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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Al-Qaeda Lauds the Upheaval in the Arab World and North Africa

Al-Qaeda Lauds the Upheaval in the Arab World and North Africa

April 6, 2011


April 6, 2011 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - "Al-Qaeda is not against regime change through protests but is against the idea that the change should be only through peaceful means to the exclusion of the use of force." "It is our opinion that the revolutions that are shaking the thrones of dictators are good for Muslims, good for the mujahidin and bad for the imperialists of the West and their henchmen in the Muslim world."

This interesting quote is from Yahya Ibrahim, editor of the latest issue of "Inspire," Al-Qaeda's provocative online magazine. The entire issue is devoted to the so-called "Tsunami of Change," that is currently sweeping the Arab world. '"The unfolding revolution has brought with it a great wave of changes," sheikh Anwar explains,' the frontpage says. Sheikh Anwar is American born Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki who is of Yemeni descent. He is currently in Yemen where he playing an leading role in a terrorist network called "Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula" (AQAP). He was given the rank of regional commander of Al-Qaeda in late 2009 and has been described as the "bin Laden of the Internet." He is an extremely dangerous man who would probably not hesitate to throw an atomic bomb on America, if he were able to do so. "I pray that Allah destroys America,'" he once said. (In the past both Al-Qaeda and Libya's Muammar Khadaffi actively sought to obtain nuclear weapons.)

Commenting on the current upheaval in the Arab world Anwar Al-Awlaki writes: "We do not know yet what the outcome would be, and we do not have to… Ragardless of the outcome, whether it is an Islamic government of the likes of Al-Baradai, Amr Mousa or another military figure; whatever this outcome is, our mujahidin brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the rest of the Muslim world will get a chance to breathe again after three decades of suffocation." "The first and probably most important change that this monumental event brought is a mental one. It brought a change to the collective mind of the ummah (world wide Muslim community, V.). The revolution broke the barriers of fear in the hearts and minds that the tyrants couldn't be removed."

Halim El Madkouri, who studied Al-Qaeda websites, claims that Al-Qaeda was relatively silent on the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, but gave high priority to paying attention to "the jihad in Libya." Khadaffi released a lot of Libyan jihadists from jail, El Madkouri writes. Shortly after the revolt began in Libya, an Islamic group called the (Egyptian) "Front of Al-Azhar Scholars" issued a fatwa (religious decree, V.) for the jihad struggle in Libya.

A so-called "Interim National Council" was formed by the Libyan opposition on March 5, 2011, as kind of transitional government. What is good is that none of the members of the National Council belongs to a known Islamist group. But Al-Qaeda and the Islamists do try to infiltrate or co-opt the rebel groups. Admiral James Stavridis, Nato's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said on March 29, that while the opposition's leadership appeared to be "responsible men and women", American intelligence had picked up "flickers" of terrorist activity among the rebel groups. "Senior British government figures described the comment as 'very alarming,'" the London Telegraph reported. A former Guantánamo detainee named Sufyan bin Qumu is now training rebel recruits in the eastern port city of Derna (Darnah), the same newspaper reported. "Mr. Qumu, 51, a Libyan army veteran, was accused by the US government of working as a truck driver for a company owned by Osama bin Laden, and as an accountant for a charity accused of terrorist links." It was from Darnah that many Libyan jihadists traveled to Iraq to stage suicide attacks.

Questions may also be raised as to the Interim Council's ability to eventually establish an effective and non-corrupt government in control of the whole of Libyan territory. Should this relatively moderate and pro-Western body fail to do so, the situation will evolve into a full-scale civil war – indeed, it already has. Libya could easily break into tribal fractions and become another Somalia. This is just what Al-Qaeda and the Islamists are waiting and praying for. Al-Qaeda's local branch, the "Libyan Islamic Fighting Group" (LIFG), still has a relatively weak base of support inside Libya, but this could quickly change if the country would further plunge into chaos. LIFG leaders abroad founded a new movement with a view to playing a leading role in the current revolt, Halim El Madkouri writes.

