Would you like to make English your default language on this site?

Terrorism 2013-03-08

Maghreb youth answer al-Qaeda call

By Mawassi Lahcen in Casablanca and Said Zentari in Tangier for Magharebia - 08/03/13

  • 19

Al-Qaeda's latest marketing ploy targets Maghreb youth. After suffering setbacks in other countries, the terror organisation is using Mali and Syria to boost its ranks.

From recruiting points in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, young people are being trained in northern Mali, armed in Libya and dispatched to Syria to join a raging war against al-Assad's regime.

But for many Syrians, these foreigners are fighting a war not to liberate them, but to impose an agenda alien to their own democratic aspirations.

The new foot soldiers from the Maghreb have gathered behind al-Qaeda propaganda campaign aimed at transforming the Republic of Syria into another Iraq and turning the Republic of Mali into a new Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda started looking at Syria as a substitute to establish an Islamist emirate in the heart of the Middle East. Through local affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra li ahl al-Sham (JAN), al-Qaeda was able to exploit international sympathy for the Syrian people to recruit new fighters.

But as former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) leader Noman Benotman, points out, the vast majority of militants in Syria "do not view the conflict from an ideological perspective; they are only fighting to get rid of the al-Assad regime".

"Look at what they did in Yemen: they came in under the name of Ansar al-Sharia. Look at what happened in Mali, where al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb exists but behind a different facade and through other alliances," Benotman says.

"Al-Qaeda applied the same logic in Syria with Jabhat al-Nusra. It wants to use the current conflict as an incubation stage where it can work on building an organisation," Benotman adds.

According to Abdullah al-Rami, a Moroccan researcher who specialises in Islamist groups, satellite channels helped speed the mobilisation by devoting extensive airtime to the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. "In the spirit of general solidarity with the Syrian people, an appropriate environment was created to recruit fighters, whether they were civilians or jihadists," he said.

After hearing the call for foreign jihad from the mosque, TV or the internet, "young people from different Maghreb countries are fighting alongside these organised groups in Syria", confirmed Lies Boukraa, who heads the Algiers-based African Centre for Studies and Research on Terrorism (CAERT).

And they are dying there. As many as 132 Tunisian nationals were killed around Aleppo on February 14th. According to Express FM, most of those who died in the northern Syria city were from Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Tunisian revolution.

Even young Maghreb women are being drawn into the conflict in the wake of the recent fatwa from a Wahhabi cleric. Saudi Sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi allegedly said it was permissible for Islamist fighters marry for a few hours with girls as young as 14. While al-Arifi has denied being behind the fatwa, it has still been used to take advantage of young women.

But these young Maghreb fighters in Syria and their temporary brides, who thought they were helping liberate the Syrian people from an oppressive regime, may be in for a rude awakening. They are allying themselves with what many Syrians see as unwelcome interlopers.

"Problems will arise in Syria between the jihadist groups that seek to establish an Islamist regime and the secular opposition, exactly like what happened in other countries where secular regimes were toppled in Maghreb and elsewhere," Algerian analyst Boukraa said.

Jabhat al-Nusra's objectives are no different from those of al-Qaeda: namely, to establish full Islamist rule in the form of emirates spread across Arab and Islamic regions, ultimately united under the banner of one Islamist state.

But the radical group "overestimated the religious loyalty of the Syrian people, just as [al-Qaeda in Iraq] did in the 2000s," Noman Benotman said in a recent report for his Quilliam Foundation. "Syrian culture is not naturally conducive to Islamist governance, given the religious pluralism and history of relative religious freedom and tolerance".

While Jabhat al-Nusra has presented itself as an opposition force fighting the regime, its long-term goal of imposing extremist Islamist rule has become more apparent, from forced hijabs on children under 10 to Sharia punishments and attacks on places of worship.

"Syrian society does not accept those extremist ideas and has historically rejected them as alien to its fabric, and it will oppose them in the future as it does now," said Abdulbaset Sieda of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

This has all been seen before, Iraqis are quick to point out.

"They are terrorists and different from the other revolutionaries," acting Iraqi Defence Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi told Mawtini. "JAN is turning its attacks on the people, just as al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups did in Iraq," he said, noting the destruction of statues, archaeological sites and sacred shrines.

"Al-Qaeda's ideology and style are the same, anytime, anywhere, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria," al-Dulaimi said.

The Syrian people "must not allow anyone to take away their freedom, because allowing terrorist groups to proliferate there is a repeat of the Iraqi scenario", he added.

Mali propaganda campaign brings new recruits

In Mali, al-Qaeda chose a different tack. The group mounted a propaganda campaign to characterise a military intervention to restore the country's territorial integrity as a crusade against Muslims by the West.

However, as soon as they began controlling large areas in the north of Mali, groups hovering in the orbit of al-Qaeda began applying Sharia law. They started with bans on football, the shaving of beards, television and smoking, and moved on to stonings, amputations, floggings and the desecration of holy shrines and historical monuments.

