There is an incredible story coming out of Algeria these days. International and Algerian media have reported that 40 members of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were killed by the plague (black death) at a training camp in Tizi Ozou, eastern Algeria earlier this month (see also here). According to intelligence officials, the outbreak was either a consequence of poor living conditions or, more likely, due to a biological weapons experiment gone awry. While this would seem to place AQIM in line for a Darwin Award, that is precisely why we should be careful to conclude too early on the veracity of these rumours.
AQIM, on its side, has been quick to respond to the story, publishing Wednesday (January 21) an official statement refuting the reports. Ascribing the story to “hypocrite pens” and characterizing it as “a plot by the intelligence community”, AQIM “assures that the claims are totally untrue and that the mujahidin are in the best conditions. […] The objective of such misleading news is to deter people from joining the front of the jihad. […] The real plague that threatens the existence of the Umma is the group of apostate and traitorous leaders allied with the Jews and the Christians in the crushing of Gaza, the selling of Palestine and the trampling on our religion, our land and our sanctuaries.” With well-known rhetoric, AQIM turns the attention to its enemies, and invokes the situation in Gaza – a recurring topic in AQIM’s propaganda over the last weeks.
Yesterday’s statement also denied claims that AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdal had issued death threats against Egyptian actor Adel Imam for criticizing Hamas last week. Droukdal did publish an audio speech about Gaza last week, but did not (as far as I could tell) mention Adel Imam. On the other hand, he did mention another artist, Algerian-born French Jewish singer Enrico Macias, who has now cancelled a planned visit to Algeria.
AQIM has recently displayed an almost obsessive interest in refuting press allegations. In another statement a few weeks ago, AQIM addressed no less than seven stories from the Algerian press. Among these “false and deceptive” reports were claims that emir Droukdal had been seriously wounded in a clash with security forces, that Ayman al-Zawahiri had ordered the discharge of three AQIM leaders, and that the group had plotted to slaughter 100 Muslims at a fake road block. The statement reassured Muslim readers that AQIM “do not kill innocent people”. The apparent need for AQIM to respond to press reports suggests that the group is on the defensive in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Algerian population. Reports about self-inflicted black death are probably not helping.
Document (Arabic): 01-20-09-aqim-responds-to-plague-rumours
Document (Arabic): 12-23-08-aqim-responds-to-algerian-media-lies