The Algerian Connection
by Jacob A. Mundy, Eat the State, November, 21, 2001
In a broadcast dating October 25, PBS’s Frontline told the tale of a terrorist well known to residents of the Pacific Northwest. Ahmed Ressam, the « Millennium Bomber, » was featured in Frontline’s « Trail of a Terrorist, » an episode that sought to connect bin Laden’s Al Qaeda with Algerian Islamic insurgents.
Frontline reported: « Ahmed Ressam has been linked to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), an Algerian extremist group that began conducting terrorist attacks when the government overturned the victory of an Islamic political party in the 1992 legislative elections. » Beyond their ruthless and vile campaigns in Algeria, the GIA has been linked to bombings in Paris and the foiled 1994 hijacking of an Air France jet that the terrorists hoped to have the pilots fly into the Eiffel Tower (an attempt thought to be the inspiration for the September 11 attacks).
Frontline’s website directs readers to the Department of State’s Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2000. There the GIA is painted in these terms: « An Islamic extremist group, the GIA aims to overthrow the secular Algerian regime and replace it with an Islamic state. The GIA began its violent activities in early 1992 after Algiers voided the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)–the largest Islamic party–in the first round of legislative elections in December 1991. »
This is the standard picture that one gets from the media these days: in January 1992, Algeria’s long standing National Liberation Front (FLN) nullified elections in which the FIS won by a landslide; the Muslim rebels then took to the hills and began a terror campaign, slaughtering civilians, reporters, artists, liberals, intellectuals, and foreigners in their attempts to overthrow Algeria’s military regime. This deviates little from what is commonly accepted as the truth regarding Algeria’s almost ten year old, very bloody civil war that has claimed over 100,000 lives. Maintaining this picture in the coming months will be required if Bush’s war on terrorism is to go beyond the borders of Afghanistan.
Bush and Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika met in the White House on November 5. Their talks covered Algeria’s problem with its own terrorists. No doubt Bouteflika asked the US to aid his military regime’s fight against insurgents. (Producing over 800,000 barrels of oil a day, Algeria is not short on bargaining chips.)
According to Noam Chomsky: « [It] turns out that Algeria is very enthusiastic about the US war against terror. » Drawing comparisons with US sponsorship of Turkey’s genocidal war against the « terrorist » Kurds, Chomsky says, « Algeria is one of the most vicious terrorist states in the world and has been carrying out horrendous terror against its own population in the past couple of years, in fact. For a while, this was under wraps. But it was finally exposed in France by defectors from the Algerian army. It’s all over the place there and in England and so on. But here, we’re very proud because one of the worst terrorist states in the world is now enthusiastically welcoming the US war on terror and in fact is cheering on the United States to lead the war. That shows how popular we are getting. » (« The New War Against Terror », October 18, 2001.)
Human Rights Watch has found: « [Algeria’s] Security forces have been implicated in torture, forced disappearances, arbitrary killings, and extrajudicial executions on a scale that can only be characterized as systematic. » And: « The series of massacres in Algeria that, especially since 1996, have claimed the lives of thousands of innocent women, men, and children, which the [Algerian] government and many outside observers attribute exclusively to armed Islamic insurgent groups, are a part of a larger human rights crisis. This larger crisis is characterized by grave and systematic human rights violations by or seemingly with the collusion of the [Algerian] security forces… » (« Algeria’s Human Rights Crisis », August 1998.)
The GIA’s involvement in Algeria’s brutal civilian massacres (sometimes involving blunt weapons) and international terrorism (like bomb attacks in the Paris Metro) has been well established in the media. What has not been established is the precise nature of the GIA. Is the GIA the al-Qaeda of Algeria–or more like the Contras of North Africa?
In the book An Inquiry into the Algerian Massacres (Hoggar Books), the chapter « What is the GIA? » establishes beyond a doubt that the GIA is a counter insurgency (COIN) or counter-guerilla army along the lines of Selous Scouts in the Rhodesia-Zimbabwean war (1972-1979) and, ironically, France’s Force K in the Algerian war of liberation (1954-1962). Operating like a guerilla force in tactics and organization, COIN groups are the photo-negative image of the insurgents, taking the war back to the guerillas, sowing distrust among the rebels and reaping terror among their civilian support base.
In Algeria, the government-supported GIA has sought to disrupt and discredit any Islamic opposition though deadly infighting and the indiscriminate massacring of civilians in the name of Allah. The military regime’s monster is thought to be the most vicious player in the unending cycle of violence that is tearing Algeria apart.
Meanwhile, the millions of voices for democracy and human rights in Algeria get almost no airtime. How many news sources carried stories of the June 14 million-strong march on Algiers? Very few. Those outlets that did cover the March For Democracy took note of the violence and downplayed the calls for freedom and justice. Following the party line of Algeria’s military rulers, the BBC described the demonstrations as « fierce clashes between mainly ethnic Berber protestors and police in the Algerian capital Algiers » (June 14). According to Middle East Reports (MER 220): « [Algerian state] TV played extensive footage of fights and the destruction of property. » Sound familiar, Seattle?
These recent demands for democracy and justice sprang from Algeria’s most repressed ethnic group, the Berbers, but are not limited to them.
Berbers, who prefer call themselves Imazighen (Free People), are the indigenous peoples of North Africa, spanning from the High Atlas of Morocco to the deserts of Libya, including, among others, the Tuaregs of Niger and the Kabyles of Algeria, all united by their common language (Tamazight) and their Amazigh culture. Seventy percent of Morocco and thirty percent of Algeria is thought to be Amazigh.
When gendarmes in Beni Duala shot Massinissa Guermah, an Amazigh youth in their custody, on April 18, they touched off a string of riots and protests unseen since Algeria’s fight for independence.
The killing took place in the Amazigh heartland of Algeria, the mountainous Kabylia. The killing also took place close to the anniversary of the Berber Spring, the events of April 20, 1980, that mark the birth of the Amazigh cultural awareness movement when riots engulfed the Kabylia following the cancellation of a series of lectures on Amazigh culture. The days following the death of Massinissa saw almost 100 protesters killed.
However, what followed was a broad-based civilian uprising in Algeria for more democracy, despite the ruling party’s attempts to divide the country into Arabs and « Berber Separatists ». Marchers in protests all over the country, suffering from the same conditions as Berbers–massive (30%) unemployment, IMF structural readjustment policies, and state terrorism–have been heard chanting « We are all Kabyles » (MER 220). The protests have continued to this day.
It is doubtful that Algeria’s military regime will heed popular calls for democracy and human rights, given that they have been waging a war against their own population since 1992. What is more likely, given the current climate of irrationalism surrounding the war on terrorism, is that Bush will give Bouteflika what he most wants: a « Plan Columbia » for Algeria.