The Algiers Bombings: Al-Qaeda’s…

Tuesday, April 17, 2007
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM


Andrew Black
Analyst & Co-Founder, Thistle Intelligence Group

Michael Scheuer
Senior Fellow, The Jamestown Foundation
Former Chief of the bin Laden Unit at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center


The Jamestown Foundation was pleased to have the opportunity to host Andrew Black, analyst and co-founder of the Thistle Intelligence Group, and Jamestown Foundation Senior Fellow Michael Scheuer on Tuesday, April 17, 2007. While Andrew Black provided a thorough overview of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Michael Scheuer expanded upon the greater implications that the recent Algiers bombings entail for the West and the evolution of al-Qaeda Central’s mission and capabilities. The main conclusions from the discussion were:

– With official sanctioning from al-Qaeda Central, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), recently renamed Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has enhanced the legitimacy of both its recruitment and training operations.
– The al-Qaeda-AQIM merger has not only expanded the previous agenda of AQIM from local to global, but also added legitimacy to its media campaign and ideological narrative.
– Given that North Africa has often been considered Europe’s "backyard" and more recently is being eyed as a strategic energy resource, a terrorist threat in the region should be treated with serious consideration by Western policymakers, especially with the enhanced capability of AQIM.
– Contrary to reports in the media, al-Qaeda has not been weakened by the loss of key leaders, rather its succession policies were tested and Osama bin Laden’s explicit mandate to inspire and instigate Muslims to the jihad has shown rewards in the proliferation of "al-Qaeda"-affiliated groups across the globe such as AQIM in North Africa or the Secret Organization Group of al-Qaeda of Jihad in Europe.


Andrew Black broke down the body of his presentation on AQIM into the different facets of the group and concluded it with an analysis of the two most recent attacks and predictions of future terrorist operations. Beginning with the merger of al-Qaeda and the GSPC, dated symbolically on September 11, 2006, Black mentioned an earlier, underreported, yet important, merger of Maghrebi groups spanning from Tunisia to Morocco in the Fall of 2005. He viewed this merger as a precursor to the 2006 merger and noted that it showed a trend in terrorist groups’ agendas from a local or nationalist focus to a regional and/or global focus.

The GSPC’s fluid power structure and effective mobile training camps will easily accommodate the larger number of recruits that are expected after the al-Qaeda merger and, more importantly, attract returning fighters from the Iraqi jihad. Black pointed out that there is already evidence of cross-border training–in early 2007, authorities dismantled a Tunisian terror cell whose members had been trained by AQIM. When all the factors are combined–the new enhanced legitimacy of AQIM, Iraqi jihad veterans returning to the region and AQIM’s pre-existing sophisticated training apparatus–Black predicts that a stronger and more lethal esprit de corps will be forged among the new members of AQIM. The al-Qaeda-GSPC merger also had important implications for the idealogical narrative of the group as it shed its nationalistic/local agenda and adopted al-Qaeda Central’s Global Salafi Jihad.

The new agenda expands AQIM’s potential range of targets to include the entire North African region and possibly Europe as well as broadens its list of mandates to include instigation and inspiration of jihad worldwide. Black called the April 11th attacks a "harbinger of things to come." According to Black the sophistication, coordination and high-level targets show three important changes in AQIM’s capability and motive. First, the attacks were on hard targets not soft targets, meaning that AQIM was able to overcome the existing security systems on the buildings it attacked and that they were intentionally targeting the government. Second, the targets were urban and the weapons were extremely sophisticated vehicle-born IEDs each with large payloads, showing a shift from prior GSPC attacks. And third, not only did AQIM immediately claim the events online after they took place, but they also posted the martyrs’ pictures and statements, displaying an increased emphasis on their online media campaign.

In terms of the future trends in the North African theater, Black pointed to three key trends: the changing campaign from rural to urban and beyond the borders of Algeria; the inclusion of Iraqi veterans and in turn Iraqi jihad style tactics; and high profile targets, such as government buildings and foreign owned assets, more specifically in the energy sector.

Following on Black’s presentation, Michael Scheuer began his talk with a reference to the difficulty that Osama bin Laden has faced in appealing to predominantly nationalist terrorist groups. In the case of the GSPC in Algeria, al-Qaeda Central’s Global Salafi agenda won out and AQIM was born. With nearly a decade to reflect upon, Scheuer claimed that neither al-Qaeda’s tri-part mission nor capability has changed, despite popular reports in the media. Al-Qaeda’s stated goals continue to be: attack the United States and its allies on their territory; provide fighters and support for other Islamic insurgencies; inspire and instigate other Muslims to fight the United States, its allies and Israel. However, Scheuer noted that the April 11 Algiers attacks symbolize a new evolution of the terrorist threat. While al-Qaeda remains the single most threatening entity in terms of threatening the United States inside its borders, there has been a proliferation of al-Qaeda-allied/inspired groups worldwide. From just preliminary research on this phenomenon, Scheuer was able to identify 43 new al-Qaeda-inspired groups. Though they lack a direct command and control relationship with al-Qaeda and were not recruited in the traditional sense, they are the fruits of Osama bin Laden’s third goal: inspire and instigate.

An essential and potent feature of al-Qaeda has been its ability to go into areas where it has no natural presence and be successful in forwarding its agenda. Scheuer used the example of the Kurdish Islamist group, Ansar-al-Islam, in 1999 to whom al-Qaeda provided trainers in order to help them fight the peshmerga. Bringing the discussion to the present day, Michael Scheuer pointed out al-Qaeda’s success in Iraq where it has been able to submerge itself into the Sunni insurgency to the point that the insurgency is being led by natives, but continues to follow al-Qaeda’s goals. Additionally, with its significant presence in Iraq, al-Qaeda now has contiguous territory out of which it can launch attacks on apostate-ruled nations in the gulf region such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria–a capability that al-Qaeda only once dreamt of.

Scheuer concluded by addressing the future implications that the April 11 attacks have for the West and how they demonstrate the current strength of al-Qaeda Central. He agreed with Andrew Black’s analysis that the energy sector will be a key target in both the Maghreb but also in the Americas. Scheuer pointed out that recent fatwas issued by clerics have made attacking the energy sector more complicated, given that an attack would certainly raise the price of oil, bleeding Western pocketbooks but would also line the pockets of Middle Eastern apostate governments. Therefore, he believed that there would be more action in the Algerian networks already established in North America and an increased potential for attacks on Canadian or American energy infrastructure.


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