Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Multiple Motives for North African Jihadists
Why are so many North Africans keen to join the Jihadist effort? What stands behind this massive mobilization and readiness of young people to leave everything behind, cut their ties with family, disappear from their milieu without any announcement, smuggle themselves to the Syrian or Iraqi arenas (at great risk from their respective countries and under the constant watch of the security and intelligence agencies that monitor movements to and from the Middle East), and of course ready to sacrifice their lives in Syria, Iraq or in Europe for a cause fought thousands of kilometers away from their native North African country?
The explanation may be found in the following:
1. North Africans have always wanted to be close to the “core” of the Middle East, feeling marginalized by historical events taking place in the Arab-Israeli conflict away from their region. North African states sent expeditionary troops to the Middle East after the 1967 Six-Day War to take part in the battle against Israel. Morocco sent two brigades (one was deployed in the Syrian Golan Heights and one in Egypt) while Algeria sent a brigade to Egypt. Those troops were actively engaged in combat during the Yom Kippur 1973 war against Israel and suffered heavy losses.
2.North Africa is the setting for developing jihadist movements partly inspired by the war in Afghanistan and by the Khomeini revolution in Iran. But the unsatisfied needs of young, mostly unemployed people, left behind by the process of modernization and westernization and an unwillingness to accept the reality of power also plays a role. The disintegration of Libya after Qaddafi and the takeover of the country by jihadist militias have served as a contagious example to North African jihadists, meaning that what has been achieved in nearby Libya by jihadists could be repeated in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
3. The North Africa states have been exposed for a long time to Wahhabi proselytism that is opposed to the “moderate” Sufi Islam practiced in North Africa. Morocco and Tunisia were tolerant to the Wahhabi theological invasion while Algeria chose to fight it by all means. Identification with the Wahhabi ideology is only one step from joining soul mates to fight the “heretics” leading “heretic” regimes. Oddly enough, northern Morocco, which seems to be the area that has drawn the most jihadists to the Islāmic State, is a region were strict Salafi sheiks dominate the religious scene and do identify openly with the ideology of the Islāmic State and its targets.
4.There is also an economic factor one cannot ignore. Most of the Moroccans who have joined the Islāmic State come from the north of the country that has been neglected by former King Hassan II. The northern region of Morocco is hit by severe unemployment and subsequent radicalization. The fact that the Islāmic State pays salaries that cannot even be imagined in Morocco is a factor in the enrollment of jihadists by the Islāmic State.
5. Finally, one cannot under-estimate the geographic factor: North Africa is very close to southern Europe and the jihadist network existing there, which makes coördination and recruitment easier. Those networks appeared first during the second Iraqi war (2003) when people thought it acceptable to travel to Iraq and join the fight against the “American aggressor.”
What Are the Ultimate Objectives of the Islamic State?
The answer is simple, and it lies in the publications of the Islāmic State: establish an Islāmic Caliphate that would restore Islam’s historical splendor. According to the maps published by the Islāmic State, the Islāmic State will include Andalus in the West (Spain) and stretch from North Africa — the Maghreb — (and the whole of West Africa including Nigeria) through Libya and Egypt (considered one geographical unit – Ard Al-Kinana), include what is called in Islāmic state terminology, Ard el Habasha (from Cameroon in the west, Central Africa, the Lake Victoria states, Ethiopia and Somalia), the Hijaz (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States), Yemen until Khurasan in the east – defined as the Central Asian Muslim Republics beginning with Azerbaijan and including Pakistan and the southwest part of China, land of the Muslims of Turkish origin, the Uyghurs. The Islāmic State also includes Iran and Turkey (named Anatol) in their entirety and parts of Europe (mainly the Balkans, more or less conforming to the borders of the defunct Ottoman Empire with the Austro-Hungarian territories).
The Islāmic State has made no secret who is its enemy: In an audio-taped message, Al-Baghdadi announced following his self-proclaimed caliphate that the Islāmic State would march on “Rome” in its resolve to establish an Islāmic State from the Middle East across Europe. He said that he would conquer both Rome and Spain in this endeavor and urged Muslims across the world to immigrate to the new Islāmic State.
On November 13, 2014, exactly a year before the Paris terrorist attacks, a voice message attributed to Al-Baghdadi vowed that IS fighters would never cease fighting “even if only one soldier remains.” The speaker urged supporters of the Islāmic State to “erupt volcanoes of jihad” across the world. He called for attacks to be mounted in Saudi Arabia—describing Saudi leaders as “the head of the snake” – and said that the U.S.-led military campaign in Syria and Iraq was failing. He also said that ISIL would keep on marching and would “break the borders” of Jordan and Lebanon and “free Palestine.” Al-Baghdadi also claimed in 2014 that Islāmic jihadists would never hesitate to eliminate Israel just because it has the United States support.
The distillation of these warlike declarations could only mean a continuation of the IS war effort directed at:
- Toppling the Shiite regime in Iraq and containing Iran.
- Taking control of the Syrian-Turkish border.
- Reaching Tripoli in Lebanon to secure a harbor on the Mediterranean Sea and by extension to destabilize Lebanon.
- Toppling the Assad regime in Syria.
- Destabilizing Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
- Destabilizing Europe and the U.S. through terrorist acts. Blowing up the Russian plane flying out of Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai and the Beirut and Paris terrorist attacks definitely fit in this IS strategy.