For more than 14 years a bloody civil war has been taking place in Algeria between the Algerian regime and armed Islamic organizations seeking the establishment of a religious Islamic state in its place. All attempts by the Algerian government to end the war have been unsuccessful.1 Since 2003, there has been a significant decrease in Islamic terrorist activity as a result of Algerian military operations, particularly in the larger cities of the Republic. At the same time, terror and guerilla attacks are still being carried out by remnants of the armed Islamic organizations.2 This article will follow the latest developments in the Algerian arena in view of the conditional amnesty offered by the Algerian government to members of the armed Islamic organizations.
In January 1992 the Algerian army annulled the results of the first round of the parliamentary elections of December 26, 1991 due to fears that it would lose its control over the Republic. The Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, FIS; "Al-Jabhah al-Islamiyyah lil-Inqaadh" in Arabic), which won the elections by a large majority, was outlawed.
In June 1992 Mansour al-Meliani established the radical Islamic organization known as the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé, GIA; "Al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyyah al-Musallahah" in Arabic). The nucleus of the organization was made up of Afghan Veterans and Afghan Alumni, who were among the first to initiate the violent struggle against the regime in the latter part of 1991. Among them were 'Abdullah Anas, son-in-law of 'Abdullah 'Azzam; Muraad Sayyid Ahmad (a.k.a. "Ja'far al-Afghani") who was killed in March 1994 by Algerian security forces; al-Shareef Qawasmi (a.k.a. "Abu 'Abdillah Ahmad"), who was killed in September 1994 by Algerian security forces; Jamal Zaytuni (a.k.a. "Abu 'Abd al-Rahman Amin"), who was killed in July 1996 by Algerian security forces, and others. These men, who for years represented the organization's leadership, brought to the struggle rich military experience along with an Islamic fundamentalist worldview based on the teaching of Sayyid Qutb and 'Abdullah 'Azzam. They preached the role of militant Jihad in overthrowing the "infidel" Algerian regime as the first priority in the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate in Algeria.3
In 1993 the GIA expanded its campaign of terror activities. What began as a series of systematic assassinations, first against secular intellectuals and senior government figures (including the assassination attempt against Minister of Security Khalid Nazzaar), by the fall of 1993 had expanded to the killing of foreign citizens and tourists, in order to damage the Algerian economy and draw worldwide attention to the GIA's struggle in Algeria. Not satisfied with attacks inside Algeria in 1994, the GIA began operating abroad-particularly in France, which is considered to be the chief stalwart of the Algerian regime. During the years 1995-96, GIA members under the leadership of Afghan Alumni perpetrated a wave of attacks on French soil and against French citizens in foreign countries, eventually leading to a fatal blow to the organization's infrastructure in France as well as in neighboring countries.4
In October 1997, the military wing of FIS, the Islamic Salvation Army (Armée Islamique du Salut, AIS), unilaterally declared a cease-fire with the Algerian army. On January 11, 2000, following the "pardon with the force of amnesty" (grâce amnistiante) announced by Algerian President 'Abd al-'Aziz Bouteflika for anybody who turned themselves in, regardless of the crime they committed, Madani Mizraq, leader of the AIS, announced that his group would disarm.5
Two days later, the Islamic League for Preaching and Holy War (Ligue Islamique de la Dâawa et du Djihad, LIDD), a GIA splinter group, also dissolved itself under the terms of the pardon.6
GIA elements led by 'Antar Zouabri and Hassan Hattab's Salafiyyah Group for Call and Fighting ("Al-Jama'ah al-Salafiyyah lil-Da'wa wal-Qital") denounced President Bouteflika's overtures and continued to mount attacks on civilians as well as security posts and military patrols.7