Once again, the internet and satellite channels spread extremist messages to prod young people toward jihad in northern Mali.

Recruiting networks hunted likely candidates in poor neighbourhoods and outside mosques. They then sent them through southern Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, and across Mauritania and Libya, to camps in Mali.

More than 20 young Moroccans recently crossed into Mali to join al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Moroccan security forces learned after dismantling a terror recruitment cell.

Al-Qaeda presents several options for Maghreb jihadists through its affiliates in the Sahel and Sahara. But its real goal is Syria.

During the past two years, al-Qaeda theoreticians crafted a new ideology to make Syria a launch pad for global jihad.

Al-Qaeda is trying to undermine the new moderate Islamic movements that arose after the Arab Spring by labelling them as closet secularists, while presenting itself and its affiliates as the true adherents to Islamic law, says Moroccan researcher Driss Alqsouri.

Syria today is integral to al-Qaeda's long-term goal of recruiting an international array of fighters, including those from Maghreb countries.

But for Syrians fighting for a country free of al-Assad, the potential of tyrannical state led by foreign extremists is just as bad.

"We'll fight them on day two after al-Assad falls," one rebel commander told The Guardian earlier this year. "Until then we will no longer work with them."

Another rebel told the paper about a surprise encounter with a Tunisian al-Qaeda supporter in Syria, warning of the dangers of foreign fighters.

"He was a Tunisian," the Syrian rebel commander said. "And he said he brought a message on behalf of Ayman al-Zawahiri. He asked us to join him and said there would be benefits for us if we did. He asked me to pledge a bayaa to al-Qaeda. I said no. This is what we all must do. If we continue with them, the Syria of our dreams will instead haunt our children in their nightmares."

What do you think of this article?


Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.


Anonymous thumb

You are not signed in. Anonymous comments are subject to moderation. Sign up to have your comment posted immediately - Learn more

Or post your comment using:


  1. Anonymous thumb

    هلال 2014-6-27

    Haven't you understand this? Everyone of you is a shepherded and everyone is responsible for his flock. Why dissent, violence and infighting with each other? It's forbidden for a Muslim to kill a Muslim.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    لبؤة الأطلس 2013-10-1

    Of course everything is as clear as the sun! They have ignited the fire in the Arab East and Egypt. Why isn't the play completed in the Arab Maghreb countries under the pretext of fighting terrorism? America invented it and invented Al Qaeda. They will not rest in peace until they put all Arab countries (rich with their resources) in their grip... they care about themselves, their grip and after them the deluge might as well hit.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    ليبي‏ ‏حر 2013-9-11

    It is considered instigation to enter with them in this movement which is in no way related to Islam.


  4. Anonymous thumb

    المبتسم الأنصاري 2013-8-27

    It is God Whose help is sought! They got in under the cover of Islam as did the Ottomans a thousand years ago in the Arab World. They have agendas foreign to Islam and they have many ties with the West.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    عبد الرحمان الملالي (Libya) 2013-8-24

    What they are doing to our young people is real evil. Inventing new solutions to big problems which suffocate Maghreb young people. Achieving the minimum level of social injustice with coaching and raising awareness that should be shouldered by real parties, all this will be part of the solution to face this takfirist ideology.


  6. Anonymous thumb

    اسم‏ ‏ملكه‏ ‏جنوب 2013-7-19

    O Muslims return to your minds, return to your hearts!


  7. Anonymous thumb

    mohamed 2013-6-19

    Not anyone who fights oppressive rulers is a member of Al Qaeda but one of the real Muslims who sacrifice their souls for religion and the homeland.


  8. Anonymous thumb

    Vivox 2013-4-9

    The main weapon to ruin the Muslim world, and Arabs in particular, is the same one they used to settle down in other territories in order to take over the planet. It is very easy to understand. Once an Arab is settled in another place, he does not take long to forcibly use the Qur'an and hadith in order to rob and take over these countries now called the Arab Ummah. For how many centuries have they been present with their unique idea, while nagging and stammering repetitively about taking over the world, which is subjugated by the dogma underlying the Muslim Brotherhood. My question is, did God recommend that Arab Muslims conduct incursions in weak countries only, as the strong ones are spared the invasion, and once their peoples wake up and realizs what is happening, they protest and kick them out, like it happened in Andalusia in Spain. Why do Arabs nurture and develop one idea only, that of a single religion, a single language, and a single nation, despite the fact that the majority of citizens in these countries want to preserve their identity and freedom?


  9. Anonymous thumb

    Alouane mouhssine 2013-3-19

    Life is difficult in this world.


