Monday, September 06, 2004

GSPC Appoints New Leader

Reuters reports on the replacement of Nabril Saharaoui. To look for more reports on the GSPC, just use the handy search tool at the top of this page, and search for 'GSPC'. Interestingly, Reuters reports further down that Al Para is still being held by Chadian rebels.

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria's largest Islamic rebel group with ties to al Qaeda said it has appointed a new chief, known as an explosives expert, as it tries to regroup following the loss of key leaders in recent gun battles with authorities.

"Thanks to God for the appointment of Abou Mossab Abdelouadoud as the emir of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) to replace martyr Nabil Sahraoui," the GSPC said in an undated statement obtained by Reuters on Monday.

Security sources said the information was credible.

The GSPC, which has been fighting for a purist Islamic state since 1998, made headlines last year with the kidnapping of dozens of European tourists in the Sahara desert.

The United States has focused on North Africa, and Algeria in particular, over the past year in its war on terror and is trying to stop fundamentalism from gaining a foothold in Africa.

The GSPC is on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist groups and recently pledged allegiance to al Qaeda. Several of its founding members fought alongside Osama bin Laden against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, according to experts.

Security sources say Abdelouadoud, the group's explosives chief whose real name is Abdelmalek Droukdel, is among the few surviving senior members after Sahraoui and others were killed in a battle with Algerian armed forces in June.

"He was there from the beginning although he didn't fight in Afghanistan," said a security analyst. "If anyone can unify the GSPC, it's him, but it's already very weakened and divided."


The appointment is crucial to the survival of the struggling movement as the army has all but crushed a number of rebel groups spread across the country.

These and other groups launched a holy war or "jihad" against the authorities after the army canceled legislative elections in 1992 that a hardline Muslim party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), looked sure to win.

More than 150,000 people have died violently since then, and although the level of violence has fallen sharply in recent years more than 300 people have died this year.

The GSPC was formed by disillusioned members of the ruthless Armed Islamic Group (GIA), notorious for attacking civilians and for slitting its victims' throats.

Droukdel, born in 1971, studied at university for two years before dropping out to join rebels in the mountains, experts said. He was recently made head of the GSPC's supreme council.

The GSPC's No. 2, Amari Saifi, alias Abderrazak el Para and responsible for the kidnappings last year, is being held by Chadian rebels.

The GSPC, currently numbering a few hundred, has in recent months stepped up its campaign of violence against the army and police in and east of the capital Algiers.

Washington is sharing intelligence with and providing military training to countries in the Sahara region in its drive to stop the threat posed by al Qaeda and the GSPC.