Many Libyan jihadists died as suicide bombers in Iraq

Jihadists from Libya played a prominent role in staging suicide attacks in Iraq. Some 50 percent of the Libyan extremists were recruited for suicide attacks in Iraq. British terrorism expert Michael Knights provides more details in an illuminating article in "Jane's Intelligence Review." He writes: "On 19 December 2007, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point published nearly 700 records of foreign nationals who entered Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. The documents were discovered at a safehouse in Sinjar, northern Iraq in September 2007." "The Sinjar records represent a year of infiltration along one of the three main routes used by the jihadists entering Iraq and shed valuable light on the experience of Libyan jihadists in Iraq. The 137 Libyans included in the Sinjar files comprised 18.8 percent of the total, a far higher percentage than the four percent or less previously ascribed to Libyans and the second highest number after Saudi Arabians." "Darnah is the highest ranking city of origin for foreign fighters from the Sinjar records, higher even than Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. Benghazi is the fourth highest after third-placed Mecca."

"A final notable feature of Libyan jihadists is their commitment to suicide operations. The Sinjar records show 80.2 percent of recruits identifying themselves as istishhadi (martyrdom seekers). Against an average of 56 percent of respondents in the Sinjar records, only Moroccans (with 91.7 percent) rated higher than Libyans as would-be suicide attackers."

Many Libyan jihadists joined Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi's so-called "Martyrs Brigade." (Zarqawi, a Jordanian national, was founder and leader of a terrorist network called "Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers," currently known as "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" (AQI).

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG, or "Jamaa Al-Islamiyya Al-Muqatila fi Al-Libya") was founded in 1995 by Libyan veterans of the Afghan war who wanted to establish an Islamic State in Libya. In November 2007, LIFG "emir" (leader) Abu Laith Al-Libi announced his group would join Al-Qaeda. He was killed in a US drone attack in January 2008. He was a senior Al-Qaeda commander and a personal friend of Osma bin Laden's. The LIPG reportedly left Al-Qaeda in July 2009, but I am not sure whether this really happened. Another high ranking Libyan Al-Qaeda leader was Abu Faraj Al-Libi who is currently in Guantánamo Bay. A third senior Libyan Al-Qaeda member, Abu Yahya Al-Libi, frequenly appears on Al-Qaeda propaganda videos. The US State Department, noted that by the late 1990s, the LIPG began to display a "close association with Al-Qaeda. Some senior members of LIPG are believed to be or have belonged to Al-Qaeda's senior command structure." "Captured 9/11 mastermind and former Al-Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has told interrogators that he provided assistance to the LIFG on 'computer and media projects' between 1997 and 1998," says a NEFA Foundation report on the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. So, Al-Qaeda and the LIFP also cooperated closely even before the 9/11 attacks. There were at least two LIFG training camps in Afghanistan. Due to Colonel Khadaffi's policy of repression of Islamic radicalism, a lot of Libyan militants fled to Europe.

Tunisia: illegal immigration and the jihadist threat to Europe

Although the current Tunisian government is rather moderate and pro-Western, they fail to cooperate with Italy and France to curb the staggering flow of Tunisian and other North African immigrants to Europe. Between January and early April 2011, some 23,000 Tunisians and other North Africans have entered the small Italian island of Lampedusa from where they are transfered to the Italian mainland. The number of economic refugees is even likely to increase. Many of them speak French and want to go to France, especially to Paris where they hope to become rich within a few years. This is an illusion, of course – unless they will make a career in crime which is what often happens with illegal immigrants from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. There are just too many desillusioned and angry non-Western immigrants in Europe already.

