Counter-Terrorism: Al Qaeda's Self-Proclaimed Branches



April 10, 2007: The northwest African radical Moslem terrorist movement, the GSPC (Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat) tried hard, during the '90s to establish an Islamic regime in Algeria. But has been pretty much marginalized by effective government anti-terrorism operations. In what appears to be a pitch to gain prestige and perhaps material support from international Islamic groups, the GSPC (or "Salafists") proclaimed themselves "Al Qaeda in the Maghreb." The Salafists are not the first Islamic group that, finding itself on the ropes, has declared itself an affiliate of Al Qaeda. Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines have also boasted of links to Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has often provided "seed" money to Islamic groups,  usually with no strings attached save to use the bucks in the furtherance of Islamic radicalism. And perhaps Osama bin Laden - or one of his henchmen - lightly blessed the "incorporation" of the Salafist movement or some of these others into the al Qaeda team. But it's unlikely they have more than tentative ties to bin Laden and his organization, which have troubles of their own. Despite their mutual interest in establishing Islamic rule, the goals, beliefs, cultural norms, and personalities dominating al Qaeda Central are likely to be different from those of "Al Qaeda Maghreb" or any of the other Islamic groups. This could provide an opening to leverage the difference in goals, beliefs, culture, and personalities leading the individual groups, which may help ultimately defeat them. In this regard, it's worth recalling that al Qaeda in Iraq, a genuine affiliate of the bin Laden organization, became so radicalized that it was several times called to heel by senior al Qaeda leaders. Relations between the Iraq group and al Qaeda leadership center deteriorated to such an extent that some analysts believe the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the al Qaeda Iraq leader, at the hands of Coalition forces, was not unwelcome by Al Qaeda Center. Indeed, rumors persist that al Qaeda gave up the location of  al Zarqawi, so that the Americans could kill him and create another al Qaeda martyr, and get rid of an al Qaeda leader that had become a counterproductive rouge. 


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