Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Local and Global Jihad of Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Local and Global Jihad of Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib

Article excerpt

Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) was founded in 2007 as the latest offshoot of the global jihad. But it is deeply rooted in a long and complex history of Algerian violence, with the "Afghan" volunteers in the 1980s, the civil war raging in the 1990s, and the more recent crisis of the jihadi networks. Despite all its global rhetoric, AQIM has not fully transcended its local dynamics, between its Kabylia strongholds and its Saharan groups.

Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) was officially born in January 2007 when the Algerian Salafist Ggroup for Ppreaching and Combat (GgSPpC/Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat) merged into al-Qa'ida as its North African wing. That was three years after Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi had pledged allegiance to Usama bin Ladin, thereby transforming his own organization, Al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, into al-Qa'ida in Mesopotamia, better known as al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI). Al-Qa'ida was therefore extending its operational network towards the West and threatening explicitly European countries, mainly France and Spain. It was not long before AQIM struck at the very heart of the capital city of Algiers: on April 11, 2007, three simultaneous suicide attacks hit the government palace and two security stations. This attack was celebrated by al-Qa'ida as the "Badr of Maghrib," the same way that the name of the first battle of the Pprophet Muhammad had been hijacked by al-Qa'ida to label the 9/11 "raids" on America and the terror attack in Riyadh in November 2003. AQIM has been effectively on the offensive since the spring of 2007, alternating between "local" Algerian targets and "global" ones (for instance, the seat of the United Nations in Algiers on December 11, 2007).

Although al-Qa'ida was founded in 1988 in Ppakistan as the first organization fully dedicated to global jihad, it was only in August 1996 that Usama bin Ladin released his extraordinary declaration of jihad against America, which he accused of occupying the "land of the two holy sites," Saudi Arabia. In February 1998, Bin Ladin and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, launched the "World Islamic Front of Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders" and made clear what global jihad implied for any Muslim around the world: "Killing the Americans and their allies - civilian and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can carry it out in any country where it proves possible."1 The global jihad went against centuries of tradition and of practice of jihad in Islam by erasing any distinction between civilian and military targets, by turning a historically collective obligation into an individual one, and by disconnecting the jihad from specific territories.

Since 'Abd al-Qadir's resistance movement against the French colonization of Algeria in 1832-1847 and Imam Shamil's guerrilla war against Russian expansion into the Caucasus in 1834-1859, popular jihad has become the Islamic version of the anti-colonial struggle. A pattern thus was set for numerous jihad-fuelled liberation movements which went on well into the 20th century: even the progressive Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN/Front de Libération Nationale) named its underground newspaper El-Moudjahid (the Jihad-Fighter) in 1956, during the war of liberation against France. The Afghan resistance against the 1979 Soviet invasion went along these lines, with a liberation struggle being waged under the name and flag of jihad. This national jihad succeeded in liberating Afghanistan in 1989, but non-Afghan jihad fighters, who had achieved very little on the battlefield, felt strong enough to go beyond Afghanistan and make jihad a global struggle. They eventually clashed with their Afghan brothers in arms and the confrontational dialectics between global and local jihad have been raging ever since. This article will try to explore the Algerian angle of these dialectics and reflect on the dynamics of AQIM.


Contrary to the myth nurtured by the jihadi propaganda, it took several years for militant and radical Islamists in the Arab world to get involved in the Afghan jihad. …

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