NARCO Analysis September 2014 Part #2
Sometimes it’s unfortunate to have been right.
In last week’s North Africa Round Up, I noted that the continued fracturing of jihadi groups in North Africa could result in “outbidding.” In particular, a new group, “The Caliphate’s Army in the Land of Algeria (جند الخلافة في أرض الجزائر),” might be compelled to carry out attacks to distinguish it from other more established groups in North Africa such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or al-Mourabitoun and to demonstrate its relevance. This is precisely what has happened with the kidnapping of a French tourist in Algeria on 21 September 2014.
The victim, Hervé Gourdel, was traveling near the remote hamlet of Ait Ouban, on the far eastern edge of the Djurdjura National Park. The area is a sparsely populated swath of steep mountains, deep ravines, and scattered forests, more like Idaho than Algiers. It is very far off the beaten path.
Just a couple of observations regarding the group and the video it distributed attesting to Gourdel’s capture:
- The Caliphate’s Army in the Land of Algeria broke off from AQIM earlier this month and swore allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). (AQIM has since reiterated its allegiance to al-Qaeda.) The same day that Gourdel was kidnapped, ISIL’s spokesperson issued a statement urging Muslims around the world to kill “the spiteful and filthy French,” among others.
- The video released by the kidnappers proving that Gourdel was in their custody is of a much poorer quality than ISIL propaganda videos, or even videos released by AQIM’s media arm, al-Andalous. And the video’s symbolism and aesthetics were shabby. Taken together, the video’s quality and its mawkish symbolism seem to indicate a hasty gesture to jihadi Islam: Gourdel was a “target of opportunity.” It will be important to watch the evolution of the quality of future communiques and the group’s use of imagery in order to gauge the group’s development.
- How AQIM in Kabylie responds will be significant. Will it ratchet up its activities to reclaim primacy among the Maghreb’s jihadi groups? Will it condemn the kidnapping as futile and reckless? Will it try to pull Jund al-Khilafa back into its fold? For its part, Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group, al-Mourabitoun, is likely to ignore the event.
It is worth remembering that bids are due at the end of the month for oil and gas acreage. Gourdel’s kidnapping is unlikely to impact IOCs’ decisions to proceed with bids or not. The tragic In Amenas attack notwithstanding, security concerns are rarely insurmountable hurdles to market entry and have historically been addressed through expanded budgets.
Algerian security services are likely to respond with force – not least because one of Algeria’s leading counter-terrorism czars returned from retirement last week to become an advisor to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Under Othman “Bachir” Tartag, Algeria will display its customary zero-tolerance for jihadi activity and its absolute refusal to entertain the payment of ransoms to secure hostages’ release.
I’ll be watching this closely, and especially any indication of Jund al-Khilafa’s size and reach beyond Kabylie.