew its support for the GIA in 1996 (AFP 1999). Notwithstanding the direct influence of al-Qa’eda in the establishment of the GSPC, the GSPC was not one of the signatories to al-Qa’eda’s fatwa issued on 23 February 1998, both because the GSPC was not yet officially established and because an open alignment with al-Qa’eda might have attract the ‘unnecessary’ attention of domestic and foreign security services.

Instead, Hattab issued a public condemnation of both the GIA massacres and aligned the GSPC with the peace process between the government and the FIS. By October 1997, the AIS, the armed wing of the FIS, had declared a ceasefire in a bid to draw a distinction between the AIS and the GIA. The GSPC really rose to prominence following the election of President Bouteflika, when it criticised those who accepted amnesty and even targeted other members of Islamist organisations. By 2001 the GSPC had become the most effective armed group in Algeria.

Additionally, the Amazigh (Berber) ‘conflict’ in Kabyle indirectly contributed to the support given to the GSPC, or at least the perception was created. The history of this conflict with the central government dated back to the French colonial period, during which the Kabyle region was recognised as the area where the political and cultural dominance of the colonial forces was most contested – ultimately producing a number of martyrs. In the period after independence, the new Algerian state had proved to be as intolerant as the French colonial forces had been towards cultural diversity.

Notwithstanding the principle of cultural diversity, the ‘Arabisation’ process initiated under Colonel Houari Boumediene was legally formalised in July 1998 when Arabic was recognised as the only official language. In essence, the underlying motivation for the conflict was a struggle for cultural, linguistic and political representation. In reaction to the initial government intention to Arabise the population, a strategy by Islamic groups to Islamise the country was equally threatening to the Amazigh. The Amazigh community was called on ‘to rise up in resistance following the spirit of independence (…) supporting the government’s formation of self-defence groups in Kabyle villages’ (Silverstein 2003:87-111). In essence, the conflict between the Amazigh and the government – as well as between government forces and Islamic groups generally – could be attributed to a history of ethnic difference that ultimately led to an identity crisis, creating an environment that could be manipulated by individuals and factions. Particularly after government proclaimed the Arab language law (on the 36th anniversary of independence) in July 1998, that stipulated that Arabic was the only official language to be used in documents, advertisements, films and public speeches (BBC News 1998). It is an interesting coincidence that the GSPC split from the GIA took place during the same year – without implying that the Berber conflict and the formation of the GSPC was related. Subsequently, some members of the public kept quiet and even supported extremists as long as the extremists, particularly the GSPC, did not target them. This explains to some degree the extent of the GSPC’s operations in the Kabyle region, which also served as the GSPC’s headquarters. Another important factor was the inhospitable terrain of mountains and dense forests that favoured guerrilla warfare.

The success of the GSPC in eastern Algeria was therefore not a coincidence. As mentioned earlier, some members within the Berber communities in eastern Algeria had a long history of conflict with the authorities. Frustration with the Algerian government also manifested itself in turning a blind eye, interpreted as ‘support’ that extremists, particularly the GSPC, received from some Berber communities in Kabyle (eastern Algeria). Particularly since the GSPC, in contrast to the GIA targeted the military (a common enemy). This also came during a period of growing frustration between the Berber communities and the security forces. For example, on 28 and 29 April 2001 violent confrontations erupted after Mohamed Geurmah was killed and three other young people arrested in Beni Douala near Tizi Ouzou for protesting against the government. In subsequent violent demonstrations around Tizi Ouzou police used live ammunition after running out of teargas that left (according to El Watan) 80 people dead and hundreds injured. Demonstrations also took place in Bejaia, while tension was reported in Sidi aich, El Kseur, Tazmalt, Seddouk, and Timezrit (Kassaimah 2001).

It is also known that the GSPC and later AQLIM made previous attempts to create the impression that both the GSPC/AQLIM and the Berber communities had a common cause and identity. For example, during the 2001 demonstrations the Quotidien d’Oran newspaper reported that Amari Saifi, Abderrezak El Para, based in the northeast and Kabylie highlands, led some of the demonstrators involved in attacking public buildings (Kassaimah 2001) – this allegation could however not be confirmed. Later in 2006, in a written communiqué released by the GSPC in which they claimed responsibility for the RBC attack the statement from the GSPC read as follows:

Allah…has guided a group of mujahideen in executing an operation that targeted crusaders working for the American company Brown & Root – Condor in Bouchaoui, on the road between Algiers and Zeralda. This operation took place on Sunday afternoon… with the detonation of a bomb on a bus carrying no less than 20 crusaders… This operation is a modest gift that we offer to our Muslim brothers who are suffering from the misfortunes of the new Crusade that is targeting Islam and its sanctuaries. We say to them: your brothers from among the grandsons of Tariq bin Ziyad will never be satisfied until the crusaders and their agents are expelled… (Kohlmann 2006).

