Who Are Those Guys? Understanding the ties between Ansar al Islam, the GSPC, the Sudanese Islamic Army, and al Qaeda

por Dan Blumenthal, 19 de enero de 2006

(Published in Weekly Standard, 01/11/2006)

Skeptics of Iraqi ties to al Qaeda appear prepared to argue that even if Saddam did have substantial connections to Ansar al Islam, the GSPC, and the Sudanese Islamic Army, these relations do not constitute ties to al Qaeda. But unless one is prepared to engage in an extremely legalistic parsing similar to that which has surrounded Abu Musab Zarqawi's relationship with Osama bin Laden, the issue is easy enough to resolve.
Ansar al Islam: As noted by the U.S. State Department, Ansar al Islam 'is closely allied with al-Qa'ida and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's group.' Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported in September 2001 that it was al Qaeda emissary Abu Abdul Rahman who provided Ansar al Islam with $300,000 in 'seed money' at its inception. Al Qaeda's close involvement in the formation of Ansar al Islam was likewise demonstrated in an al Qaeda memorandum from August 2001 which was recovered in Afghanistan and reported by the New York Times in January 2003. It noted the existence of the 'Iraqi Kurdistan Islamic Brigade' and urged the unification of the various Kurdish Islamist groups based around Shinerwe Mountain in northern Iraq into an enclave modeled after that of the Taliban. After the September 11 attacks, Ansar al Islam was to take on an even more ominous role. As the 2002 Patterns of Global Terrorism noted, 'al-Qaida operatives in northern Iraq concocted suspect chemicals under the direction of senior al-Qaida associate Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and tried to smuggle them into Russia, Western Europe, and the United States for terrorist operations.'
GSPC: In the case of the Algerian Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) and al Qaeda, the connection is even clearer. As Dr. Rohan Gunaratna documented in Inside Al Qaeda, following al Qaeda's falling out with Algerian GIA leader Antar Zouabri, 'Osama's displeasure . . . prompted him to forge direct links with the head of the GIA's European network, Hassan Hattab.' Following a final schism between bin Laden and Zouabri, 'Al Qaeda severed all ties with the GIA leadership, denounced Antar Zouabri, and encouraged Hassan Hattab to break away and join GSPC.' Jonathan Schanzer goes even further in Al-Qaeda's Armies, noting that the group was 'responsible for financing, logistics, and planning attacks for al Qaeda' and that 'since the late 1990s, an immense amount of GSPC activity was reported in Europe, both in support of the GSPC in Algeria, as well as the broader al-Qaeda network.'
Nor are the group's actions in support of al Qaeda merely logistical in nature--in June 2003, ABC News reported that a plot by GSPC commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar targeting the U.S. embassy in Bamako, Mali had been thwarted by 'a coalition of African anti-terror units.' As if to clarify any lingering doubts, in October 2003, then-GSPC leader Nabil Sahraoui issued a statement declaring that the group 'strongly and fully support Osama bin Laden's jihad against the heretic America as well as we support our brothers in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Chechnya.'
The ongoing connection between al Qaeda and the GSPC continues to play a role in the Iraqi insurgency: The U.S. military announced in June 2005 that roughly 20 percent of the suicide bombers were Algerian in origin. More recently, Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu was quoted as saying that three GSPC members arrested in December 2005 in southern Italy 'are suspected of being linked to a planned new series of attacks in the United States.'
Sudanese Islamic Army: The exact identity of the Sudanese Islamic Army is a bit more murky, but there are two likely possibilities. The first is that the Sudanese Islamic Army refers to bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network (called the 'Islamic Army Shura' by the 9/11 Commission report) while it was headquartered in Sudan between 1991 and 1996--though this would seem somewhat counterintuitive given that both the Algerian GIA and later the GSPC were members of the Shura.
It is far more likely that the Sudanese Islamic Army are in fact members of the Sudanese Popular Defense Forces (PDF), which Dutch counterterrorism expert Ronald Sandee has described as a Sudanese 'pro-government militia' that 'was used to militarily support the power of the Khartoum regime, often taking the brunt of the fighting against SPLA, and later was used in the Numamai Mountains to fight against the Nure people.' He notes that 'we also see Sudanese who were trained in PDF camps turning up at the border with Israel.'
Sandee quotes Sudanese President Omar Bashir as saying, 'We now order the Popular Defense Forces and all the political and military leaders to now open all the military camps to be opened in estates and villages. No peace with the Jews or surrender to the Jews, for war is jihad, jihad is jihad.' According to the 9/11 Commission, bin Laden 'agreed to help [Sudanese political leader] Turabi in an ongoing war against Christian separatists in southern Sudan,' activities that would have almost certainly resulted in a close alliance between al Qaeda and the PDF.

Dan Darling is a counter-terrorism consultant for the Manhattan Institute Center for Policing Terrorism.