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Profile: Islamic Salvation Front
Islamic Salvation Front was a participant or observer in the following events:
In July 1991, the criminal BCCI bank is shut down (see July 5, 1991), and Osama bin Laden apparently loses some of his fortune held in BCCI accounts as a result (see July 1991). But while bin Laden loses money, he and his future second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri gain influence. Other Islamist militants have been heavily relying on BCCI for their finances, and in the wake of BCCI’s collapse they are forced to bank elsewhere. Author Roland Jacquard will later claim that “following [the bank’s closure], funds [are] transferred from BCCI to banks in Dubai, Jordan, and Sudan controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of the money [is] handed back to organizations such as the FIS [a political party in Algeria]. Another portion [is] transferred by Ayman al-Zawahiri to Switzerland, the Netherlands, London, Antwerp, and Malaysia.” [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 129] Author Adam Robinson will come to similar conclusions, noting that when BCCI collapses bin Laden has just moved to Sudan, which is ruled by Hassan al-Turabi, who has similar Islamist views to bin Laden. Robinson writes, “Without a system by which money could be transferred around the world invisibly, it would be relatively simple for terrorist funds to be traced. Dealing with this crisis fell to al-Turabi. In desperation he turned to Osama.… The future of the struggle could come to rest on Osama’s shoulders.” Over the next several months, bin Laden and a small team of financial experts work on a plan to replace the functions of BCCI. Bin Laden already knows many of the main Islamist backers from his experience in the Afghan war. “During the summer of 1991 he discreetly made contact with many of the wealthiest of these individuals, especially those with an international network of companies.… Within months, Osama unveiled before an astonished al-Turabi what he called ‘the Brotherhood Group.’” This is apparently a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Robinson says this group is made up of 134 Arab businessmen with a collective wealth of many billions of dollars. The network will effectively replace BCCI for Islamist militants. [Robinson, 2001, pp. 138-139] A French report shortly after 9/11 will confirm that bin Laden’s network largely replaces BCCI (see October 10, 2001). Right around this time, bin Laden is seen at the London estate of Khalid bin Mahfouz, one of the major investors in BCCI (see (1991)).
A large rally for the FIS on January 9, 1992, in Algiers, Algeria. [Source: Gyori Antoine / Corbis]Starting in 1989, the Algerian government allows political reform and elections. The country has been ruled by one party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), since independence. In June 1990, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won by large margins in local elections. Journalist Jonathan Randal will later comment that “the outcome was more a massive no-confidence vote against the corrupt, incompetent, and self-satisfied secular establishment than an endorsement of an Islamic republic.” In legislative elections in December 1991, the FIS wins again. They seem poised to win a runoff election one month later that would put them in power. But on January 11, 1992, the army stages a coup, overthrowing President Chadli Benjedid and canceling the runoff elections. Within months, the FIS is banned, its local officials elected in 1990 are removed from office, and tens of thousands of suspected sympathizers imprisoned and often tortured. Radical Islamists go underground and launch a number of violent militant groups. Over 150,000 will die over the next decade. [Randal, 2005, pp. 165-167]
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, is in the Netherlands at this time. He meets with representatives of:
The Muwafaq Foundation, a Saudi funded charity operating from the town of Breda, Netherlands.
The Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.
The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an outlawed Islamist political party in Algeria.
What happens in Khalifa’s meetings is unknown, but the next month he opens a branch of the Muwafaq Foundation in the Philippines. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 168, 194, 342] Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi is believed to be the chief funder of Muwafaq; the US will pronounce him a terrorist financier shortly after 9/11 (see October 12, 2001). The US will later claim Muwafaq funded the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines (see 1995-1998). A secret 1996 CIA report will claim that Muwafaq has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and helps fund mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1991-1995) and at least one training camp in Afghanistan (see January 1996).
The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) logo. [Source: Public domain]The Italian government hosts a meeting in Rome of Algerian political parties, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose probable election win was halted by an army coup in 1992 (see January 11, 1992). Eight political parties representing 80 percent of the vote in the last multi-party election agree on a common platform brokered by the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, Italy, known as the Sant’Egidio Platform. The militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) is the only significant opposition force not to participate in the agreement. The parties agree to a national conference that would precede new multi-party elections. They call for an inquiry into the violence in Algeria, a return to constitutional rule, and the end of the army’s involvement in politics. The Independent notes the agreement “[does] much to bridge the enmity between religious and lay parties and, most significantly, pushe[s] the FIS for the first time into an unequivocal declaration of democratic values.” French President Francois Mitterrand soon proposes a European Union peace initiative to end the fighting in Algeria, but the Algerian government responds by recalling its ambassador to France. [Independent, 2/5/1995] The Washington Post notes that the agreement “demonstrate[s] a growing alliance between the Islamic militants [such as the GIA], waging a deadly underground war with government security forces, and the National Liberation Front,” Algeria’s ruling party, as both are opposed to peace with the FIS and other opposition parties. [Washington Post, 1/14/1995] The Guardian will later report that these peace overtures “left [Algeria’s] generals in an untenable position. In their desperation, and with the help of the DRS [Algeria’s intelligence agency], they hatched a plot to prevent French politicians from ever again withdrawing support for the military junta.” The GIA is heavily infilrated by Algerian government moles at this time and even the GIA’s top leader, Djamel Zitouni, is apparently working for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Some GIA moles are turned into agent provocateurs. GIA leader Ali Touchent, who the Guardian will say is one of the Algerian moles, begins planning attacks in France in order to turn French public opinion against the Algerian opposition and in favor of the ruling Algerian government (see July-October 1995). The GIA also plots against some of the FIS’s leaders living in Europe. [Guardian, 9/8/2005]
