Government authorities achieved a recent success in the battle against jihadists in Algeria, but the development comes at a time when the threat posed by the group may be more significant outside the country’s borders. The Algerian daily Le Jeune Independant (www.jeune-independant.com) reported on January 2 that three high-ranking militants in the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC) surrendered to the Algerian security services on December 26, in Médéa province, south of Algiers. The surrender provides further evidence of the increasing pressure the government forces are placing on the GSPC. The three militants are Abu Bilal al-Albani, responsible for the group’s external relations, Abu Omar Abd al-Bir, who headed the media wing, and a third unidentified man. The paper went on to report that the men vowed to encourage other militants to give up armed struggle.
The incident is a severe blow to the GSPC, leaving the group’s leadership in disarray. The figures were close to the current commander, Abu Mus’ab Abd el-Wadoud, who confirmed the news of the loss “with most grievous sadness and despair” on a January 4 posting carried on the al-Safinat jihadi forum (www.al-saf.net/vb). Yet, Abd el-Wadoud portrayed the loss as the result of an ambush by security forces and a forced arrest of the leaders. Whatever the circumstances, the loss of Abu Bilal complicates coordination with fellow GSPC leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, currently in the Sahara desert organizing weapons smuggling to the group’s hideouts in the north.
The GSPC, as the above arrests indicate, is fast losing ground in Algeria, and its ability to strike is becoming more circumscribed. For example, a December 24 statement trumpeting an attack by the GSPC on the port of Dellys, posted on the group’s own website (https://salafia.balder.prohosting.com), said that “the total number of victims was indeed high.” In reality, according to the Algerian Arabic daily El-Khabar, the attack resulted in the death of one and some damage to a coastguard vessel (https://elkhabar.com).
Yet the GSPC is not for want of funds: more than USD $22 million was found in the vehicle carrying the three leading arrestees. As elaborate fundraising networks and activities abroad have demonstrated—most recently through the arrests in late December of Algerians in Spain accused of crimes from which the proceeds were funneled to Algerian mujahideen elsewhere such as Afghanistan—investigators are now turning their attention to the European arena. GSPC members continue to be picked up all over Europe—in Spain, Italy, France, the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium. The GSPC, for its part, has openly demonstrated its broader intentions, declaring France its principal foreign target. Algerian militants are linking up with mujahideen in Morocco, Syria and Iraq, and seeking an alliance with bin Laden (Terrorism Focus, Volume 2, Issue 23). With a GSPC cell dismantled last November in Toronto, which included an explosives expert, and earlier U.S. experience with Algerian terrorism (Ahmed Ressam’s alleged attempt to blow up the Los Angeles airport in 1999), U.S. officials will be viewing these GSPC or GSPC-affiliated groups as the new frontline in the war on terrorism.