By Jemal Oumar
By Jemal Oumar
Nouakchott, Sept 23, 2012
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) seized an opportunity to capitalise on the murder of the US ambassador to Libya by calling on Maghreb youth to follow in the example of the Benghazi terrorists.
In a statement published September 15th on jihadist websites, AQIM exhorted young people in Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco and Algeria to emulate their peers in Libya.
On September 11th, US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi during a protest over an Islamophobic film made in the US.
“We call on the youth of Islam to follow in the footsteps of the lions of Benghazi by pulling down American flags in the embassies of all our capitals,” al-Qaeda wrote.
“We urge them to kill American ambassadors and representatives… in revenge for the honour of the Best of Beings, peace be upon Him,” the statement said.
The AQIM statement, which appeared online one day after salafists attacked the US embassy in Tunis, encouraged new attacks in Casablanca, Algiers, Tunis and Nouakchott.
Al-Qaeda disregarded statements by the United States government criticising the incendiary movie. Instead, the group said that the murder of the American ambassador was “the best gift you can give to his arrogant and unjust government, so that they might wake up from their transgression, come back to their senses and realise the extent of their battle with the nation of Muhammad, peace be upon Him”.
“It is the right of the followers of the Apostles, peace be upon them, to take revenge,” AQIM added.
However, Libyan imam Nabil Sati tells Magharebia that Islam prohibits such attacks. The sheikh says that the Prophet Mohammed was known to have said, “He who kills a party to a covenant won’t smell the scent of paradise.”
“If we look at God’s Holy Book also, we will find that in Surat al-Tawba, God says: ‘If one amongst the pagans asks thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah.’ Look at what God says: If one amongst the pagans asks you for asylum; a friendship treaty, a peace treaty, an embassy, etc. you have to grant it to him,” the imam adds.
Analyst al-Mukhtar al-Salem says that for al-Qaeda, the Benghazi consulate attack was a “good and important coincidence “.
“AQIM never dreamed of such an opportunity at this time,” he tells Magharebia. “The activity of a gang of delinquents and criminals provided a gift to this organisation and boosted its morale.”
The terror group took advantage of an amateur film against Islam to incite Maghreb youth, he says.
The actions of some individuals, such as the film’s director, served the interests of Al-Qaeda, Salem suggests. “The film gave the terrorist group exposure and an appropriate occasion to fire at the US consulate in Benghazi.”
The proliferation of weapons after the fall of Kadhafi and the new government’s struggle to disarm the many militias wound up benefitting al-Qaeda, he argues.
“If it were not for all these favourable conditions, especially the lack of security in Libya, this would not have happened,” he adds.
He goes on to say that if one “compares Libya to other Maghreb countries, the different outcomes of the demonstrations” against the anti-Islam film are obvious.
For Mauritanian writer and political analyst Abdullah Ould Mohamed, however, al-Qaeda’s call for greater violence actually led many Maghreb youths to ease their position with regard to the film.
“Al-Qaeda’s statement, published after the events of Benghazi, made a lot of young people soften their position because they are beginning to fear that their reaction will be considered a result of al-Qaeda statement,” Ould Mohamed adds.
“The statement produced the opposite effect of what al-Qaeda wanted, even though not many condemned it because it came during a period when Maghreb peoples were united in condemning the offensive movie,” he says.
Journalist Mohammad Naji Ould Ahmedou agrees, noting that “the al-Qaeda statement is unlikely to resonate with Maghreb youth “because people are used to this rhetoric”.
“Al-Qaeda wants to be seen as strong, even if it did not contribute directly to the attack,” he tells Magharebia.
Moreover, by expressing sympathy with a criminal act of this magnitude, al-Qaeda is demonstrating its inability to carry out such an operation, Ould Ahmedou argues.
“It is instead satisfied with what some young criminals and hateful people are doing,” he adds.
Libya faces another security hurdle: extremist groups that first emerged several months ago have “passed from the stage of salafist militancy to armed violence, taking advantage of the spread of weapons”, Ould Ahmedou says.
“Even as the whole world called for it to stop, the Libyan government has been unable to eliminate it,” he adds.
Mohamed Salem Ould Dah, director of the Arab-African Centre for Information and Development, has also linked al-Qaeda’s call for targeted killings and other attacks to the precarious security situation in the region.
“The new al-Qaeda statement finds fertile ground in the chaos that prevails in many countries experiencing the so-called Arab Spring,” he tells Magharebia.
“The killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi and the way in which it was carried out, as well as its association with September 11th and the passing of only a few months since the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, gives strong indications of the presence of al-Qaeda,” Ould Dah adds.
After al-Libi – a Libyan national born Mohamed Hassan Qaid – perished in a Pakistan drone strike, ties between the parent al-Qaeda organisation and its North African branch began to unravel. Al-Libi had long expected AQIM to support the struggling al-Qaeda central.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri eulogised al-Libi in a video released a day before the Benghazi attack. After the consulate was incinerated and four Americans killed, however, neither the Egyptian doctor nor anyone else from al-Qaeda central issued an explicit claim of responsibility.
It came instead from al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.
The rocket barrage on the US consulate was to avenge al-Libi and retaliate against those “those who attack our Prophet”, SITE monitoring group quoted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as saying.
Libyan authorities, meanwhile, are continuing their search for the perpetrators.