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(Update) The GSPC and the Terror War in Europe

12:05 PM, Oct 5, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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(Today's Washington Post has a lengthy target=_blank>piece on the GSPC. A couple of points: The Post suggests that since 2003 the GSPC "has planted deep roots in Europe [and] in the past year, authorities have broken up cells in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland…" But there's evidence (see below) that the GSPC had its European network up and running by 2000 with the help of al Qaeda-linked Abu Doha. Also, were any GSPC terrorists trained in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion? It would be nice to get a conclusive answer one way or the other. The Senate Intelligence Committee doesn't mention the GSPC in its recent target=_blank>report on Iraq.)

Posted on September 14, 2006:

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.