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What Does It Take To Push Algerian Militants Into Al Qaeda's Arms? Not Much!

The New York Times has a big front page piece today on Algerian terrorists who have joined forces with Al Qaeda. Whereas once the group was viewed as a nationalist insurgency battling the Algerian military, it now goes by the name of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The article is not intentionally funny, obviously, although there was one amusing strain running through the story.

As many of the terrorists tell it, their decision to join forces with Al Qaeda in 2004 was brought about in large part by the United States' decision--twelve days after 9/11--to include the group on a terrorist list.

Some militants also said that Washington’s designation of the Algerians as a terrorist organization after Sept. 11 — despite its categorization by some American government experts as a regional insurgency — had the effect of turning the group against the United States.


The new group revived the guerrilla war against the government, with minimal singling out of civilians, according to two United States Air Force officers at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who analyzed 10 years of its operations through early 2006. Their study concluded that the group “does not appear to be a ‘terrorist’ group as much as an internal insurgency against the government.”

The Bush administration took a different view of the group. On Sept. 23, 2001, President Bush included it on a list of organizations that “commit, threaten to commit or support terrorism.”

The terrorist designation rankled Salafist group members, but there was dissent over whether to stay focused on the fight with the Algerian government. Two years later, the group’s leader, Nabil Sahraoui, issued a statement for the first time endorsing “Osama bin Laden’s jihad against the heretic America” and expressing his desire that the group join Al Qaeda.

[The group's leader] explained his wrath toward the United States, saying: “We found ourselves on the blacklist of the U.S. administration, tagged with terrorism.

So, then, a group of non-terrorist militants were perfectly willing to go about their business and leave the United States alone, but their inclusion on a list enraged them so much that they decided they had to join the most dangerous and brutal terrorist group on the planet. One could say that this ironically (paradoxically?) proves the Bush administration's decision correct in the first place! 

--Isaac Chotiner