Exclusive: Al Qaeda's North African Connection (Part Two of Three)
by ADRIAN MORGAN
July 1, 2011
GSPC was founded in 1998 from an offshoot of GIA, the "Armed Islamic Group" based in Algeria. GIA had originally been approved by al Qaeda, according to jihad ideologue and Al Qaeda "defector" Sayyed Imam al-Sharif (aka "Dr. Fadl").
On December 24, 1994, GIA members in Algiers had hijacked an Air France jet aircraft with 227 passengers on board, apparently intending to fly it into the Eiffel Tower. The four hijackers had demanded that the plane be filled with fuel in amounts three times higher than needed to reach Paris.
The Air France plane landed at Marseilles, where negotiations took place. Here, French security forces raided the plane, freeing the remaining 170 hostages who were on board and killing all the terrorists. In 1995, other GIA attacks were carried out in France. These, and the Eiffel Tower plan, had been designed to "punish" France for supporting the Algerian government. The 1994 plan to fly a plane full of hostages into a landmark, if true, happened a year before Ramzi Yousef's Bojinka plot and seven years before the horrors of 9/11.
From 1997 until 2002, GIA was led by Anton Zouabri, who openly declared that all Algerian civilians who did not support the group were targets. It is generally assumed that during this time, Zouabri's genocidal activities against Algerian villagers caused even al Qaeda to grow cool towards the operation.
While North African activists linked to al Qaeda fought wars of attrition at home, others were busy in Europe. Al Qaeda had support from, and influence over, groups such as the GIA, and then the GSPC, as well as the Tunisian Combat Group, and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM).
Additionally, a group called Salafia Jihadia, an offshoot of GICM, had operatives in Morocco and Spain. Between 1999 and late 2001, the head of Salafia Jihadia, Mohamed Fizazi (above) was also the head of the Al Quds mosque in Hamburg, where members of the "Hamburg Cell" worshipped.
Members of the Hamburg Cell – including Mohammed Atta, who also worshipped at Fizazi's mosque – would be intrinsically linked with the events of 9/11. Salafia Jihadia carried out the suicide bombing that took place on Casablanca on May 16, 2003, in which 33 people were killed in the explosions, and 12 suicide bombers died. In August 2003, Fizazi was among dozens of individuals sent to trial over the Casablanca attacks. He received a 30-year sentence.
The suspected organizer of the Casablanca bombings, Abdelhaq Mousabbat, died of liver failure in May 2003, shortly after the attacks. Some Salafia Jihadia operatives are also said to have been involved with the attacks on Madrid train station on March 11, 2004, in which 191 people were killed and more than 1,800 were injured. Abdelkrim Mejjati was one of the suspects in the Madrid bombings. He was also a suspect in the Casablanca attacks.
In February 2009, Saad Housseini was sentenced in Rabat, Morocco, to 15 years' jail for his part in plotting the 2003 Casablanca bombings. Housseini, a chemistry graduate who was "trained" in Afghanistan is also wanted in Spain, as he is believed to have manufactured the bombs that were used in the March 11, 2004 attacks at Madrid.
The March 2004 Madrid attacks are believed to have received no direct funding from al Qaeda. The plot was inspired by al Qaeda, but not directly connected. Some perpetrators did appear to have connections to related groups. Moroccan-born Jamal Zougam was given a 40-year jail sentence on October 31, 2007 for his part in the Madrid attacks.
Additionally, Youssef Belhadj was given a 12-year sentence at the Madrid trial, after being convicted of belonging to a terrorist group. Belhadj is believed to be a member of GICM, and also is thought by authorities to be "Aby Dujanah" the individual who announced on an audio tape that the bombings were the work of al Qaeda. He too is thought to be linked to the group that carried out the Casablanca bombings.
A French investigator specializing in terror financing, Jean-Charles Brisard, announced on March 16, 2004 that he had encountered a transcript of a phone conversation in the indictment notes assembled by Judge Baltazar Garzon. Zougam had been in a phone conversation with Imad Yarkas. Zougam told this individual: "On Friday, I went to see Fizazi and I told him that if he needed money we could help him with our brothers."
