Security forces stand guard after attack in Paris, 20 April 2017 (CREDIT: ETIENNE LAURENT/EPA)
In Paris last night a gunman parked his car, stepped out, and opened fire on a police van outside a Marks & Spencer’s on the Champs Élysées. One policeman was murdered; two were wounded. A female tourist was also injured. The attacker was killed by police as he tried to flee and continue his rampage. Within two hours, the Islamic State (ISIL) had claimed the attack via its Amaq News Agency, and, rather unusually, had named the killer: “Abu Yusuf al-Baljiki”.
It has been widely reported that “Abu Yusuf the Belgian” is really Karim Cheurfi the Frenchman, a 39-year-old imprisoned for fifteen years after being convicted for three counts of attempted murder in 2001. Notably, two of his intended victims were police officers. French media has reported that Cheurfi was briefly arrested on 23 February after expressing an intent to kill law-enforcement officials, but released due to lack of evidence; the Interior Ministry refused to comment. Continue reading →
The leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released an audio statement on 8 May 2016. The speech was entitled, “Hasten to Syria,” “Go Forth to Syria,” or “March Forth to Syria,” depending on translation. An English-language translation has been made available and is reproduced below, with some editions in transliteration and some important sections highlighted in bold.Continue reading →
A rare picture of DRS chief Mohamed Mediène (a.k.a. Toufik)
Yesterday, Algeria’s elderly president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, removed from office Mohamed Mediène (a.k.a. Toufik), the head of DRS (Le Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité), the spy agency that is the real power behind the throne in Algeria. There is some suggestion this is Bouteflika trying to prepare the way for a civilian government as his time in office—and on the planet—draws to a close. There is little reason to believe, however, that Algeria’s government will be much reformed by Toufik’s departure. Continue reading →
Umm al-Qura (Mother of All Cities) Mosque, built by Saddam to commemorate his “victory” in the 1991 Gulf War
In December, I wrote a post, “Iraq Is Still Suffering The Effects Of Saddam Hussein’s Islamist Regime,” which was a review/analysis of an academic paper by Samuel Helfont that pointed out that the Saddam Hussein regime had, since the 1980s, used Islamists, including al-Qaeda, as part of its foreign policy. I critiqued the paper a little for having said it would not comment on Saddam’s internal policy with the Islamists, while in fact the paper hinted that Saddam remained hostile to mixing religion and politics. I noted that the evidence does not support this: Saddam’s regime adopted overt theocratic trappings before the end.
There were two kinds of pushback to the idea that Saddam’s regime was Islamist. Predictably, one critique was related to the controversy over the way the Gulf War that Saddam started in 1990 was ended; opponents of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are heavily invested in the Saddam-as-secularist narrative, often coupled with the “Bush lied” hysteria—in this case about a connection between the Saddam regime and al-Qaeda—to say that the invasion empowered a previously, officially-repressed Islamism in Iraq. This simply is not borne out by the evidence. There was also pushback from some Iraqis. But this too was predictable: as I outlined in that post, drawing on Ali Allawi’s book on post-Saddam Iraq, one of the reasons so many people with no agenda get the Islamist aspect of the Saddam regime wrong is that when they turn to what they believe is the best primary source—namely the Iraqis in the West—they encounter a source that for various reasons is actually several decades out-of-date.
Buttressing my initial argument is a 2011 paper, “From Militant Secularism to Islamism: The Iraqi Ba’th Regime 1968-2003,” in which Amatzia Baram provides evidence from Iraqi internal documents and tapes of Cabinet meetings captured after the fall of Baghdad to show that Saddam’s regime had formed an alliance with Islamists in the mid-1980s for use in its foreign policy, and from a bit later in the 1980s had begun steps toward Islamizing Iraq internally. Continue reading →
Antar Zouabri, who became leader of the GIA in the summer of 1996
In December 1991, the Algerian government—the military regime in power since the French were expelled—gave in to public pressure, which had already turned sanguinary, and allowed an election. It was quite clear that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a fundamentalist party, would emerge victorious. To forestall the institution of a theocracy, in January 1992, the military launched a coup and shut down the final rounds of the election. A civil war erupted in which the jihadists sought to overpower the secular, if dictatorial, government. By the late 1990s, the jihadists’ savagery had meant their campaign had run aground; the vital centre in Algeria swallowed its misgivings and sought shelter behind the State. By 2002, the civil war was declared over: the jihadist revolt had been beaten.