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The GSPC and the Terror War in Europe

5:09 PM, Sep 14, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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The BBC reports on Zawahiri's latest claim "that a radical Algerian Islamist group has joined al-Qaeda and is being urged to punish France." In the video that aired on a website on September 11, Zawahiri stated: "Osama Bin Laden has told me to announce to Muslims that the GSPC [the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat] has joined al-Qaeda." He called on the Algerian-based terror group to become "a bone in the throat of the American and French crusaders." The GSPC has since released a statement: "We pledge allegiance to Sheikh Osama Bin Laden... Our soldiers are at his call so that he may strike who and where he likes."

How did the GSPC come about?

In 1997, a splinter group emerged from Algeria's GIA (Armed Islamic Group) called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC. Stanley Bedlington, who worked counterterrorism for the CIA from 1986 to 1994, told USA Today in December 2001 that "we traced considerable sums of money going from bin Laden to the GIA in Algeria. We believed some of the money came from Iraq." But how close a relationship the GSPC had with al Qaeda before this recent pledge has been difficult to nail down. Some say there wasn't much of one; others believe the GSPC had close ties to bin Laden. A January 2004 analysis from the Center for Defense Information noted this on the relationship between the GSPC and bin Laden:

The Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) has emerged in recent years as a major source of recruiting and other support for al Qaeda operations in Europe. A splinter faction of the Algerian-based Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the GSPC is engaged simultaneously in efforts to topple Algeria's secular government and to organize high-profile attacks against Western interests on the continent....

Yet more alarming to U.S. and European observers, by 2000, according to Italian investigators, the GSPC had taken over the GIA's external networks across Europe and North Africa and were moving to establish an 'Islamic International' under the aegis of Osama bin Laden. Haydar Abu Doha, a London-based Algerian known as "the Doctor," was instrumental in this reorganization. Abu Doha moved to the UK in 1999 after serving as a senior official in a Qaeda Afghan terrorist camp.

Doha was one of the first to encourage the GSPC to split from the GIA and he helped recruit new terrorists from the large base of disenfranchised Algerian youth in Europe's cities, especially in France. (Algerians to have been among the most numerous militants at al Qaeda's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan before the war.) Many of these new adherents were involved in petty crimes such as car theft, credit-card fraud, and document forgery; and their earnings were now channeled to finance terrorist operations.

Another Algerian, Mohamed Bensakhria, who was based in Germany, and a Tunisian, Tarek Maaroufi, based in Italy, helped Doha establish and coordinate these cells across Europe. They expanded upon the Algerian base of recruits by incorporating radical militants who had left behind dormant conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. Bensakhria and Maaroufi also created a vast support network that provided newcomers with false documents, lodgings, and incidental spending money.

In recent years, authorities have foiled an alarming number of terrorist plots across Europe and uncovered cells - many linked in one way or another to the GSPC - in Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Britain. Some of the high profile operations planned included a plot to blow up the U.S. Embassies in Paris and Rome, and attacks on the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France and the G-8 summit in Genoa.

Bensakhria was arrested in Spain in June 2002. Maaroufi is wanted in Italy but remains free because of his Belgian citizenship, which prevents his extradition to Italy. Meanwhile, Abu Doha has been connected to Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian convicted for trying to attack Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium changeover, and is currently in British custody fighting extradition to the United States.

Although European and allied authorities have now begun to unearth the myriad connections between these groups and expose their plots, the struggle continues. Most recently French officials arrested four people, two Algerians and two Moroccans, on Dec. 16, 2002, in possession of chemicals and a military personal-protection suit. French authorities say they appear to have been planning a chemical attack. The four were later linked to the GSPC Frankfurt cell.