Imad Yarkas, a former member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, was convicted on September 26, 2005 of conspiracy to commit murder in relation to the 9/11 attacks. He was sentenced to 27 years' jail – 15 years for his involvement in the 9/11 plot and 12 years for belonging to a terrorist organization. On February 16, 2006 Yarkas had 15 years cut from his jail tariff as the National Court had not proved conclusively that Yarkas had been involved in organizing the 9/11 terror attacks.
Markets and Mosques
Abu Doha, a graduate of al Qaeda's Khalden training camp, arrived in Britain in 1997 and became a regular figure at Finsbury Park Mosque. This mosque had been taken over by hook-handed Abu Hamza, who had also, according to one source, trained at an al Qaeda camp – the Darunta camp near Jaalabad in eastern Afghanistan. Omar Nasri said that, during an explosives class at Darunta, Hamza had messed up his recipe and blew his hands off.
Many Islamists from Algeria had taken advantage of Britain's loose immigration rules and Hamza's north London mosque became a hub for Islamists with connections from across Western Europe.
In part one, I mentioned Doha's involvements with Ahmed Ressam who planned to blow up LAX airport on the eve of the Millennium. Abu Doha would become linked with individuals who were involved in several European terror plots. The first of these involved Strasbourg in France, close to the border with Germany. Two trials ensued, one in Germany and one in France, involving a group of Algerians or French-Algerians known as the "Frankfurt Group." Their plan was to blow up the Christmas market which took place in a square in Strasbourg, near the city's historic Cathedral.
The Strasbourg explosive would have been contained within a pressure cooker. Such a device had been used by GIA operatives in Paris on September 3, 1995: Four women were wounded at a street market on boulevard Richard-Lenoir in the 19th arrondissement.
At the German trial of Strasbourg plot suspects, the senior judge, Karlheinz Zeiher, suggested that the order to attack the market had come from "a London-based group led by Abu Doha." On March 10, 2003 four Algerians, Aeroubi Beandalis, Fouhad Sabour, Salim Boukari and Lamine Maroni, were given jail terms of between 10 and 12 years. One of the accused, Aeroubi Beandalis, claimed that the intention was to bomb a synagogue in Strasbourg, rather than the market or Cathedral.
Another member of the "Frankfurt cell" was Mohamed Bensakhria. He had been arrested in Alicante, Spain in June 2001, accused additionally of plotting to blow up the European Parliament. Bensakhria would be extradited to France to stand trial with other suspects. On December 16, 2004, 10 individuals were sentenced to jail for "criminal Association with a terrorist enterprise." Mohamed Bensakhria and Slimane Khalfaoui, thought to be the leaders of the group, both received sentences of 10 years. The lawyer for Khalfaoui was Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, the "wife" (and attorney) of jailed terrorist Carlos the Jackal (Ramirez Sanchez).
In France, another suspect was found guilty in absentia for his part in the Strasbourg bomb plot. Rabah Khadri, an Algerian, was in custody in Britain. He had fled across the English Channel and had been arrested on November 5, 2002 on suspicion of a plot to blow up the London Underground. Khadri was extradited to France on June 23, 2006. Khadri was also an associate of Abu Doha. On September 15, 2006 another French-Algerian apparently linked to the Strasbourg plot was deported to France. Identified only as "MK," he had been arrested in Britain in September 2004. He was also alleged to be an associate of Abu Doha.
Until GSPC was officially formed in 2002, various North African groups with links to al Qaeda were operating in Western Europe. Some individuals from these groups also had connections to Finsbury Park Mosque. One of these was Nizar Trabelsi. Born in Tunisia in 1970, Trabelsi had been a professional soccer player. In Germany in 1989 he was signed to the Fortuna Duseldorf team, but his soccer career ended in cocaine use. Various convictions followed. In 1995 he embarked on a new career, that of Islamic militant. He apparently became a convert to radical Islam at a mosque in Dostrum, northwestern Germany. Trabelsi made several visits to Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. On at least one of one of these occasions, as he would later boast at his trial, he would meet bin Laden.
Trabelsi was arrested on September 13, 2001, and on the same day four people were also arrested in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. On September 30, 2003, Trabelsi was jailed for 12 years for plotting to blow up a NATO air base in Kleine Brogel, Belgium. This base housed U.S. military personnel. The plan was for Trabelsi to drive a truck filled with explosives into the compound of the base, and then detonate it outside the base's canteen.
