The “Algerian enemy” of France: the GSPC or the secret services of the military junta?
Omar Benderra, François Gèze, Salima Mellah, Algeria-Watch, 23 July 2005, (Translation from french)
“The Algerian GSPC [the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat] could be a threat to France as it is part of the international jihad”. This is the title of a particularly alarmist article published by Le Monde on the 26th June 2005. Of course we do not want to dismiss off hand the threat of terrorism which can emerge from Islamic radicalism. But in order to tackle this threat effectively we must be very clear in the way all available information is considered in order that the origins of this threat be correctly evaluated. In the particular case of the Islamic movement in Algeria, whose developments we have been following closely, special care has to be made as there are direct and verifiable linkages between the intelligence service of the Algerian army, the Department of Investigations and Security (DRS), and the manipulation of Islamic violence. There is a strong resemblance in this instance to the media campaigns of the 1990s which publicised the threats posed by the Algerian GIA (Armed Islamic Group), and where the links with international Islamic movements were supposedly clearly established. However, at the time the French intelligence services and other well informed circles knew that many press releases of the GIA had been written from the offices of the DRS, which furthermore had many of its “Islamic” agents all across mainland France.
Recently, Le Monde quoted “a high representative of the French State on anti-terrorism” who highlighted the “importance of the Algerian networks in the attacks carried out in France during the period between 1995 and 1996.” This is true but it must not be forgotten that these “networks” were set up mainly by the DRS (the Algerian intelligence service): numerous serious investigations that were not very publicised in the media or elsewhere, but which however were never denied, established that these attacks were organized by the DRS and were carried out by Islamists who had been systematically manipulated, with the aim that France may be encouraged towards greater support of the Algerian regime.
We do not have the same degree of certainty today about the origin of the new threat that the GSPC may pose. But there are a number of startling facts that lead us to question the truth behind the information supplied by the French services and as reported by the Le Monde. For example, there is a letter that the “head of the GSPC” Abdelmalek Droukal supposedly sent on the 14th October 2004 to Al-Zarkaoui, and which was, again supposedly, “intercepted by the American services”. According to the article later published in Le Monde, the Algerian emir, Droukal, suggested in this letter to the head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (Al-Zarkaoui) to “include the French among the targets of kidnapping in Iraq and to keep them hostage”. The letter apparently also stated that “the GSPC was willing to pressurize France in all kinds of ways” because of the “involvement in the liberation of 32 European tourists kidnapped in the Sahara in 2003” of Amar Saïfi, known as Abderrezak “El Para” (also a member of the GSPC). The ultimate objective of pressurizing France, according to the intercepted message, was to obtain the liberation of Abderrezak “El Para”, as well as the other members of the GSPC detained in Algeria.
However, a strange fact not reported in Le Monde was that this famous Abdelmalek Droukal was apparently killed, according to a press release from the Algerian Ministry of Defence dated the 20th June 2004, by the ambush that would have cost the life of the emir (head) of the GSPC at the time, Nabil Sahraoui. This was then published in most of the Algerian press and also reported in some French media (such as on RFI on the 21st June 2004). Stranger still, and as if nothing had happened, the Algerian press announced in September 2004 that the new head of the GSPC would be Droukal (Le Quotidien d’Oran, 7th Sept 2004). On the 14th October 2004, the GSPC published on its website (www.jihad-algerie.com) a press release stating that the French intelligence services played an important role in the arrest in March 2004 of Abderrezak “El Para” by the rebel movement from Chad, the MDJT and demanding for his release. How can the coincidence of the dates of this press release and the missive intercepted by the American services be explained? In the letter of 14th October, which is quoted in Le Monde, why did the GSPC proclaim the liberation of Abderrezak “El Para” from the Algerian prisons as one of its main objective when he was not handed over to the Algerian authorities until the 27th October?