Tariq bin Ziyad, a Muslim Berber and Umayyad general led the conquest of Visigothic Hispania in 711 under the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I. Tariq ibn Ziyad is considered to be one of the most important military commanders in Iberian history. He was initially the deputy of Musa ibn Nusair in North Africa, and was sent by his superior to launch the first thrust of a conquest of the Iberian peninsula (comprising modern Spain and Portugal) (Wikipedia 2008). It is, however, essential to note that this passive support was not given in solidarity to the cause of the extremists but rather in principle, as a force against the Algerian government. It was also not given by the collective Berber community. With the change of the GSPC’s tactics under the AQLIM to include an indiscriminate target selection, communities increasingly began to change their perception – tipping the scale toward government’s call to end the conflict.

Structure of the GSPC/AQLIM terrorist group

The GSPC is currently headed by Abu Mousaab Abdelouadoud (38), alias Abdelmalek Droukdel, born in Meftah, Algeria. He succeeded Nabil Sahraoui, alias Abu Mustapha Ibrahim, who was killed by the Algerian military in June 2004 near Bejaia, 250 km east of Algiers. Droukdel is reported to have helped Nabil Sahraoui become leader of the group in the summer of 2003. He was also one of the leaders who forced Hassan Hattab, alias Abu Hamza, to step down. Active first in the GIA, Droukdel was close to Djamal Zitouni before Zitouni’s death. Droukdel previously was the head of the GSPC’s production branch and also led the Council of Notables, which included the officials in charge of the seven provinces in Algeria where the group was active. Droukdel grew up in the Meftah area, south of the capital, which in the early 1990s, at the beginning of armed activities, was one of the main strongholds of the GIA. Droukdel has a university degree in chemistry and electronic engineering (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2004b).

Figure 1: Structure of the GSPC

The GSPC went through substantial changes, including a name change to AQLIM. Figure 1 is a non real-time schematic presentation illustrating the complexity and extent of the GSPC’s structure, including its international reach. Also please note that this representation does not include all the different substructures. Figure 1 is therefore only a brief overview of the most active domestic structures.

At the head of the GSPC is a national emir, supported by the Council of Notables. Reference is also made to an advisory council that essentially includes leading members of the organisation and acts as a decision-making body, electing the leaders of the organisation and setting its strategy.

Although its information and media committee was not a new innovation for a terrorist organisation, this committee achieved considerable visibility in 2007 when GSPC/AQLIM focused extensively on a media strategy, particularly in claiming responsibility for attacks in Algiers and beyond (including attacks in Mauritania). In 2004 the GSPC became the first organisation of its kind to distribute information through an internet website – – headed at that time by Sheikh Abu Omar Abd al-Birracted as the former head of the information and media committee. Although the Algerian government reacted by closing a number of websites, GSPC/AQLIM continued to distribute messages on the internet. For example, in July 2007 the following message was distributed. After claiming responsibility for the 11 July suicide attacks, it continued:

We call on all our Muslim brothers to stay away from the centres and gathering (points) of infidels and apostates (…) The Mujahideen have, with God’s help, regrouped, organised their ranks and refined their plans and they are with God’s will planning many surprises for the enemies of God in the Islamic Maghreb countries (Ersan 2007).

And again, after the September suicide attacks, AQLIM made the following internet statement: ‘We swear to God to continue sacrificing our lives until you stop supporting the crusaders in their war, apply Islamic tenets, and stop your war against God’s religion’ (Black 2007).

After the attack targeting Brown and Root-Condor (BRC), the GSPC made the following statement:

God enabled a group of our holy warriors to carry out this attack targeting the Crusaders working for the BRC in Bouchaoui (…) We carried out this raid as a gift to all Muslims who are suffering from the new Crusader campaign targeting Islam and its holy places (Hunter 2006).

From 2004 the GSPC made a large number of documents available on its website, including manuals on how to manufacture explosives and poison. This development coincided with the GSPC’s change in tactics. These methods, particularly the use of explosives, were previously associated with the modus operandi of the GIA in its indiscriminate target selection. The website, however, urged its members and supporters not to introduce these methods before ‘consulting the fatwas of Osama bin Laden’. Despite previous allegations that links existed between al-Qa’eda and the GSPC, this statement confirmed a closer relationship that extended beyond a common philosophy (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2004).

In the aftermath of the attack on US-based KRB’s BRC in December 2006, GSPC/AQLIM posted a video of the attack that also included footage of how the attack was planned and executed. This attack served as a preliminary to future developments, including the strategy of attracting new followers and funds through extraordinary attacks. After the 13 February and 21 September 2007 attacks, AQLIM media spokesman Abu-Muhammad Salah claimed responsibility for them (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007c).

