Special Dispatch-North Africa/Jihad & Terrorism Studies Project
April 17, 2007
Reactions in the Algerian and Arab Press to the Al-Qaeda Attacks in Algiers
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The suicide bombings in Algeria on April 11, 2007, the first spectacular attack carried out by the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, brought the region to the forefront of the headlines in the Arab press - especially as they occurred in tandem with a number of abortive suicide bombings in Casablanca. In Algeria, fears for the future were underscored by memories of the dark years of the 1990s, and the press was unanimous in calling for concerted action against terrorism. Many also criticized government policies, in particular the National Reconciliation plan, which aims to reintegrate radical Islamists into society.
In the international Arab press, well-known commentator 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed criticized what he described as fallacious assumptions about the root causes of terrorism, saying that the terrorists are driven by religious extremism, and not by poverty, nor by the lack of democracy - which, he emphasized, they consider to be heresy.
The following are details:
"Algeria is Fighting a Battle of Universal Dimensions Against a Poison That Has No Borders: Islamist Terrorism"
An April 14, 2007 editorial by N. Sebti in the liberal Liberte daily, read: "Today, the entire world has understood that Algeria, beyond [the fight on] its own territory, is waging a battle of universal dimensions against a poison that has no borders: Islamist terrorism."(1)
Omar Belhouchet, writing in the daily El-Watan, called for a combined strategy of military action and democratic reform: "It is inconceivable, inadmissible, and shocking to relive the nightmare of the 1990s... In the 1990s the Algerians knew how to resist the Islamist terrorist war machine with heroism and extraordinary self-sacrifice, and they are capable of doing so again... On the other hand, they fear the resignation, weakness, and compromises [of principle] of those who have the responsibility for bringing Algeria out of the crisis.
"It is time for the Algerian state, at the risk of plunging the country into a grave political and moral crisis, to determine, once and for all, a clear policy of eradicating terrorism. The politics of the outstretched hand has its limits..."
He added that democratic reform and a crackdown on corruption were also necessary, as political frustrations only served the Islamists.(2)
Vice-Editor of Liberte: "It's Not Over"
Mounir Boudjema, Vice-editor of Liberte - a newspaper that lost four of its journalists to Islamist terrorism in the 1990s – wrote in an April 12 editorial: "The attacks in Algiers, which up to now had been a secure sanctuary, against the very symbol of political power, were designed to keep Algerians under the yoke of fear and resignation. [This was] a signal as powerful as the explosion [itself], telling us 'it's not over' and that we need to go to bed in fright and in anguish and to wake up with fear in our hearts. [It was] a message to the Algerians to give up on life and to capitulate to fatalism.
"The terrorists are right about one thing: 'It's not over'. As long as they remain living and armed, taking cover in their hideouts or in their laboratories of death, 'it's not over'. As long as the republican and patriotic forces of this country are [still] standing, 'it's not over'. As long as they have not taken in the extent of their failure to turn this country into a second Afghanistan or an open-air morgue, 'it's not over'."(3)
"Algeria Remains, Alas, Fertile Ground for Obscurantist Ideas"
Hakim Outoudert, writing in the regional daily La Depeche de Kabylie, questioned the Interior Minister's assertion that the attacks were an isolated event, and called for an ideological battle against fundamentalism in order to dry up the "terrorist matrix":
"Minister of the Interior Yazid Zerhouni... reaffirmed the 'isolated' and 'diminished' character of the group at the origin of the drama, and assured [us] as to the overall security situation, which, according to him, remains 'in order'...
"The distinction, unencumbered by complexes... between a truly fruitful National Reconciliation program and the implacable struggle against terrorism is the only responsible attitude to be adopted in order to do away with the scourge and to rehabilitate the spirit of vigilance, as much that of the citizens as that of the security forces... It must be recognized that this vigilance has been muted for some time...
"There is another necessity, and not the least one, in order to frustrate the millenarian designs of Islamist terrorism, and consequently to lessen the political import of its murderous operations: the political-ideological struggle against fundamentalism.
"In this field, Algeria remains, alas, fertile ground for obscurantist ideas, and even for the Islamist cult of martyrdom. How [else] could a young man have internalized the idea of finding his celestial salvation in blowing himself up? How many young Algerians might be in the same state of spirit, and await only a sign from the 'emir' in order to 'merit' their place in paradise, and some 'houris' as a bonus?
"Where did these young people contract this evil, if not from within Algerian society, through a bigoted media literature, but above all within the mosques in subversive suburbs?...
