Foreign Policy Blogs

Al-Qaeda and Numerology in the Maghreb

An Oliver Guitta article in the Middle East Times from yesterday analyzes the ascent of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, particularly Algeria (Here is an earlier post about the Dec 11th Algiers bombings).   Basically, the thrust of the article is that al-Qaeda is consolidating its influence in the region, and that “One of its primary goals is to federate the main terror organizations in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya in order to attain full regional reach.”   I personally doubt that this will ever really be the case, as one of the toughest things to do in the world is to get a bunch of disjointed revolutionaries to fall under one flag, even if it is that of bin Laden.  I’ll get into that more in a later post.

 But one of the more interesting passages in the article is this, which I will quote at some length.

And the Dec. 11 spectacular double suicide bombings in Algiers against the United Nations and Algeria's constitutional court are the latest proof of AQIM's potential to create chaos in North Africa.

The symbolical aspect of these attacks is very important. First, Dec. 11, 1960 is a crucial date in Algeria's history of independence from France. The constitutional court happens to be located on the December 11 Boulevard.

And most importantly the “11th” factor is one of al-Qaida's hallmarks: not only for 9/11 in the United States, but also for 3/11 in Madrid and AQIM's suicide attacks on 3/11 in Casablanca, 4/11 in Algiers, 7/11 in Lakhdaria in Algeria and now 12/11.

AQIM has succeeded in creating an “11” psychosis; some in Algeria even describe the 11th as “the date of the devil.”

Now, this is interesting.  When the 3/11 Madrid attacks hit, there was a lot of conspiratorial kerfluffle and internet numerological time-wastery, and it was easily dismissed.   That stuff is fun to an extent, but meaningless (Oh! Here's one! Allende was overthrown in Chile on 9/11 in 1973- that is the date of CIA underground ops, obviously).  People are conditioned to look for patterns, as they provide a level of comfort in times of chaos.  Even if we don't like the order, the idea that human events are controlled by grand plans is a strangely reassuring one. 

But all the “11's” in ALgeria might actually conform to something.  I would imagine it was a coincidence at first, but terrorists are often not dummies.  When there are random explosions, people are scared but it isn't always at the forefront of the mind.  But if there is a specific day every month, the lead-up can become unbearable.   And that, after all, is one of terrorism's main goals.

Secondarily, forcing a pattern onto the chaos can help if the goal of AQIM is really to consolidate power in the Maghreb.   It makes them seem more powerful and competent.   It can help bring splinter groups under their umbrella.

 Again, though, this is just light Christmas speculation. 



Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a freelance writer currently based out of Chicago. He has lived in Egypt and in Yemen, and worked as a writer and editor for the Yemen Observer publishing company. He currently is an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.