Ahmed Zarabib, alias Ahmed Abu al-Baraa, the spiritual leader of the GSPC and a former prayer leader, was killed on 17 January 2006 in the mountains near Toudja, 260 km east of Algiers (Dow Jones International News 2006). The information and media committee attempted to contradict statements made by the government and its security forces, particularly after the latter claimed a success against GSPC/AQLIM by the elimination of Zarabib.

In addition to the GSPC’s structure in Algeria, the GSPC as mentioned managed to take control of the GIA network in Europe. Claiming political asylum, extremists including Kamar Eddine Kherbane, one of the founding members of the FIS, established themselves in European countries. Kherbane for example moved from Albania to Istanbul, from where he eventually settled in the UK. According to Algerian security forces, Kherbane (who had been granted political asylum in the UK in 1994) also assisted in the establishment of the GSPC. In addition to meeting Osama bin Laden in Sudan in 1998, Kherbane was in charge of a liaison office in Peshawar for Algerians fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. That office operated under the cover of an aid agency, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) International Rescue Islamist Organisation, which was reportedly funded by bin Laden (AFP 2001).


GSPC cells were already known to exist in Italy, Spain and France. Although they initially focused on collecting financial contributions to be channelled back to Algeria, these cells later turned to recruitment – providing a foothold for future al-Qa’eda operations that will be discussed in Chapter 5. Building on a long history, Algerian, especially GSPC, members began to form the foundation for al-Qa’eda cells in Europe. One such Algerian was Khalid Abu Bassir, believed to be one of the al-Qa’eda leaders in Europe (Guitta 2007).

The terrorist organisations’ zone system

From a terrorist organisation point of view, Algeria and other areas of terrorist activity are divided into zones, of which zones 2, 5 and 9 receive particular mention here. Map 1 attempts to provide a visual representation of the different zones. Please note that the different zones operate in a fluent manner and therefore only serves as a basic framework. For example the operations of zones 4 and 5 overlap in eastern Algeria and is often a source of internal conflict.

Again as mentioned, despite this formal structure, the GSPC is more fluid. Of all the zones, most of the GSPC’s attacks are concentrated in zones 2 and 5, while the other zones predominately provide support. In contrast to the campaign of mass civilian casualties inflicted by the GIA, the GSPC targeted government and security forces, with the intention to increase popular support. The areas of operation are also influenced by the origin of the particular emir. For example, Hassan Hattab originated from the Kabylie region, while Nabil Sahraoui came from the Tebessa region.


Map 1: Zones of the GSPC


Zone 2, which forms the central GSPC command, includes Algiers, Boumerdes, Tizi Ouzou and the Kabylie region. An emir heads each zone, which is further subdivided into katibats, or companies, with each katibat subdivided into three or four fassilas. A fassila in turn is made up of two sarayas, each with 12–18 members, often working in smaller groups of between two and six members.

During 2007, the following areas in the east were especially active:

Other katibats include the El Ansar Katibat, which was formerly headed by Emir Harek Zoheir, alias Sofiane El-Fassila, who replaced Abdelhamid Saadaoui, alias Yahia Abu Haythem, as emir of Zone 2. In addition to leadership changes, the katibat was also responsible for the bomb attack on 15 September 2007 on a police apartment complex that killed two policemen and injured eight people. The Zemmouri or Zamouri Katibat under the leadership of Youcef Khelifi alias Talha in Ouled Ali was also particularly active (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007f). In December 2007 AQLIM announced that Rachid Abdelmoumin had taken over as emir of Zone 2 after Zoheir was killed in October (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007g).

As a result of continuing losses, the suspicion arises that GSPC/AQLIM plans to reform the existing structure into four zones (central, western, eastern and southern), thus forcing the GSPC to consider a new strategy that will be referred to later in this discussion. Although most of the activities of GSPC/AQLIM are concentrated in the eastern and to a lesser extent the southern parts of Algeria, developments during 2007 indicated that GSPC/AQLIM might consider extending its area of operations to the west of the country, particularly Tlemcen and Maghnia (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007h).

In October 2007 members of the GSPC/AQLIM leadership structure encouraged members to move their operations to western Algeria, which is considered to be safer than the east of the country, where there is a greater concentration of security operations. Subsequently, both Algerian and Moroccan security forces stepped up their presence in the region (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007i). However, even before this initiative became publicly known, members of the Algerian security forces clashed a number of times with terrorists around Sidi Bel-Abbes in the Tafsour region (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007j). In addition to these skirmishes, in June the Algerian Army discovered some 2 500 anti-personnel mines in Maghnia en route from the smuggling networks in Morocco to the central region, in particular Tizi Ouzou and

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