A Paris subway car bombed in 1995. [Source: Associated Press]Ten French citizens die and more than two hundred are injured in a series of attacks in France from July to October 1995. Most of the attacks are caused by the explosion of rudimentary bombs in the Paris subway. The deaths are blamed on the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) Algerian militant group. Some members of the banned Algerian opposition Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) living in exile in France are killed as well. For instance, high-level FIS leader Abdelbaki Sahraoui is assassinated on July 11, 1995. The GIA takes credit for these acts. The attacks mobilize French public opinion against the Islamic opposition in Algerian and causes the French government to abandon its support for recent Algerian peace plans put forth by a united opposition front (see January 13,1995). [BBC, 10/30/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 171, 316-317; Guardian, 9/8/2005] However, in September 1995, French Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debré says, “It cannot be excluded that Algerian intelligence may have been implicated” in the first bombing, which hit the Saint-Michel subway stop in Paris on July 25 and killed eight. [BBC, 10/31/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 316-317] And as time goes on, Algerian officials defect and blame Algerian intelligence for sponsoring all the attacks. Ali Touchent is said to be the GIA leader organizing the attacks (see January 13,1995). But Mohammed Samraoui, former deputy chief of the Algerian army’s counterintelligence unit, will later claim that Touchent was an Algerian intelligence “agent tasked with infiltrating Islamist ranks abroad and the French knew it.” But he adds the French “probably did not suspect their Algerian counterparts were prepared to go so far.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 316-317] A long-time Algerian secret agent known only by the codename Yussuf-Joseph who defected to Britain will later claim that the bombings in France were supported by Algerian intelligence in order to turn French public opinion against the Islamic opposition in Algeria. He says that intelligence agents went sent to France by General Smain Lamari, head of the Algerian counterintelligence department, to directly organize at least two of the French bombings. The operational leader was actually Colonel Souames Mahmoud, head of the intelligence at the Algerian Embassy in Paris. [Observer, 11/9/1997] In 2002, a French television station will air a 90-minute documentary tying the bombings to Algerian intelligence. In the wake of the broadcast, Alain Marsaud, French counterintelligence coordinator in the 1980s, will say, “State terrorism uses screen organizations. In this case, [the GIA was] a screen organization in the hands of the Algerian security services… it was a screen to hold France hostage.” [New Zealand Listener, 2/14/2004]
Kamar Eddine Kherbane. [Source: Marco Hebdo]A militant leader named Kamar Eddine Kherbane is arrested in Morocco, but he has been given political asylum in Britain since 1994 and he is quickly deported to Britain and freed. Agence France-Presse claims that his arrest was “apparently in connection with the [9/11] attacks on the US.” The Moroccan government also questions him about arms smuggling. [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] But by sending him back to Britain, the Moroccan government ignores an extradition request by the Algerian government who claim Kherbane is a wanted criminal and an al-Qaeda operative. [BBC, 9/21/2001] Kherbane was a founding member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Algerian political party outlawed in the early 1990s. He is also a known al-Qaeda operative said to have met bin Laden on several occasions, most recently in 1998. He appears to have been a key leader of mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1990 and 1991). [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] A Spanish police report will later claim that he was the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zabreb, Croatia, office (see Early 1990s). Al-Kifah was a US-based al-Qaeda charity front until the early 1990s that had ties to both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [CNN, 12/8/2002] Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says Kherbane is “close to both the [Algerian] GIA and al-Qaeda’s leaderships.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 183] In an interview shortly after the Moroccan incident, Kherbane claims that he was released there because “Britain put a lot of pressure, which reached the point of threatening to expel the Moroccan ambassador from London.” He also admits to having met bin Laden in the 1990s. [BBC, 9/26/2001] It is not known why the British government helps him avoid being sent to Algeria. But a few days after his return to Britain, The London Times will report, “More than 20 Islamic terrorists, including those wanted for the murders of at least 100 people abroad, are living freely in Britain. Many on the global terror ‘wanted list’ have been granted political asylum despite being close to Osama bin Laden’s organization.” [London Times, 9/23/2001] A 2005 article will indicate Kherbane is still living openly in Britain. [BBC, 2/24/2005]
Habib Souaidia. [Source: Public domain]Algerian general Khaled Nezzar loses a libel suit in France against Habib Souaidia, a former lieutenant in the Algerian army. Souaidia claimed in a 2001 book that in the 1990s the Algerian army frequently massacred Algerian civilians and then blamed Islamic militants for the killings. The French court rules that the contents of Souaidia’s book are “legitimate.” The court declares that it could not judge Algeria’s history but Souaidia had acted in good faith in making his allegations. [Agence France-Presse, 9/27/2002; Inter Press Service, 9/30/2002] Souaidia served in the Algerian army until 1996 and took part in operations against Islamic militants. Nezzar is considered the real power in Algeria, still ruling behind a facade of civilian rule ever since the early 1990s. Several former Algerian officers living in exile testified in court and corroborated Souaidia’s statements. For instance:
Souaidia told the French court, “In the beginning we spoke about restoring order in the country. But very soon the generals made of us an army of wild murderers.… We had permission to kill whoever we wanted to for nothing at all.” He pointed to Nezzar in the courtroom and said that “at the same time they were counting the millions of dollars they had stolen from the people.”
Former colonel Mohammed Samraoui testified that “the Algerian army used all means to attack the Islamic rebellion: blackmail, corruption, threats, killings…we used terrorist methods to attack terrorism even before it had appeared.”
Former officer Ahmed Chouchene said that soldiers were told they could kill civilians as much as they liked as long as they could “produce a false explanation for the killings.” They were taught that “their role was not to apply law, but to circumvent it.” [Inter Press Service, 9/30/2002]
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