Al Qaeda in North Africa

Amir Taheri:

On Monday the Iraqi Army launched a large-scale offensive in Diyala north of Baghdad to wipe out al-Qaeda's last remaining hideouts in the country. Since the tide of the war turned last winter, thousands of al-Qaeda jihadists have fled Iraq.

Some returned home and resumed normal life. Others, looking for new places to pursue their holy war against “Zionists and Crusaders”, ended up in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Thailand and helped to reignite the fires of jihad.

However, North Africa appears to have attracted the largest number of returnees. According to the buzz in jihadist circles, confirmed by officials and analysts, a new arc of terror is taking shape in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania - the five countries of the so-called Arab Maghreb in North Africa.

Algeria was first struck by Islamic terror in 1986. Seven years of violence were triggered by the Front for the Islamic Salvation (FIS) in 1992, but by 2000, the Army and groups of armed citizens had crushed the FIS and its more violent offshoots. In 2006 Algerian jihadists announced a merger with al-Qaeda to create al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. Since then they have received huge sums of money and quantities of arms from al-Qaeda sympathisers in the Gulf states, enabling them to make a timid - though no less deadly - comeback.

By all accounts, Algeria may be facing a new round of the War against Terror as it faces mounting political and economic problems. In the first phase of the war, Algerian jihadists never used suicide tactics. In recent months they have carried out at least four such operations, indicating total adoption of al-Qaeda tactics. They have also tried to kill President Bouteflika on at least four occasions. The latest plot was uncovered last week, 24 hours before a provincial visit.

Last month the President invited Ahmed Ouyahya, the architect of Algeria's victory against the terrorists, to assume the premiership again. His return acknowledges that the policy of cuddling the Islamists, preached by the former Premier, Abdulaziz Belkhadem, has failed.

While Algeria is well prepared to face a resurgence of jihadism, Morocco, long recognised as one of the most moderate and peaceful countries in the Muslim world, may prove more vulnerable.

Visitors returning after three or four years would be struck by changes in the urban scenery. The number of al-Qaeda-style beards has grown along with the number of neo-hijab headscarves designed to identify women as partisans of jihad. Women in jeans or mini-skirts have all but disappeared from public, along with all females who favoured the colourful dress of the Berber. One sees countless women draped in black that remind one of Hitchcock's The Birds. Jihadist propaganda is sold on the streets in stalls provided by the municipal authorities.

Fewer and fewer places serve alcohol, and parts of the main cities are becoming no-go areas for foreign tourists. Over the past year, almost 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with terrorism after attacks that claimed at least 60 lives.


This sounds like bad news for Rick's Place in Casablanca. Actually dressing women in funny clothes and making men wear facial hair is happening all over the middle east. It is the uniform of the enemies of civilization.

But, if the story begins with a familiar lead, it is because the same story was written seven years ago when we messed up al Qaeda's play pen in Afghanistan. The cock roaches continue to scatter when the light is turned on them.

Dispersal has not added much to al Qaeda's strength. In the end cock roaches can make a mess, but they can't take the house away.


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