All these incoherencies are familiar to anyone who knows about the usual techniques of disinformation used by the DRS. Since the beginning of the Algerian civil war in 1992, they have supplied in the same way contradictory information on the Armed Islamic groups (GIA). Successive emirs or heads of these groups have been “killed” and then seem to have mysteriously “resuscitated”. This has created a dense fog of misinformation and confusion around the GIA, which has hidden the reality of the ways in which they have been manipulated by the DRS. The history of career of Abderrezak “El Para’s” career is littered similar suspicions, including possible links between the GSPC and DRS. Originally, he was said to have been a parachutist, member of the elite guard of General Nezzar and one of those responsible for the putsch (which interrupted the electoral process in January 1992 after the victory of the Algerian Islamist party, the FIS). He supposedly deserted the army in 1991 or 1992 to join the Islamists resistance (in the “maquis”). According to the site www.recherches-sur-le-terrorisme.com he surrendered in 1994 and was subsequently seen on many occasions with Colonel Athmane Tartag, the head of one of the main torture centres of the DRS. Sent on a training course for three years to Fort Bragg, the training camp of the American Green Berets in the US, “El Para” deserted once again in 1997, according to the Algerian press. This seems suspiciously like one of those “legends” constructed by the DRS to allow for the infiltration of one of its agents who, as pretend deserters, enter into the heart of the GIA. It is not until 2003 that he was mentioned again, this time outside Algeria, when he kidnapped with his followers, 32 European tourists in the name of the GSPC.
At that time, many western countries issued arrest warrants for him, but no one made any attempts to retrieve him when he fell into the hands of the MDJT, the rebel movement in Chad. The Americans, who justify their military activities in the Sahel region on the basis of the presence of the GSPC, are not usually very exacting when it comes to the legality of the extradition procedures of presumed terrorists. However, in the case of “El Para” they decreed that he should be given to the Algerian services. Upon his release he was passed to the Algerian authorities and although expecting to be behind bars, his trial was finally conducted in absentia eight months later. The Algerian government said that he had escaped. The man, who was also known as the “Bin Laden of the desert”, had simply disappeared. It is difficult to find an explanation for this mystery other than note that it is typical of the way in which the DRS finds ways to shelter one of their agents at the heart of the GSPC.
With reference to the presumed sympathies of the GSPC towards Al-Qaeda, Le Monde wrote about the death during a military operation in September 2003 of a “Yemeni messenger of Al-Qaeda who had come to Algeria in order to contact directly the heads of the GSPC.” But same account was related in the Algerian press a year earlier in September 2002. This would have allowed the American administration to add the GSPC to its list of “terrorist organisations”. The importance of this Yemeni lies in the fact that before his death he had recorded a video tape showing Al-Qaeda grant their approval to the GSPC. Later, three ex-members of the GSPC affirmed that this tape had been faked by the audiovisual unit of this group. (Le Quotiden d’Oran, 23rd October 2004).
This only goes to demonstrate how the “proofs” that are put forward by the French intelligence services, according to Le Monde, which explain the origins of this new “danger” threatening France are flimsy at best. Yet they justify the major preoccupation of both the DST and the RG (French Intelligence services) to effectively neutralize the many individuals, “sympathizers of the GSPC or of the GIA, who have recently come out of prison or are soon going to be free, after having been sentenced during the 1990s by the French justice system”. Certainly, one must not underestimate the danger which these “spectres of jihad” can pose. There is no shadow of doubt that the French services have the means of surveillance over most of their activities. But, what is much more worrying is that, if we are to believe Le Monde, those very same services continue to transmit without any hesitation the propaganda material prepared by the Algerian intelligence services, despite the opinions of Algerian politicians, who believe that terrorism does not represent much of a serious danger.
Ten years ago, all criticism of the Algerian regime was stifled and support for France was justified, at the cost of 10 deaths and 250 injured, victims of the bombs (in the Metro Saint Michel and elsewhere) of Islamists manipulated by the DRS. Today, a repetition of this scenario is very likely. The links between Paris and the Algerian generals have become stronger; the same generals of the military junta that have held power in Algeria for the last 15 years and have managed to erase most civil rights in the name of “anti-terrorist cooperation”. The real danger therefore is elsewhere. The real danger lies in the fact that the terrorist threat has served as a pretext for the French authorities to harden their security policies in the suburbs, to make their asylum policy more restrictive, and to justify the worst infringements upon the rights of people in their fight against illegal immigration.