  10. Anonymous thumb

    hosnibazine 2013-3-18

    The family who alleges that her daughter was kidnapped by Mujahids is by God lying. The last time on Nessma channel, a woman said that a Mujahid was her son. But after that the real mother of the Mujahid showed up on Facebook wanted to meet her to show the truth to the people and produced the picture of the Mujahid. So please show the truth to the people.


  11. Anonymous thumb

    Il faut être précis 2013-3-18

    [Continuation] I had to read and re-read that argument to understand that he was making a distinction between the freedom fighters in Syria and terrorists/extremists who are trying to exploit the unrest in Syria to their own ends. This is an accurate distinction because it is good and right for people to fight for their freedom when vile tyranny seeks to oppress them. All the same, the distinction was not clear. And of course, young people in the Maghreb sympathise with the cause of the freedom fighters. The fall of the dictatorship in Tunisia, for example, made it clear that tyranny is not immortal and also gave many people a taste of freedom (or, at least, made then understand that freedom is within reach). The author of the article should have taken greater care to make this distinction and to appeal to the youth not to be duped by terrorists who are seeking to exploit this Syrian civil war and to appeal to parents to help their children understand the distinction between freedom fighters and opportunistic terrorists. Perhaps, in this case, we would prevent our youth going to Syria, and those who go anyway would go to fight with the freedom fighters, not terrorists. In sum, the carelessness of the author of the article makes this article seem convoluted at best and immoral at worst. As is clear from the other comments on this forum, people have misunderstood the author's words to mean that he is against the freedom fighters in Syria because of his failure to make a clear distinction between freedom fighters and terrorists.


  12. Anonymous thumb

    Il faut être précis 2013-3-18

    It seems like the author of this article had a lot of difficulty writing it since either he had to or he wanted to dodge many of the real issues. Firstly, saying that Al-Qaida is responsible for the current situation in Iraq fails to recognise who created the conditions for Al-Qaida to flourish in Iraq. This metaphor does not work here because the people of Iraq were not waging a war for their liberation from a dictator. Of course, Saddam Hussein was a vile dictator, but the people did not initiate the war. Instead, it was the brainchild of US President Bush, who was brainless, hence the failure of his brainchild, and his puppet master Dick Cheney, who deceived the people of the United States to make them believe that Saddam was in cahoots with Al-Qaida. The devastation caused by this war is what created a foothold for Al-Qaida. By saying this, it should be clear that the original source of the devastation was the attack on Iraq, and it was stupid of Bush and Cheney (and all the Americans they brainwashed) to believe that opportunists in the region such as Al-Qaida would not want a piece of the pie. As such, if the author of this article is going to make a comparison between Iraq and Syria, then he needs to be very careful to limit his metaphor to the minor argument that "Al-Qaida uses unrest as a foothold" because pretending that Al-Qaida is responsible for the current situation in Iraq cuts out about 90% of the picture, and therefore calls his credibility as an analyst into question. Regarding Syria, the author fails to make his argument clear.


  13. Anonymous thumb

    م.ن. 2013-3-17

    Anyone who thinks that Syria is a Jihad soil must be = 0.


  14. Anonymous thumb

    فريد 2013-3-15

    God bless you مسلم تونسي ! Why slander Islam and Muslims o paid writers? You distort religion for two cents? By God, I am sure that you want it to be crooked and drive off people from following the righteous people.


  15. Anonymous thumb

    حكيمة 2013-3-15

    A clear and explicit war on Islam. I think that the website chooses writers who call Islam "terrorism". They depict Al Qaeda as an enemy of the people, robbing, raping and looting gangs. But in reality all this is lies. Whether you post this or not, it doesn't matter. I am sure that if I want my words to be posted, I should attack this religion, my Muslim brothers, vilify Islam and glorify the law of Napoleon.


  16. Anonymous thumb

    عمار عبدالمؤمن 2013-3-13

    We Arabs need a mental revolution, meaning a revolution in our minds before anything else, as we have unfortunately become pawns in the hands of the new coloniser and its agents including our Arab young people.


    • Anonymous thumb

      لبؤة الأطلس 2013-10-1

      You're right Mr Ammar! You said the truth, we need a wealth and the restructuring of ignorant Arab minds. We are just stupid dolls manipulated by the hateful foreign countries. We are moved by emotions, no more!


  17. Anonymous thumb

    أبو سليم 2013-3-11

    Stay away enemies of God! We are against Al Qaeda, yes, but to attribute this to the afflicted Syria, is a crime!


  18. Anonymous thumb

    مسلم تونسي 2013-3-10

    Concerning the young girl Rahma, she didn't go for Jihad. Her family found her lost on one of the roads in the capital Tunis. Stop the lies! Stop your evil! Before publishing a piece of news, you should at least try to check the sources and avoid misinformation. It is known in Islam that it is man who goes to Jihad and it is woman who makes the call for war.


Anonymous thumb

You are not signed in. Anonymous comments are subject to moderation. Sign up to have your comment posted immediately - Learn more

Or post your comment using: