Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Release Provocative Video

The Spanish government recently announced that their police had arrested two men for their alleged membership in the terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). One of the two suspects was Moroccan arrested in Murcia in the southeast of the country. He had contacts with leaders of AQIM in Mali and was responsible for recruiting militants in Spain. The second, an Algerian, was arrested in the region of Zaragoza. Their arrests came as the result of a collaboration between the Spanish police, Moroccan and French. Now AQIM have retaliated with the release of a video

According to reports in the local press and on the Magharebia website, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) launched a 41-minute provocative video about Morocco. Styled as a "documentary", the internet video mocks the domestic and foreign policy of the country and its efforts to fight terrorism. It also shows an image of the Moroccan monarch engulfed in flames.

AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel launched a tirade against Morocco

The video includes footage of al-Qaeda militants training in the forests and mountains of Algeria under the personal supervision of Abdelmalek Droukdel (aka Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud).

The tape ends with a call by Droukdel for young people to join the ranks of jihadists.

According to Mohamed Darif, a Moroccan researcher specialising in Islamic groups, the new video reveals the real "dilemma faced by the organisation when targeting Morocco". "AQIM has achieved some success in attracting Moroccans and sending them to hotbeds of tension and battlefronts, particularly Syria and Iraq, but they did not succeed in general at targeting Morocco and compromising its institutions," he told Magharebia.

"This failure has exacerbated the group's anger and rage," he added.

What provokes al-Qaeda is the exception posed by Morocco, Darif explained.

The world has seen al-Qaeda operations "expand into Libya and along the Algerian-Tunisian borders, as well as in Sinai, Egypt", he said. "Morocco is today the only country that still eludes al-Qaeda and this provokes its anger."

"Consequently, issuing this tape is an expression of frustration in the face of the successes achieved by Moroccan security authorities in dismantling terrorist cells and preventing them from carrying out sabotage operations," he said.

Indeed, the new tape comes not long after yet another Morocco AQIM cell was dismantled.

"There is a strong desire in AQIM to carry out a quality operation in Morocco, in order to shake its self-confidence and steadfastness, and put an end to its exclusive condition in the region", political analyst Driss Kassouri confirmed.

Ksouri noted that the leader of the dismantled cell was in direct contact with the senior leadership of the organisation in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria, and was planning a retaliatory strike at Guelmim airport, among other targets.

Mohamed Benhammou, president of the African Federation of Strategic Studies, shared that view.

"Al-Qaeda seeks an operation in Morocco because of its symbolism and the fact that such an operation, if completed, would be considered a resounding victory, especially in the current period," Benhammou said.

This is a crucial time in terms of restructuring these groups, he said, after the blows they received during the military intervention in Mali. "They witnessed disintegration and dispersion, as well as a flight of fighters," he added.

The airing of the tape coincided with the publication by al-Qaeda central of an audio recording by Ayman al-Zawahiri, which also included incitement against Morocco.

Amazigh human rights activist Boubaker Ounghir downplayed the impact of these threats but said they required due diligence and caution, "especially since al-Qaeda in the region is now in possession of a variety of weapons after the collapse of the Kadhafi regime in Libya and the chaos that followed".

"In addition, there is also a factor of competition and a race between the various terrorist groups, especially AQIM and Mokhtar Belmokhtar new group, Mourabitounes in order to destabilise Morocco and end its exclusive condition," Ounghir said.

Cherkaoui Roudani, a member of parliament and an expert on strategic issues said, "Al-Qaeda seeks to transform the North African region into a new Afghanistan, the so-called green fascist state which is totally incompatible with what Morocco represents in terms of its successful building of democracy. This model has become an obstacle to the ambitions of al-Qaeda."

He added, "They will make every effort to wage war on the borders with Morocco, as they did with Tunisia in Jebel Chaambi."

"They will do their utmost to conduct terrorist operations inside Morocco," he warned. "We have to be vigilant and to be on the lookout in order to thwart all their attempts and protect our societal democratic project."

The Origins of AQIM

The Washington based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) traces the origins of AQIM back to the Soviet-Afghan war:

Most of AQIM’s major leaders are believed to have trained in Afghanistan during the 1979-1989 war against the Soviets as part of a group of North African volunteers known as “Afghan Arabs” that returned to the region and radicalized Islamist movements in the years that followed. The group is divided into “katibas” or brigades, which are clustered into different and often independent cells.
The group’s top leader, or emir, since 2004 has been  Abdelmalek Droukdel, also known as Abou Mossab Abdelwadoud, a trained engineer and explosives expert who has fought in Afghanistan and has roots with the GIA in Algeria. It is under Droukdel’s leadership that AQIM declared France as its main target. One of the “most violent and radical” AQIM leaders is Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, according to counterterrorism experts. 

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