Almost two weeks ago, the terrorist bombings in Algiers–the worst bombing there in a decade–came to the surprise of some. 33 people were killed and many more were wounded by two explosions on Wednesday April 11th. The responsibility for these bombings was assumed by al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.
Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), is a North African terrorist organization based out of Algeria. The history behind this group illustrates the changing nature of terrorism in Africa and the dire threat that it’s development is to the West.
The GSPC was formed in 1996 and was an off shoot of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the terrorist organization responsible for the eight year insurgency in Algeria from 1992-2000. Its objective was to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic regime based on shari’ah law. This war cost over 100,000 lives and left the people of Algeria worn down by violence and death. The GSPC was formed and promised to focus its violence only on officials and Western symbols as opposed to maintaining the attacks on civilians.
Since the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War, successful recruitment into the organization has soared. In 2003 GSPC pledged it allegiance to al-Qaeda and then in 2006 changed its name to reflect its commitment. It is currently the most significant terror group in North Africa with links to Osama bin Laden and Abu Doha–the man linked to the attempt to blow up the Los Angeles airport.
The strengthening of terror cells has become ubiquitous in Africa, especially in North Africa and the African Horn-Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, etc. U.S. policy has been one of narrow focus on rooting out and destroying these terror cells without investing aid into changing the roots of this terror: poverty, alienation, labor shortages.
In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, John Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jensen refer to the current problems regarding U.S. policy in the region:
Washington’s approach to the Greater Horn of Africa, which centers on counterterrorism, has been erratic and shortsighted…More than anything, however, the United States’ counterterrorism policy in the Greater Horn of Africa now hinges on three strategies: almost unconditional support for the Ethiopian government, extremely close cooperation on counterterrorism with Khartoum, and occasional but spectacular forays into Somalia in the hope of killing or capturing al Qaeda suspects…But Washington’s narrow agenda has stifled U.S. efforts to press for more democracy and greater respect for human rights.
These narrow policies toward terrorism in Africa have only inspired resentment towards the U.S. and Her allies. Instead of a drop in terrorist activities, there has been a spike. The war in Iraq has become the Afghanistan of this generation of terrorists. An arena for terrorists to hone their skills for later strikes against the West.
The GSPC represents a microcosm of this growing threat. It may already be past the point of no return, but I believe that a softening of U.S. tactics in Africa may be the necessary means to eliminating the terrorist threat in the region. I am not promoting a complete withdraw from finding and destroying terrorists. That would be foolish and dangerous. I am suggesting that Washington prevent terrorism through international aid distribution and through the UN. The hunting, fighting, and killing of terrorists is a useless and worthless act if it fails in the eradication of terrorism.
Additionally, Washington’s close relationship with Khartoum and like governments prevents this administration from stopping grievous human rights violations. Currently, Darfur is the greatest disaster of the twenty-first century. However, Washington’s hands are tied because they consort with this dangerously twisted state.
In Algeria and Tunisia, the government’s anti-terrorism tactics are heavy handed to saythe least. Not only are suspected terrorists punished but also their families and consorts. This means is overlooked by the current administration in favor of “stopping terrorism”. But violence as a deterrent is not ending terrorism. This has failed. The GSPC is stronger than it was five years ago; in fact, it is stronger than it was six months ago.
It is time for Washington to reach out to the Islamic communities of the world and ask them to join in eliminating terrorism in the world. Without their help and support, the U.S. is looking for needles in a haystack. And we can only wait patiently for an attack from al-Qaeda in the Maghreb or a similar group.