Algerian terror leaders call for end to al-Qaeda violence, kidnapping
By Walid Ramzi for Magharebia in Algiers — 16/07/10
Othmane Touati and Samir Moussaab, two former leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), on Thursday (July 15th) urged their ex-comrades to stop their "crimes" and promised reconciliation for those who renounce terrorism.
Authorities set up a meeting between the former terrorists and reporters from five newspapers in order to read the contents of a letter to the "remaining armed elements in mountains" dated May 31st.
The letter by Touati, a former member of Al-Qaeda's Council of Notables who is also known as Abou El-Abbes, demands that the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) stop its crimes, both planned and under way, against the Algerian people.
"I realize that the path that I was following was not the right path, based on respected ancient and modern scholars' fatwas on the illegality of jihad in our country", said Touati, a GSPC founder and long-time "right hand" to AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel.
He said the terrorist organisation is facing some internal deteriorations.
AQIM has suffered a string of defections in recent months that includes terrorist Grig-Ahsine Abdelhalim, an Algiers native who joined the GSPC in 1994 after escaping from Batna's Tazoult prison. AQIM medical committee head Mokadem Lounis, aka Abou Naamane, surrendered in mid-April, as did former El-Farouk brigade emir Ahmed Mansouri Ahmed, aka Abdeldjebbar.
Those who still embrace jihad should review the approach of armed struggle, said Touati, who was once responsible for co-ordinating terrorist operations in Algeria's Boumerdes, Tizi-Ouzou and Bouira provinces.
Several armed elements who were active in AQIM are planning to issue a review that includes criticism of Al-Qaeda methods such as kidnapping and the killing of Muslims, said Touati.
"I urge my brothers to review their ways... and to think about the consequences of their behaviour", added the former terrorist, who surrendered to authorities on May 26th with the help of his wife and Moussaab.
Moussaab, who was believed to have died in a confrontation with the Algerian army in April 2007, surrendered after a hospital stay that followed the clash.
The former GSPC chief of staff promised reconciliation for those who leave the mountains, telling reporters: "Just as we were the reason for their ascent to the mountains, we will be the cause for them to come back down for reconciliation".
Moussaab appealed to religious scholars who once issued fatwas on the legitimacy of jihad, only to revise that opinion, to reach out to insurgents. He pointed to scholars such as Abdelkader Ben Abdel Aziz, the ideologue of al-Qaeda who recanted his fatwas on the legitimacy of jihad in the land of Islam.
Moussaab also called on Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) leaders and their scholars, such as Khudair Khodr and Nasser Fahd, to convince those still in the mountains to come back to the "right path".
These appeals build on religious reviews and previous appeals made by former leading terrorists, particularly the December 2009 calls by GSPC founding member Hassan Hattab.
Mohammed Mesloub, a researcher on Islamist movements, told Magharebia that disseminating "rational revisions for the jihad groups, as is the case with the [LIFG], would be more effective than visiting scholars and preachers, because the Algerian jihadists have common values with the other jihadists of the Maghreb region".
Hussein Boulahya, a media expert on Islamist groups, called the ideological revisions made by former GSPC leaders "only a prelude" to a series of revisions that ex-insurgents are preparing to release criticising "the approach of the GSPC and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb".
He said that such revisions by prominent former terrorist leaders "will have a positive effect in speeding up the repentance of armed elements who're reluctant to lay down their arms, not because of their belief in the legitimacy of jihad in Algeria, but because of fears of being exposed to violence".
"The fact that leaders of the organisation have not been subjected to any harm may remove some concerns," added Boulahya.
Local press reports quote Algerian officials as saying that for over 9 months, security forces have been pursuing a new initiative for reconciliation and the dismantling of terrorist cells.
Some active terrorists and prisoners who have credibility with their comrades have become part of communications taking place since last March, under a heavy veil of confidentiality, said the authorities. This led to an agreement that would grant the terrorist prisoners conveniences in their cells as a prelude to their release, in exchange for their participation in convincing their former comrades to repent and issuing intellectual and doctrinal reviews.
In recent months, under this scheme, authorities have brought the families of active terrorists to meet with them, including relatives of alleged terrorist Yahya Jouwadi, the commander of the desert Emirate.
The daily Algeria News on July 6th reported that prisoners connected to this aspect of the fight against terrorism will be released in the next few months under a "deal" to bring AQIM terrorists, including Amar Saifi and his comrade Gharika Noureddine, into the fold of national reconciliation.
The paper also reported that 50 terrorists who are entitled to presidential pardons have been chosen within the framework of recent months' behind-the-scenes negotiations, with the participation of former GSPC leader Hattab.
Ordinary Algerians contacted by Magharebia had mixed feelings about how to deal with repentant terrorists.
"We hope that it's a sincere repentance, because what they've done will remain a black spot that tarnishes the image of Algerian society throughout the ages," said university professor Mohammed Thabet, 37.
Reda Aouadi, whose brother was killed by an armed group in the area of Larebaa in the capital, said: "How can I condone killing innocent people, even if the government forgives them? I would never do that, and the day will come when they will be held accountable for these lives that have been shed unjustly, and for families who were displaced and abandoned their villages and lost everything."
"I think that the repentance of militants, even after years of violence, is a positive thing, and it will contribute to the repentance of others who are still shooting at the people," said Mohamed Saadi, a 45-year-old merchant. "We hope that those who're still in the mountains will come back to the right path; it's in the interests of Islam, Muslims and the country".
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