European intelligence and security services are worried that thousands of new Muslim militants are also entering Europe right now. Tunisian immigrants in Italy, Germany and Belgium were involved in planning Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorist attacks. The so-called "Tunisian Islamic Combatant Group" (TICG) was founded by Tarek Ben Habib Maroufi, a Tunisian immigrant in Belgium, and another Tunisian named Safaillah Ben Hassine. Both of them were connected to Al-Qaeda. Maroufi provided forged Belgian passports to two Tunisian Al-Qaeda operatives who subsequently traveled to Afghanistan with a view to murdering anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. Posing as a TV crew, they managed to obtain his permission for a TV interview. The so-called TV camera turned out to be a bomb – and Massoud was killed instantly. This terrorist attack occured just two days before Al-Qaeda's 9/11 terror strike in America. Killing the Taliban's arch enemy Massoud was a top priority for Osama bin Laden. Those who killed Massoud happened to be illegal immigrants in Belgium. Another Tunisian Al-Qaeda operative in Belgium was former soccer player Nizar Trabelsi. Trabelsi visited Afghanistan several times where he met Osama bin Laden himself and was deeply impressed by him. He was, among other things, involved in an Al-Qaeda plot to blow up the United States Embassy in Paris.

Tarek Maroufi cooperated closely with the leader of a terrorist network in northern Italy. This very dangerous terror cell – the so-called "Varese network" – was led by a Tunisian immigrant named Essid Sami Ben Khemais ("Saber"). His apartment had been bugged by the Italian anti-terrorist police DIGOS ("Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali").

The "Varese network" tried to stage a several terrorist attacks, DIGOS discovered. They planned, among other things, a pre-9/11 terrorist attack in Strasbourg, France. They made serious attempts to obtain poison gas, with a view "to causing human beings to suffocate effectively."

In April 2002, Al-Qaeda targeted the ancient and famous "La Ghriba" Synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, a tourist resort as well. A Tunisian suicide bomber named Nizar Nawar arrived in a truck filled with explosives and blew up the synagogue. Al-Qaeda's 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ("KSM") had been behind this attack, too. (KSM would be arrested in Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and is currently in Guantánamo Bay.)

Tunisian jihadist veterans from the wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq formed terrorist networks that are still operating both inside and outside Tunisia. "Salafism (ultra-orthodox Islam) is now spreading throughout Tunisia and especially appeals to the many unemployed young. Salafism "clearly has rejectionist tendencies that at their most extreme can evolve into support for violence," writes Alison Pargeter in "Jane's Intelligence Review."

Fouazia Farida Charfi, a fully westernized intellectual, recently left Tunisia's interim government. She now complains that Islamists are gaining ground. More and more women are wearing headscarves. At universities, these people do not allow men and women to study together in the same computer room. This never happened before, she says.

Yemen: former "Gitmo" detainees rejoined Al-Qaeda

Just like Libya, Yemen, too, has the potential of becoming another Somalia. It is a deeply divided tribal society and the country is at the brink of civil war. Just like Lybia's leader Khadaffi, Yemen's 32-year long ruling president Ali Abdullah Saleh (Salih) holds on to power, come what may. Just like Khadaffi, Saleh is an opponent of Al-Qaeda which has a very strong base in Yemen. (Osama bin Laden's own father was from Yemen's ultra-conservative Hadramawt region, he later emigrated to Saudi Arabia where he became rich.)

But even though Al-Qaeda is very strong in Yemen, "post trial treatment of detainees has been extremely lenient by Western standards," Michael Knights writes in another article in "Jane's Intelligence Review." "Many criminal cases have collapsed or seen suspects charged only with forgery and other forms of facilitation. Under a façade of an enlightened terrorist disengagement program run by Minister for Endowments and Religious Guidance Judge Hamud Abd Al-Hamid Al-Hitar, the Yemeni government quietly downgraded the sentences of many militants and released many others under a form of open arrest where their behavior was guaranteed by relatives and bail money."

A substantial number of Guantánamo Bay ("Gitmo") detainees are jihadists from Yemen. Some of them have been released and sent back to Yemen or Saudi Arabia. While making solemn promises that they would not resume terrorist activities, a few of them actually did rejoin the ranks of Al-Qaeda and are now among the most dangerous opponents of the United States and the West. In her book "Yemen: Dancing on the Head of Snakes" British journalist Victoria Clark refers to the case of former Gitmo detainee Said Ali Al-Shihri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni tribal origin who had graduated from a Saudi re-education center after six years at Guantánamo. Much to the embarassment of the Saudis, Al-Shihri was appointed deputy leader of the newly formed "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" (AQAP) – one of the most dangerous regional branches of Al-Qaeda. (Not only did they in November 2010 plant bombs on board UPS and Fedex planes bound for the United States, but also were they directly involved in the failed Christmas Day plot to bomb North West Airlines flight 253 bound for Detroit – the latter occurred at the end of 2009.)

