Al-Qaeda Capitalizes on Protests in Algeria, Calls for Establishment of Islamic State

Turnout for Friday's demonstrations in Algeria was widely seen as a test of the public mood towards the government after a succession of longtime loyalists deserted the president and called for him to step down
AFP Ryad KRAMDI

A top leader of the North Africa-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), seeking to take advantage of protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s administration in Algeria, recently urged Muslims to “unite” to establish an Islamic emirate in the country, according to several reports.

Since February 22, hundreds of thousands of Algerians have taken to the streets in various cities across the North African country to rally against Bouteflika’s reportedly corrupt 20-year rule after he announced plans to run for a fifth term.

Seeking to take advantage of the chaos AQIM, considered one of the wealthiest al-Qaeda branches, has been egging on demonstrators.

Citing a report from earlier this month issued by the Long War Journal, a media component of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the Barnabas Fund, a Christian watchdog group, noted this week:

A leading official of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has called on Muslims to “unite” to ensure Algeria is ruled according to Islam “alone” in a speech designed to take advantage of continuing street protests against the 20-year rule of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The speech by Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi, widely reported on social media on 9 and 10 March, describes the conditions that would lead to the formation of an Islamic emirate governed according to sharia law.

He called Algerian Muslims to reject any regional or tribal identities and said that people are all the “sons of Islam”. He added that there is no difference between Arabs and foreigners as long as they share the same faith.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) deemed al-Anabi a terrorist, identifying him as the “leader of AQIM’s Council of Notables” who has also served as “AQIM’s Media Chief.”

The Long War Journal (LWJ) determined the al-Qaeda leader’s speech, titled, “Algeria…Getting Out From the Dark Tunnel,” is aimed at capitalizing on the ongoing protests, adding:

AQIM did not spark the protests, but the group seeks to inject its jihadist agenda into the story. …He begins his talk with references to the conditions that would lead to the formation of a proper Islamic emirate, which can only be headed by a religiously-minded figure who governs according to sharia.  The “original infidel or apostate” cannot be a leader of Muslims, and must be removed from any position of authority.

He goes on to urge protestors make the removal of the Algerian government their “primary goal,” adding that the “end goal must be that Algeria is ruled” according to Islam and Islam “alone,” referring to al-Qaeda’s version of the religion.

“This means that AQIM seeks not only Bouteflika’s ouster, but removal of his entire system of governance,” LWJ added.

Al-Anabi accused the Algerian president of being “loyal to the Jews and the Christians.”

The anti-government protests intensified on Friday, according to several news outlets.

BBC revealed:

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Algeria to demand the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Estimates say crowds in the capital, Algiers, reached a million. It is the sixth successive Friday of mass anti-government protests in the country. …For the moment, the protesters’ expectations are very high as they demand the departure of “everybody who has been associated with the regime”, but they do not offer an alternative.

Echoing the U.S. military, the FDD think-tank found in late 2017 that AQIM likely generates tens of millions of dollars annually through drug trafficking linked to violent Latin American cartels and other criminal activities.

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