The Battle From Algiers

Lessons from the Charlie Hebdo Attack

A memorial for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack, January 10, 2015. Stephane Mahe / Courtesy Reuters

“If you can kill an American or European infidel, especially the spiteful and cursed French,” said Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), last September, “kill them in any way possi­­ble.” In stating a clear preference for terrorist attacks in France, Adnani became part of a proud terrorist tradition. 

Last week’s atrocities in Paris, which left 17 dead, were not the first rounds of terror brought to France by Islamists. In fact, such attacks in France have killed over a dozen and wounded hundreds since 1995. And this is not just a French story. It has implications for the entire West.

Historically, France has had a particularly hard time integrating its Muslim community—the largest in Europe at approximately five million, or 7.5 percent of the French population. In the 1990s, the issue was Algeria. As the vicious civil war there raged, France's historical connections to the country brought the violence to its doorstep. In those days, Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front looked on course to win the popular vote. Algeria’s secular military leadership, which many believed was propped up by France, cancelled the vote.

Then, on Christmas Eve, 1994, four Algerian jihadists aligned with the brutal Armed Islamic Groupe (GIA) hijacked a flight from Algiers headed for Paris. During a three-day ordeal, the group killed three civilians before French security forces raided the plane (which had eventually landed in Marseille) and killed the gunmen. Then, three months after that, the GIA bombed the Saint-Michel station on the Paris Metro, killing eight. 

Eventually, the GIA imploded, hemorrhaging support thanks to its gruesome behavior during the decade-long civil war. The militant networks did not just disappear; they dispersed to other cities. For example, in December 2000, ten Algerian and French-Algerian militants largely based in Frankfurt attempted to blow up a Christmas market in Strasbourg. Other terrorists went to London, where radical mosques provided receptive platforms for an influx of former GIA fighters and other Algerian immigrants.

After the 9/11

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