"[Should we] do away with fundamentalism, the matrix of terrorism, by drying up [its] ideological ground, or maintain [its] destructive potential by ceding it the terrain of political initiative? One day we'll have to choose. The sooner the better."(4)
FIS Leaders and the Founder of the GSPC Denounce the Attacks
Hassan Hattab, founder and first Emir of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (which has since become the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, the group which carried out the attacks), denied any connection with the bombings. In a telephone interview with the El-Shorouq El-Yawmi daily, Hattab said that he "washed his hands" of all those who "went down this misguided path," and said that the attackers were acting on orders "from abroad."(5)
'Abbasi Madani, former head of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) who now lives in exile in Qatar, told the Qatari daily Al-Raya that the attacks were a great wrong, and that the Algerian issue was a political one which could not be dealt with in this way. He also blamed the government for the attacks, though, saying that it too encouraged the violence in order to prevent a political solution.(6)
Likewise, Rabah Kebir, a former top member of the Islamic Salvation Front, issued a statement on April 14 in which he "vigorously condemned this odious, unjustified criminal act, which targeted the Algerian people and its institutions" and which had killed and injured "many victims among the innocent children of the Algerian Muslim people." He condemned "the violence that continues to [fell] victims and prolongs the sufferings of the Algerian people, thus answering to the aims of the enemies of the reconciliation."(7)
Dissatisfaction With the Algerian Government's Policies on Terrorism
In his column in Liberte, Mustapha Hammouche, a fierce critic of the Islamists, complained that Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni had (like Rabah Kebir) described the attackers as "enemies of the National Reconciliation":
"In the 1990s it was still permitted in our political culture to condemn Islamist terrorism, and even to defy it, as there were still some islands of moral and political resistance. Back then it was possible to condemn a terrorist act for what it was: an abject crime...
"Today the terrorist act is [considered] condemnable solely because it contradicts the policy of national reconciliation. It is not permitted to question the official program, even if it has failed in [bringing] that which legitimates it: peace. The critics of the sacred [National Reconciliation] plan are thrown into the same camp as those who place the bombs - that of enemies of the National Reconciliation."(8)
An April 16 editorial by Larbi Zouak in the El-Khabar daily made the same point: "The strange thing about this government is that what is important to it is not the lives of citizens who fell, and will fall, to the criminal [i.e. terrorist] groups. Rather [what is important to it is] the President's policy and the Reconciliation... Are the lives of Algerians so cheap? Is it conceivable that [the President's] egoism could extend to such a deadly level?"(9)
Director General of Al-Arabiya TV: The Terrorists Are Not Motivated by Poverty or by Lack of Democracy, but by Religious Extremism
The attacks in Algeria and Casablanca also made the headlines in the international Arabic press. In an April 15 editorial in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Director General of Al-Arabiya TV 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, wrote:
"I listened with annoyance to the same questions over and over when analyzing the terrorist incidents in our region, when the presenter at the international [TV] station said: 'Don't you think that the three incidents in Casablanca have in common that they occurred in a poor region, and that those who carried them out came from a poor neighborhood? Don't you see that [what] ties them together is poverty?'
"And in the analysis of the Algerian incident, the Western press came out and pointed to the problem of democracy in Algeria and its connection to what happened on that bloody day.
"I say that I was annoyed, because [this is] a situation that has become repeated and which has gone on for more than a decade, and in which the personalities [involved] are well-known, and whose literature has spread in all languages...
"Bin Laden, his associate Al-Zawahiri, and others are people from rich families – rich, and not just well off. In addition, none of the terrorists, despite there being thousands of them... speaks about the issue of poverty, nor do they call for elections – to the contrary, they describe elections as heresy that must be combated.
"True, there is poverty in Morocco, and a political struggle in Algeria, and the region is full of grave issues that need to be faced, from corruption to political monopoly to totalitarian regimes... but these bombings were terrorist acts that are related to issues of another kind, and have nothing to do with poverty or elections.
This is a war of people who are religious extremists."
"If the Americans Left Iraq Tonight, and the Jews Fled Palestine, and Extremist Governments were Established... This Would Not Satisfy Them"
"To make the picture clearer... This religious war has nothing to do even with the major issues, slogans [related to which] are raised in the terrorists' literature itself, like Palestine, Iraq, the U.S., etc. These are people who want martyrdom, that is, they want [to fight] war, anywhere in the world, and for any cause that has a religious angle. They want to go quickly to Paradise.
"They are not fighting for money, public reform, or for... the environment, and they are not nationalists, pan-Arabists, or communists... They are not jokers, hippies, or oppositionists. They are seekers of martyrdom, meaning that they are in a hurry to go to Paradise. They are not interested in the life of this world, and they want to take with them to the grave the greatest number of people possible.
"I know that this is an issue that is difficult for the Westerner to understand. It is also difficult for many of the Muslims themselves to accept this, and they always try to justify it with... issues that they consider legitimate and comprehensible.
"[But] the truth is that these [terrorists] want death for the sake of Allah... That is, even if the Americans left Iraq tonight, and the Jews fled Palestine, and extremist religious governments were established in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt – this would not satisfy them... They want Paradise, and for this they will travel to the ends of the earth, to the North Pole and the South Pole, to fight the infidels, whose numbers, in their view, are five billion."(10)
(1) Liberte (Algeria), April 14, 2007.
(2) El-Watan (Algeria), April 12, 2007.
(3) Liberte (Algeria), April 12, 2007.
(4) La Depeche de Kabylie (Algeria), April 14, 2007.
(5) El-Shorouq El-Yawmi (Algeria), April 12, 2007.
(6) Al-Raya (Qatar), April 12, 2007.
(7) El-Watan (Algeria), April 15, 2007.
(8) Liberte (Algeria), April 15, 2007.
(9) El-Khabar (Algeria), April 16, 2007.
(10) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 15, 2007.
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