The Blog

Al Qaeda's "New" Ally

Ayman al-Zawahiri promises more attacks and formally welcomes the GSPC into the al Qaeda fold.

7:55 AM, Sep 15, 2006 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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TIMED FOR THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY of September 11, Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video tape calling for another round attacks. The tape includes at least two important items that should not be overlooked.

The early reporting on the tape indicated that Zawahiri had threatened Arab Gulf States. He made specific references to Iraq, but he also threatened attacks against one or more of the other Gulf States, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates. But it is now clear that he also threatened strikes against America (again). Of perhaps greater note, Zawahiri announced that a long-time al Qaeda affiliate, the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), had "joined" al Qaeda.

According to the Hindustan Times, Zawahiri claimed, "Osama bin Laden has told me to announce to Muslims that the GSPC has joined al Qaeda." Zawahiri openly threatened attacks on America and France from this "new" al Qaeda force, "We pray to God that they will be a thorn in the side of the American and French crusaders and their allies."

He added, "We pray to God that our brothers from the GSPC succeed in causing harm to the top members of the crusader coalition, and particularly their leader, the vicious America." And according to an account from Reuters he called for the GSPC to become "a bone in the throat of the American and French crusaders" and to put fear "in the hearts of the traitors and the apostate sons of France."

THE GSPC is an offshoot of an Algerian group named the GIA (Armed Islamic Group). The GIA grew out of the violence that engulfed Algeria in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hundreds of Arab-Afghan veterans were part of the group's founding. Osama bin Laden is said to have arranged financing and arms supplies for the group early in its existence.

The GIA and the Algerian government waged a brutal civil war which killed upwards of 100,000 people throughout '90s. But the GIA's violence was not confined to Northern Africa. The group was also responsible for a series of attacks on targets in France and Europe, including an eerie forerunner of the September 11 attacks. In December 1994, four GIA terrorists hijacked an Air France flight leaving Algiers. Their goal was to force the pilot to fly the plane into the Eiffel Tower. Their plan failed when the plane landed in Marseille and French Special Forces boarded it, killing the hijackers in the process.

In 1998 there was a falling out between the core of al Qaeda's leadership and some of the GIA's senior leaders, resulting from the GIAs murder of thousands of Algerian civilians--which in turn had alienated much of the country and jeopardized al Qaeda's chances for establishing an Islamist regime there.

In order to distance themselves from the GIA's unpopular tactics, bin Laden and Zawahiri selected a young GIA emir named Hassan Hattab to establish a new al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria. Thus, the GSPC was born.

SINCE THEN, the GSPC has been an especially active al Qaeda affiliate. Acting in concert with al Qaeda affiliates from Morocco and Tunisia, the GSPC's North African terror network provides al Qaeda easy access to the European mainland. In the last two years, several major GSPC plots have been uncovered on European soil, including a plot in Italy that may have aimed to kill as many as 10,000 people.

The GSPC was also central to al Qaeda's last attempt to strike America prior to September 11, 2001. On December 14, 1999, an Algerian man named Ahmed Ressam was arrested on a ferry going from Victoria, British Columbia to Port Angeles, Washington after it was discovered that his truck with packed with explosives. Ressam was on his way to the LAX airport where he intended to take part in al Qaeda's millennium bomb plot. An attack planned to simultaneously hit a hotel in Amman, Jordan, was also broken up.