Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Burgeoning Media Apparatus

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 14

On May 9, al-Jazeera television broadcast clips from the latest video to emerge from the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The video, which details the preparation and execution of the April 11 attacks in Algiers, highlights yet again the developmental trajectory of the North African group’s media campaign which began in earnest with the ascent of Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud to the leadership of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC). Far from being an afterthought or merely a side effect of the GSPC’s merger with al-Qaeda, the evolution and steady enhancement of a media enterprise is indicative of the group’s increasing alignment with al-Qaeda’s strategic doctrine and redoubled efforts in establishing a sustained public presence. This will likely pay dividends in several strategically important arenas, none of which is more critical to the group’s success than recruitment.

When Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud assumed leadership of the GSPC in the summer of 2004, the group’s media efforts were minimal to non-existent. The group’s periodical, al-Jama’a, had been launched in May, but had difficulty sustaining itself and publishing with any regularity. Oddly, the reclusive nature of the GSPC and its inability to put forth a group publication were seemingly contradictory to the history of the Algerian jihad since it was the GSPC’s predecessor, the Armed Islamic Group, which published al-Ansar, a globally read jihadi publication, in the 1990s.

A consequence of the GSPC’s weak public presence was the noticeable lack of original information on the group and its activities. As a result of this, most of the information that observers could cull—minus intermittent statements published on a previous website, http://www.jihad-algeria.com—was typically from secondary sources. Perhaps recognizing the detrimental impact of this, Wadoud made a concerted effort to bolster the media outlets his predecessors had started. He approved strength building initiatives such as the renovation of the group’s website (most recently found at http://www.almedad/jama3a/) and the revival and regularization of al-Jama’a. By 2006, these outlets began to provide observers with the primary information they sought in the form of polished statements and videos.

This regeneration continued through the September 2006 merger of the GSPC and al-Qaeda. Although it is difficult to definitively ascertain, circumstantial evidence indicates that the development of a potent and viable media wing, on par with the Global Islamic Media Front or Labik (an al-Qaeda production organization in Afghanistan), may have been stipulated by al-Qaeda as a prerequisite for the merger. Taking into account some of the chronological progressions—the start of the GSPC’s ability to produce video imagery via its website falls roughly at the same time as the start of negotiations between the GSPC and al-Qaeda—it would appear that this may indeed be the case (Terrorism Monitor, February 1).

Indicative of its steady alignment with the media outlets of the Global Salafi-Jihad, GSPC video footage and production developed during 2006 to more closely resemble that of other prominent media production outlets. Evidence of this is seen in a video released by the group in January detailing the preparation and execution of the December 2006 attack on Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root-Condor. This video, which was of rather high-quality and strikingly resembled videos associated with the Iraqi or Afghan theaters, featured footage taken while operatives were conducting reconnaissance and of the actual attack. This production trend has been furthered in the first half of this year, with several videos produced by AQIM showing coordinated roadside attacks on Algerian military convoys and personnel, as well as the April 11 Algiers bombings.

Although the centrality of the GSPC website as a conduit for information has clearly waned with the advent of AQIM, the group’s media efforts have become significantly more proficient and effective. The videos AQIM has disseminated demonstrate the group’s clear intention to establish a public presence and a desire to mimic the production styles of other jihadi media sources. Mirroring strategies utilized by other groups, AQIM has taken to publishing its material through a broad array of forums rather than limiting dissemination to a single website. In sum, this media campaign will probably bolster AQIM’s recruitment capacity while providing the group a significantly enhanced public presence.