North African authorities tighten noose on al-Qaeda
(Asharq Alawsat – 09/01/06; AFP - 09/0/06; "UNMASKING TERROR", Washington Institute - 2002)
On Monday (9 January), newspapers reported the Algeria arrest of three high-ranking members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), who are also suspected members of al-Qaeda. The arrested individuals were Abu Bilal Al-Albani; identified as head of the group's external relations and al-Qaeda leader for Africa; Abu Omar Abdul Bir; head of the media wing; and a third man whose identity was not revealed. .
According to Algerian newspaper Le Jeune Independent, the suspects were arrested Sunday (8 January) while "trying to re-establish al-Qaeda-linked terrorism cells in the North African country".
During a recent investigation into the Tawhid wal Jihad terrorist cell by Moroccan authorities, Moroccan members of the group confirmed that member Abu Bilal had contacted Mohsen Khaybar, a Moroccan terrorist wanted on an international warrant and thought to be a fighter in Iraq with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It remains unclear though whether Algerian and Moroccan authorities were specifically referring to the Abu Bilal Al-Albani recently arrested in Algeria.
[Getty Images] In a recent press conference Algerian Interior Minister Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni reiterated the Algerian commitment to fighting terrorism
“the group is losing ground in Algeria”
In connection with several other recent arrests, the latest capture is a heavy blow not only to the GSPC, which is responsible for more than 150,000 deaths in Algeria during the massacres of 1996-1997, but also to al-Qaeda interests in the Maghreb. GSPC leader Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud reportedly described the incident as a big loss.
Stephen Ulph, an expert on terrorism with the Jamestown Foundation, asserts the latest arrest is a clear indication and irrefutable proof of the "disarray in the Algerian GSPC". According to him, and its ability to strike is becoming more limited.
Despite its weakening, RAND Corporation international terrorism expert Sara Daly warns "the GPSC's noticeable surge in terrorist activity is a painful reminder that even loosely affiliated and relatively obscure al-Qaeda subgroups can destabilise the Middle East, terrorise Europe, and perpetrate acts of violence around the globe". She stresses that authorities in the region must increase pressure on all radical groups to prevent al-Qaeda from spreading in the Maghreb and elsewhere in the Middle East and that effective retaliation against radical Islamic violence and terrorism requires sustained attention and worldwide efforts
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