On June 15 the “Media Department of al-Qaeda Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers,” the Iraqi affiliate of al-Qaeda, issued a statement that included an endorsement of the Algerian mujahideen. Its statement “May Allah bless the work of those heroes who took upon themselves to fight the apostates in Mauritania” in particular fixes the object of the endorsement as the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC), which claimed responsibility for an attack upon a Mauritanian military outpost on June 3-4. This, the GSPC claimed, was an act of “revenge for our brothers who were arrested by the apostate Mauritanian regime over the recent period, and as a support for the oppressed Muslims there.” That attack was later established as having been carried out by the GSPC sub-group led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, termed the Groupe salafist libre, which operates independently of the GSPC (See Focus Vol II, issue 11).
The endorsement opens up a number of issues relating to the coherence of the jihadist groups in the region. Last December an Algerian group announced on the al-Ma’sada jihadist forum how it was transferring its allegiance to Osama bin Laden, calling itself “TheOrganization of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Berbers” [www.alm2sda.net]. More recently, on May 8, the Qa’idat al-Jihad fi al-Jaza’ir (al-Qaeda [base] of the Jihad in Algeria) announced its appearance on the jihadist Kalimat al-Haqq site [www.rightword.net], citing the demoralization of the jihadist groups in Algeria, their bad name through association with massacres of civilians, and the questionable motivation and loyalty of the leaders to the cause. The statement encouraged the irredentist remnants to join ‘a new cause.’
The present endorsement may be a positive response to attempts by GSPC remnants to restore credibility. Indeed the attack on the Mauritanian outpost may be partly seen in this light. The Mauritanian attack came after pressure from the government at Nouakchott against camps training mujahideen for the Iraqi theatre. In Algeria the number of foreign Islamist militants arrested has increased in recent months, an unusual development which has worried the authorities. On the same day of the endorsement by al-Qaeda, six Yemeni students were arrested in eastern Algeria, suspected of belonging to an unnamed network linked to al-Qaeda.
This incident, and the message from al-Qaeda in Iraq, suggest that a greater degree of co-ordination is being attempted, either in the form of direct links between the groups, or at least as an attempt to re-package the activities as part of one ‘global jihad’ movement. Whatever the exact explanation, the Algerian jihadi theatre, as proclaimed by the GSPC statement on the Mauritanian attack, looks set to expand. Attacks in Algeria, despite a net decline, have peaked recently, and there have been renewed clashes on June 12-13 between GSPC militants and the Mauritanian military in the desert area near the border with Mali. Soldiers are now to be deployed in greater strength along the border areas with Mali and Algeria [www.mapeci.com].