Trabelsi is also wanted by the United States for a plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris. One of his associates, Djamel Beghal, (Jamal Beghal) had already been convicted for this plot on March 15, 2005, at the end of a trial that that had commenced 14 months earlier. Beghal was given a 10-year sentence. Five other Islamists on trial with him were jailed for terms between one year and nine years. Kamel Daoudi, a computer expert who was in charge of assembling the explosives, received nine years for his part in the U.S. Embassy plot.
Beghal was arrested in Dubai in July 2001, on his way to Morocco. He was flying from Pakistan after a prolonged stay in Afghanistan. Beghal gave investigators information that would incriminate Trabelsi in the plot to attack the air base in Belgium. Beghal also claimed that the former soccer player was to be the person originally scheduled to be the suicide bomber to carry out the U.S. Embassy attack. Beghal was released on Saturday May 30, 2009. While fighting a request for extradition from Algeria, he was placed under house arrest at his home in Cantal, southern France.
Beghal was one of Trabelsi's co-worshippers at the Dostrum mosque. Beghal had moved to Britain in 1997 and, like Trabelsi, had attended Finsbury Park mosque. On June 25, 2009, Nizar Trabelsi lost his appeal against being sent to America for trial. He must first complete his jail sentence for the Kleine Brogel NATO base plot.
Two days before the events of 9/11, a leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, one of the main opponents of the Taliban and al Qaeda, was murdered in the Panjshir Valley, northern Afghanistan. Ahmed Shah Massoud (Ahmad Shah Massood) had been giving an interview to journalists. Two individuals were present who had traveled from Belgium, apparently instructed by al Qaeda. They were born in Tunisia but their passports were forged. One of the two men carried a camera. This was filled with explosives. As the two men pretended to interview him, the camera was detonated and Massoud was mortally wounded. The camera was stolen in Grenoble, France, eleven months earlier.
When Nizar Trabelsi was placed on trial in Belgium, 16 others were also in the dock, charged with lesser offenses. Five of these were acquitted. One individual who was convicted at the same trial was Tarek Maaroufi. This individual was accused of being at the center of a fake passport ring. He had provided two forged passports to the assassins of Ahmed Shah Massoud, and for this he received a six-year jail term. The assassins were identified as Dahmane Abd al-Satta and Bouraoui el-Ouaer.
Dahmane Abd al-Satta (Dahmane Abdesattar) was a married man when he murdered Ahmed Shah Massoud. His wife, Malika El Aroud, has since gained notoriety as an internet jihadist, using the pseudonym "Oum Obeyda." In 2003 she wrote a book called Soldiers of Light (in PDF format here). In florid French, she romanticizes the love she had for her husband and their shared love of the Koran and jihad. This "love story" has been eulogized in the Western media.
In 2003, Malika El Aroud was found not guilty of being involved in the plot to murder Ahmed Shah Massoud. She has since remarried, to a Tunisian man called Moez Garsalloui. The pair was arrested in Fribourg, Switzerland, in February 2005. In June 2007 Malika El Aroud was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended, by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court. Moez Garsalloui received six months' imprisonment, with an additional 18 months suspended. The pair was found guilty of running four websites which were designed to "promote racially motivated crimes."
In December 21, 2007, 14 people were arrested by Belgian authorities. They were accused of attempting to stage a jail break to release Nizar Trabelsi. According to officials: "They were planning to use weapons and explosives to free him... These means could be employed for another use." A day later, all the suspects were freed without charge.
A year later, on December 11, 2008 Belgian police arrested 14 people, who were assumed to be al Qaeda members. Malika el-Aroud was among those arrested.
On May 12, 2009, two French citizens were charged in Italy with preparing terrorist attacks. One was a 33-year-old man called Raphael Gendron. The other was a 62-year-old Syrian-born preacher called Bassam Ayachi.
Raphael Gendron (above) had been in trouble with the authorities in Belgium in 2006. He had been jailed for five months, with an additional five months suspended, for inciting racial hatred against Jews. Anti-Semitic comments were made on their website Assabyle.com, a site run from a server in Pakistan. Convicted with Gendron on June 21, 2006 was 26-year-old Abdel Rahman Ayachi, the son of Bassam Ayachi. He received the same sentence.