Anwar Al-Awlaki, the above mentioned American born Yemeni AQAP terrorist, was involved in or inspired quite a number of terror plots in Britain and United States. "Times Square bomber" Faisal Shahzad, for example, told interrogators he was "inspired" by Anwar Al-Awlaki. (His bomb failed to go off, though). Al-Awlaki also inspired the Ford Hood Shooter and the Christmas Day bomber, a Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. (Highly corrupt Nigeria is a safehaven for dangerous criminals and Al-Qaeda sympathizers.) Al-Awlaki is a kind of Internet guru. He was the man who launched Al-Qaeda's successful Internet magazine "Inspire" last year.

Early March, experts told a House Subcommittee Hearing in Washington that "unrest in Yemen threatens to create a powervacuum that can be exploited by Al-Qaeda's franchise." "With the regime increasingly focused on its survival, it is likely to shift resources away from targeting AQAP, freeing this organization to plot attacks," said Barak Barti of the New America Foundation. In other words, "Yemen's instability is Al-Qaeda's gain." Al-Qaeda militants seized several towns and the southern province of Abyan is now referred to as the "Islamic Emirate of Abyan." A lot of Yemeni jihadists died as suicide bombers in Iraq – another remarkable analogy with Libya, by the way. Once again, Michael Knight's observations are highly interesting: "Until at least 2006, Yemeni fighters bound for Iraq were able to openly declare their intentions when flying to Syria. Yemeni volunteers began entering Iraq after the US-led invasion in March 2003 and have since made up a significant minority of foreign fighters. The jihadist personnel records captured in a safehouse in Sinjar, northern Iraq in September 2007 show that of 595 fighters to declare their nationality upon entry in Iraq, eight percent were Yemenis (around 50 individuals over the course of a year)." "A steady stream of Iraq returnees – both Yemenis and non-Yemenis – appear to have used Yemen as a resting place after and between tours of Iraq."

Concluding comments

There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda seeks to exploit the current instability in the Middle East and North Africa. Dictatorships are a bad thing and undesirable, of course. Khadaffi and Saleh will have to leave sooner or later, but they must replaced by pro-Western governments who are in effective control and are willing to cooperate with Britain, France, Italy and the United States in a common struggle against Muslim extremists, especially against Al-Qaeda. (Weapons from Libya have recentely been smuggled to jihadists from "Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb" who are operating in Mali.) Dangerous Islamist terrorists who have been released must be put in prison again. The same applies to former Gitmo detainees who rejoined the ranks of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Finally, the destabilizing flow of illegal immigrants from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa to Europe must be stopped. This should really be a matter of top priority. Europe just cannot cope with ever more illegal immigrants. Unless we want Europe to evolve into a huge Parisian "banlieue" where Muslim militancy, polygamy, wife beating, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and crime abound.

Emerson Vermaat, a law graduate, is an investigative reporter in the Netherlands specialized in terrorism, crime and European history (especially World War II) . Website: emersonvermaat.com.


Inspire (Al-Qaeda), Spring 2011, issue 5 ("The Tsunami of Change"); IPT News, March 30, 2011 ("New Al-Qaida Magazine Lauds Arab Revolutions").

Denis MacEoin, Anwar Al-Awlaki: "I Pray that Allah Destroys America," in: Middle East Quaterly, Spring 2010. Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz, Fallout. The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking (New York: Free Press, 2011), p. 68 ("The agency – CIA – was concerned about where it could force Colonel Khadaffi to abandon his dream of possessing nuclear weapons. He has already spent tens of millions of dollars…"); Peter L. Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know (New York: Free Press, 2006), p. 339 ("…members of Al-Qaeda made efforts to procure enriched uranium for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons."), p. 345 ("Abu Khabab, Al-Qaeda's WMD chief, in a leter recovered in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, spelled out the possible uses of radioactive materials by Al-Qaeda.")