On February 27, 2006 the Algerian government authorized a governmental directive granting general amnesty to armed rebels-members of the various Islamic organizations-who would agree to turn themselves in within six months to Algerian officials and abandon violent activities. This directive, advertised under the framework of the Peace and National Reconciliation Charter that was passed by a referendum on September 29, 2005, does not provide amnesty to those who have "blood on their hands" and to those who incited to murder. These individuals will receive a lightened sentence in exchange for their surrender. The directive orders the release of 2,629 Islamists who were not involved in "acts of slaughter, acts of robbery and rape and acts of terror in public places" and who turned themselves in from January 13, 2000, the expiration date of the Civil Harmony Law, up to the publication of the directive. The directive prohibits leaders of the armed Islamic organizations that turn themselves in or who were to be released from prison from future participation in political life in the Republic. Under the framework of the directive, families victimized as a result of their sons' involvement in the civil war since 1992 will receive compensation, as will families of those members of Islamic organizations that are missing or were killed.8 'Ammar Sa'daani, chairman of the Algerian parliament, called upon armed Islamists yet to turn themselves in to give up their arms and take advantage of the Peace and National Reconciliation Charter in order to "enter under the flag of the Republic."9
On March 4, 2006 the first group of Islamist prisoners, numbering 150, were released from Sarkaji prison in the capital city of Algiers.10 A few days later leaders of FIS, headed by 'Abbas Madani's deputy leader 'Ali Balhaaj,11 were also released under the Peace and National Reconciliation Charter, as were other leaders of armed Islamic organizations such as 'Abd al-Hai al-'Iyaydah (Abu 'Adlaan), co-founder of the GIA.12
In the meantime, the Peace and National Reconciliation Charter drew criticism from a number of elements in Algeria, among them: the various associations providing shelter for families of missing Islamists, who accuse the government of kidnapping their sons and demand the truth be revealed; human rights groups in Algeria, who argue that the Charter was formulated as a result of political considerations rather than the pursuit of justice; families of terror victims who argue that the reconciliation between the regime and the terrorists came at the cost of terror victims; and political parties such as the Socialist Organizations Front, the largest of the barbarian parties, who argue that the Charter conceals the truth surrounding those who committed war crimes in 1992.13
The Salafiyyah Group for Call and Fighting, considered to be the largest armed organization in the country and which professes loyalty to al-Qa'ida, rejected the Charter and declared that it would continue armed operations.14 According to a few members of the Salafiyyah Group who agreed to adopt the Charter, the Group's rejection was decided after serious differences of opinion emerged inside the Group's dignitaries council.15
A reliable Algerian security source said that 'Abd al-Malik Drukdal (a.k.a. Abu Mus'ab 'Abd al-Wadoud), leader of the Salafiyyah Group, ordered the March 9, 2006 murder of fellow member 'Abd al-Karim Qaduri (a.k.a. al-Qa'qa'), Hassan Hattab's right-hand man, supposedly because Qaduri convinced a group of armed Islamists to disarm and adopt the Peace and National Reconciliation Charter.16 Hattab, one of the founding members of the Group who served as its leader until the summer of 2003, last year announced his acceptance of the Charter and his intentions to convince remaining militants to disarm.17
Much like the Salafiyyah Group, FIS also found it difficult to display a united stance vis-à-vis the Charter.18 While some senior FIS members both inside and outside Algeria agreed to adopt the Charter, 'Abbas Madani, leader of FIS who resided in Doha, Qatar, for two years, declared his reservations and called for the unconditional release of all Islamist prisoners, for an end to the state of emergency in the Republic and for a solution to the problem of the missing persons. Madani called for a cease-fire between the parties and for cooperation that would lead to security and stability in the Republic, and would allow armed Islamists to return to their homes safely.19
Sheikh Kamal Qamaazi, one of the founders of FIS, also declared his reservations concerning the Charter and pronounced that many Islamist leaders are stipulating their return to Algeria on a greater guarantee than that promised by the Charter. According to him, the Charter does not provide enough security to encourage FIS leaders abroad to return to the Republic and does not guarantee their rights and freedom if and when they return.20 Qamaazi's declaration was supported by other senior FIS members in exile such as Anwar Haddam and Ahmad al-Zaawi, who argued that the Charter casts the entire responsibility for the acts in the Republic upon FIS.21
