Magharebia (Washington DC)

11 April 2014

Algeria: Al-Qaeda Propaganda Targets Algeria Vote

Photo: Facebook/Ali Benflis
Electoral campaign in Algeria

Casablanca — Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) chose the Algerian presidential election campaign to post a new video criticising the government, calling for Sharia law and an Islamic caliphate.

The al-Qaeda tape, posted March 24th under the title "Algeria... and the dark tunnel", was put together as a documentary. For over an hour the video reviewed several events witnessed by Algeria over the century, beginning with French colonialism and its resistance, up to post-independence events and the emergence of armed terrorist movements.

"What distinguishes the tape is that it does not bear the hallmarks of al-Qaeda directly," said Lahcen Oussimouh, a political analyst and researcher at the Moroccan Centre for Sociological Studies.

He noted that the tape did not include any direct reference to al-Qaeda, except for a minute and a half in the middle when it included an Abdelmalek Droukdel audio excerpt about the plight of Syrian refugees in Algeria, and at the end of the tape when quoting an old audio clip of Cheikh Mohamed Bachir El Ibrahimi calling for Sharia.

"The first thing that draws attention in this tape is that it breaks with the traditional discourse of al-Qaeda known for its strictness and radical words, which indicates the presence of a qualitative development in the discourse of the theorists of AQIM," Oussimouh told Magharebia.

He added, "Even when commenting on events, the producers of the tape avoided religious discourse. Perhaps they wanted to market a new open discourse that can be accepted by larger segments of Algerian society."

"It also reflects their keenness to avoid alienating Algerians with hard-line religious speech that brings back the tragedies of terrorism and the civil war, especially at a time when armed groups are living in stifling isolation," the analyst said.

Oussimouh suggested that what gave importance to the tape was the focus on criticism of French policy in Algeria, making it the thread between all the components. The al-Qaeda video sharply criticised authorities for opening Algerian airspace during the international intervention in northern Mali.

On the issue of corruption, it cited issues such as the El Khalifa Bank scandal and Sonatrach. It mentioned several international reports about thefts and smuggling money out of Algeria, including scandals involving big names such as Chakib Khelil.

The video included reports about the daily life of Algerians, touching on the problems of housing, unemployment and crime among young people. It ended by asking the question, "When will Algeria come out of the dark tunnel?"

Algeria was facing a serious threat, Oussimouh concluded. He mentioned the high risk of armed groups in the Sahel, which have begun to restructure themselves, threatening to return in new forms and with different methods.

That's in addition to the renewed strength of al-Qaeda after it found a new incubator in southern and eastern Libya.

"All this in addition to the difficulty of monitoring the vast Algerian borders... make Algeria face great challenges and high risks," the analyst cautioned.

For his part, Abdel Fattah al-Fatihi, a political analyst who specialises in issues of the Maghreb, was sceptical about the origin of the tape.

"We cannot be certain that the tape was actually produced by AQIM, or if it was leaked by a source that has an interest in disturbing the presidential campaign in Algeria," he told Magharebia.

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