Major GSPC Founder and Islamist Ideologue Killed

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 5

Abu al-Baraa (left) alongside the leader of the GSPC Abou Mossaab Abdelouadoud.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in Algeria continues to encounter difficulties. On January 28, a declaration from its re-vamped site ( carried the news of the death of Sheikh Ahmed Abu al-Baraa, one of the group’s founders and the head of its Shari’a committee. The 43-year-old Abu al-Baraa (his true name is Ahmed Zarabib), according to the declaration, was killed on January 17 “in the hills overlooking Toudja in the province of Bejaïa (260 km east of Algiers), as a result of the violent confrontation between the mujahideen and the Algerian army.”

In addition to his position as the group’s ideological authority (“mufti, teacher and guide to the brothers”), the loss to the GSPC is even more serious in that Abu al-Baraa, unlike the militant group’s present leader Abou Mossaab Abdelouadoud, was one of the 19 core founders of the GSPC. He has a long and distinguished radical pedigree. According to the Algerian Arabic daily El-Khabar, Abu al-Baraa was appointed back in 1994 as head of the Shari’a board of the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) by its leader at the time, Cherif Gousmi. This was four years before a faction, including Abu al-Baraa, seceded to form the GSPC (

The death of a scholar-member can cause serious damage to a jihad group since an important part of their work is to maintain morale against constant doctrinal challenges from non-jihadi scholars. Ideological doubt, in such a millenarian struggle, has a direct effect on operational resilience. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi demonstrated his distress at the loss in September 2004 of his Jordanian mentor Abu Anas al-Shami (Terrorism Focus, October 1, 2004). Indeed, the name al-Shami appears among the gallery of ideological heroes that al-Baraa will be joining, according to the January 28 declaration. Also included are Abdullah al-Rashoud (of the Saudi operational arena) and Abu Omar Muhammad al-Sayf (of the Chechen arena).

Faced with the erosion of jihadist ideologues, the tone of the declaration accordingly makes a pointed stab at “collaborationist scholars,” highlighting Abu al-Baraa’s death as “a lesson for the ulema of evil, those who wallow in the depths while you [Abu al-Baraa] remain sublime in life and in death.” This is a reference to the prominent sheikhs, such as Abd al-Aziz ibn Abdallah Ibn Baz, Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani and Muhammad ibn Salih ibn Uthaymin, who have issued fatwas outlawing the jihad in Algeria, notably in a recent work entitled Fatawa al-Ulama al-Akabir fima Uhdira min Dima’ fi al-Jaza’ir (“Fatwas of Prominent Sheikhs concerning Proscription of Individuals in Algeria”).

The jihadist groups are having to fight their war on two fronts—military and ideological—and as the declaration discloses, the loss of Abu al-Baraa comes “at a time when people are in greatest need of mujahid scholars, those who match their words with actions and who man the long forgotten outposts of jihad” (, Section: Bayanat).