The GIA also found it difficult to display a united stance vis-à-vis the Charter. While the prevailing opinion of the Group rejected the Charter as it is currently written, some supported it. For instance, 'Abd al-Hai al-'Iyaydah, one of the founders of GIA who was released from an Algerian prison in accordance with the Peace and National Reconciliation Charter, expressed support for the efforts to bring peace and national reconciliation in Algeria and called upon President Bouteflika to implement strong steps against anybody who continues the spilling of blood.22
The differences of opinion on the issue among the various armed groups were reflected on the ground. While only a small number of armed militants surrendered, the armed groups themselves continued to carry out attacks and strengthened their military capabilities. Foremost among these was the Salafiyya Group. 23
On March 23, 2006 two Algerian Islamic militants killed four farmers near Blida, 50 km south of Algiers, in the worst attack since the government started implementing the Peace and National Reconciliation Charter. At the same time, government forces killed a bombmaker for the Salafiyyah Group during an operation in Boumerdes, 50 km east of Algiers. On March 24 six government soldiers were injured when a homemade bomb exploded in the Jijel province, 350 km east of Algiers. On March 29, the Algerian army began bombing hiding places of the Salafiyyah Group in Bejaia Mountains, 200 km east of Algiers. At the same time, military units continued to siege Islamic militants in Jijel province. According to a government source, some 800 Islamic militants are still active in Algeria.24
During April 2006 the Algerian security forces succeed in thwarting the transfer of a large amount of weapons to the Islamic militants. The most prominent such instance was on April 2, 2006, when an important network which supplied the Islamic militants, especially the Salafiyyah Group, with weapons and money was exposed by the National Gendarmerie in the city of Bi'r al-'Atir.25
Meanwhile, a secret document sent by the National Security General Directorate to the various Algiers' police stations disclosed that 'Abd al-Malik Drukdal, the leader of the Salafiyyah Group, has assigned the chief of the "al-Hourra" squadron, 'Abd al-Hamid Sa'dawi (a.k.a. Yahya Abu Haitham), to select and enlist new terrorists among those who have surrendered under the framework of the Peace and National Reconciliation Charter, among brothers of the terrorists already killed and other people still unknown to Algerian security forces. The "new terrorists" will be in charge of criminal operations, carrying out bomb attacks using mobile phones and extorting money from Algerian citizens. According to the top secret document, Drukdal created a new formation known as the "al-Hourra squadron" (which includes ex-GIA members) to operate in Algiers and its suburbs, in addition to three other squadrons. The first, led by the terrorist "Julabib", operates in central Algeria and would have been behind the March 24, 2006 killing of the mayor of Benchoud in Boumerdes district. The second squadron is devoted to eastern Algeria and is operating under the command of 'Umar al-Gharib. The third squadron is placed under the command of Abu Hurairah, who is still unknown to security forces.26
The Peace and National Reconciliation Charter instilled a new hope among the Algerian populace that an end to the bloody civil war was near. The September 2005 referendum authorizing the Charter by a large majority is a testimony to this new hope. However, the aspirations of the nation did not reflect the will of the armed Islamic organizations. The latter rejected the Charter, along with the amnesty and lessened punishment offered to them, and clung to a radical ideology that calls for the overthrow of the "infidel" Algerian regime and the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate on its ruins. The proof of the armed Islamists' refusal to "take up the gauntlet" thrown by Algerian President 'Abd al-'Aziz Bouteflika found expression in the continuation of terrorist attacks and even in the assassinations of Islamist members who dared to deviate from their way and adopt the Charter, as seen in the case of 'Abd al-Karim Qaduri. As of this writing, the civil war in Algeria appears to be far from over.
1 Amima, Ahmad, "Mithaaq al-sulm wal-musaalahah al-wataniyyah abraz malaamih 'am 2005 fi al- Jaza'ir" ("The Peace and National Reconciliation Charter: the Most Prominent Characteristic of Algeria in 2005"),BBC ARABIC, (December 22, 2005). The Civil Harmony Law passed in the Algerian government in July 1999 and was authorized in a referendum on September 16, 1999. This law, which expired on January 13, 2000, provided general amnesty to Islamists who were not involved in terrorist activity in Algeria and who turned themselves in to authorities up until the expiration date, while those who were involved in terrorist attacks and turned themselves in received a lighter punishment.