Algeria and the rise of Islamist extremism
” Algeria was only the first base for a much larger strategy to promote jihad as a tool to have a worldwide Caliphate regime in the future. The same as al-Qaeda,”
By Peter Taylor
April 29, 2008 Algeria (BBC News)-One of the most remarkable archive sequences we came across while researching the Age of Terror programme, features a seven-year-old Algerian boy called Abdelkahar Belhadj. He is seen addressing a political rally of thousands in 1991 with all the confidence and fire of a mature adult.
“There are a billion Muslims and we don’t have a state that rules by God’s Holy Law. Isn’t that a dishonour and a shame on us?” he proclaims in the voice of a child.
Algeria ‘s ‘intifada’
By the late 1980s, 40% of the country’s population of 24 million were under the age of 15. Many were in school preparing for jobs that did not exist.
They were angry and frustrated, providing the rich soil in which a brand of militant, fundamentalist Islam could flourish.
Neighbourhood mosques became the focus for discontent with clerics building support not just through fiery sermons but through practical support, running soup kitchens and providing food, clothing and welfare.
In 1988, Algeria exploded in the month known as Black October. Ali Belhadj organised a demonstration of 20,000 Islamist supporters who were stopped in their tracks by the military that effectively ran the regime.
The fuse was lit. Algeria ‘s intifada had begun, the launchpad for political Islam.
In 1991, to try and head off further violence, the regime agreed to free multi-party elections, for the first time since independence.
The result of the first round shocked the government, which had fatally underestimated the growing strength of the Islamist parties. The Islamic Salvation Front won the first round with a clear majority.
The Islamists, who did not believe in parliamentary democracy, had made it clear that once in power there would be no more multi-party elections, as the state would thereafter be governed under Sharia law.
Terrorism grew out of the anger and frustration that followed the government’s cancellation of the election. Cadres of militant Islamists coalesced as the GIA, the Armed Islamic Group, became convinced that political Islam had failed and violence was the only way to effect change.
Air France hijack
The years between 1993 and 1997 are among the most bloody in Algeria ‘s tortured history.
According to the French anti-terrorist judge, Jean Louis Bruguière, the hijacking marked the beginning a new and ominous phase in Algeria ‘s jihad.
“The GIA decided to make a strategic step in 1994, not only to fight inside Algeria which is their home ground battlefield but to export violence outside,” he said.
” Algeria was only the first base for a much larger strategy to promote jihad as a tool to have a worldwide Caliphate regime in the future. The same as al-Qaeda,” he added.