Halim El Madkouri, Al Qaida ziet Libië als nieuwe thuishaven, in: De Volkskrant (Amsterdam), February 25, 2011, p. 20. "Het meest opvallende en verontrustende is echter de intensieve bemoeienissen van Al Qaida met de Libische opstand. Waren ze tijdens de opstanden in Tunesië en Egypte nauwelijks te horen, dit keer reserveren de aan Al Qaida gelieerde sites alle tijd en ruimte voor de jihad die nu plaatsvindt in Libië."

The Telegraph (London), March 29, 2011 ("Libya: Al-Qaeda among Lybia rebels, Nato chief fears") ("Intelligence on Libyan opposition shows 'flickers' of Al-Qaeda, says top Nato commander").

The Telegraph, April 3, 2011 ("Libya: Former Guantánamo detainee is training rebels").

Michael Knights, Baby boomers. A new generation of Libyan jihadists, in: Jane's Intelligence Review, March 2008, p. 23, 24.

The Telegraph, July 9, 2009 ("Extremist group announces split from Al-Qaeda").

Evan F. Kohlmann and Josh Lefkowitz, Dossier: Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) (The NEFA Foundation, October 2007), p. 11, 12; State Department Annoucces Steps to Reduce Terrorist Threat (US State Department, December 28, 2004); The 9/11 Commission Report (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), p. 489, footnote 15 (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed).

www.ntcb.nl, Groupe Islamique Combattant Tunesien (GICT) (not dated).

De Morgen (Belgium), December 20, 2001, p. 7 ("Belgische 'Taliban-preker' in de boeien"). On Tarek Maroufi.

Vaste Comité van Toezicht op de Inlichtingendiensten (Belgian Intelligence Oversight Committee report), Activiteitenverslag 2001, p. 133, 134 (on Tareq Maroufi and Nizar Trabelsi). "Ma(a)roufi zou degene zijn geweest die Abdessattar Dahmane (one of Massoud's killers, and also an illegal Tunisian immigrant in Belgium, V.) heeft geronseld toen deze laatste in België verbleef en die ervoor zorgde dat hij naar de kampen van de Taliban in Afghanistan ging." Also author's research in Belgium (2002).

Emerson Vermaat, De dodelijke planning van Al-Qaida (Soesterberg: Aspekt Publishers, 2005), p. 201-213. ("Tunisian terror networks in Italy, Germany and Belgium"). Also discussing the role of the "Varese network" which tried to obtain poison gas to stage a terrorist attack. Author's research and interviews in Germany and Italy (2002). Tribunale civile e penale di Milano. Ufficio des Giudice per le indagini preliminari, Ordinanza di appliczione di misure cautelari, N. 13016/99 RGNS; N. 6652/99 RGGIP, p. 30 ("…bomba gas… hai capito?"), p. 44 ("...liquido estamente efficace perché soffoca le persone…"), p. 45 ("Dove? In Francia?"). Conversations monitored by Italian anti-terrorist police DIGOS: author's file on Varese network.

Alison Pargeter, The Suleiman affair: Radicalism and Jihad in Tunisia, in: Jane's Intelligence Review, January 2011, p. 23.

Elsevier (Amsterdam), April 2, 2011, p. 42 ("De islamisten roeren zich"). Faouzia Farida Charfi.

Michael Knights, Jihadist paradise. Yemen's terrorist threat re-emerges, in: Jane's Intelligence Review. June 2008, p. 21, 22 ("Post trial treatment of detainees has been extremely lenient…" "…Yemeni fighters bound for Iraq…")

Victoria Clark, Yemen. Dancing on the Head of Snakes (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010), p. 232.

IPT News, March 2, 2011 ("Hearing: Yemen's Instability is Al-Qaeda's Gain").

USA Today, April 1, 2011 ("Amid region's unrest Al-Qaeda makes inroads in Yemen"). "The Islamic Emirate of Abyan."

NRC Handelsblad, April 5, 2011, p. 5 ("Wapens uit Libië naar Al-Qaeda gesmokkeld"). "Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."

©2011 Emerson Vermaat. All rights reserved.


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