It should also be noted that Bassam Ayachi (above) was head of the Belgian Islamic Center (Centre Islamique Belge or CIB), based in Molenbeek in Belgium. Here he also ran a mosque, which was attended by Dahmane Abdessatar who was close to him. In 1999, Abdessatar was married to Malika El Aroud in this mosque. According to Italian police, Bassam Ayachi was the uncle of Dahmane Abdessatar.
Bassam Ayachi and Raphael Gendron had been arrested in Italy in November 2008, on suspicion of smuggling two Syrians and three Palestinians into Italy. While incarcerated at Bari, their conversations were recorded. The pair apparently discussed conducting a terror attack against the Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris. Ayachi and Gendron had also spoken of "a need to strike at the English."
Ayachi said: "We will exterminate the others, I have to exterminate them.... you know of the millions of them leave... strike in the whole world." In a conversation with another inmate, the pair also discussed purchasing grenades.
In September this year, Moroccan authorities announced that they arrested 24 people at locations across the kingdom. These were said to be part of a "terrorist network" that was linked "with terrorists in Sweden, Belgium and the Syria-Iraq zone." The terror group, which was not named, also tried to gain recruits for Al Qaida. The potential recruits were to fight in Afghanistan and Somalia.
An earlier terror network, which was dismantled in Morocco in July 2008, also tried to gather recruits to fight in Iraq. The recruits were expected to train in desert camps run by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The exact identity of the terror network that includes Bassam Ayachi, Nizar Trabelsi and others is unclear. The group seems linked to GICM, and possibly GSPC (now AQIM). One Belgian/Moroccan terror network was led by Abdelkader Belliraj. His group had links to both GSPC and GICM.
GSPC Merges with al Qaeda
GSPC officially became al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on September 11, 2006, when its leader Abu Musab Abdelwadud announced on the internet that "We pledge allegiance to Sheikh Osama bin Laden... We will pursue our jihad in Algeria. Our soldiers are at his call so that he may strike who and where he likes." Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy leader of al Qaeda, and its logistical chief, also made a video statement on the website. Zawahiri stated: "Osama bin Laden has told me to announce to Muslims that the GSPC [the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat] has joined al Qaeda. This should be a source of chagrin, frustration and sadness for the apostates, the treacherous sons of France."
As well as urging the reformed GSPC to become "a bone in the throat of the American and French crusaders," Zawahiri urged: "We pray to God that our brothers from the GSPC succeed in causing harm to the top members of the crusader coalition, and particularly their leader, the vicious America."
Three months after the official announcement that GSPC had merged with Al Qaeda (thenceforward gaining its new name of "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”), foreign workers were attacked in Algeria, at Bouchaoui, nine miles west of the capital, Algiers. Workers were in two buses, traveling back to their accommodation at a Sheraton hotel. The attack took place on Sunday December 10, 2006.
The oil workers were employed by Brown and Root-Condor, an amalgamation of an Algerian company and a Halliburton subsidiary. The driver of the first bus was killed in gunfire, and nine people were wounded. The injured included four Britons, an American, a Canadian and a Lebanese.
Immediately after the attack, AQIM released a statement from Abu Musab Abdelwadud (above), which declared: "We carried out this raid as a gift to all Muslims who are suffering from the new Crusader campaign targeting Islam and its holy places. We reiterate our call to all Muslims in Algeria to keep away from the interests of the infidels to avoid harm... once (these interests or individuals) are targeted."
When AQIM had been formed from the remnants of GSPC, the latter group had lost many of its main fighters in Algeria. Attempts had been made by the Algerian government to offer amnesties, and many fighters had been imprisoned or killed. Merging with al Qaeda would give the group more influence and also logistical support. Within Algeria, GSPC had been waging attacks on a scale that was increasingly smaller than when it had started.
In January, 2007 AQIM made a new internet declaration. Abu Musab Abdelwadud stated: "France which left through the door... is coming in through the window. America is also coming back through the door to share with France the spoils of our riches and control of our destiny, with the complicity of the thief of the house, Bouteflika."
Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been Algeria's president since 1999. In 2007, Bouteflika would survive an AQIM suicide attack in which 22 people died and 107 were injured. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was establishing itself as the most dangerous of the various North African Islamist groups.
In Part Three, I will conclude by discussing the actions of AQIM in Algeria, and also how the group created fund-raising and recruitment networks in Western Europe.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist. He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society. He is currently compiling a book on the demise of democracy and the growth of extremism in Britain.