Algeria: Layada to al-Hayat: I Set up the GIA to Defend Not to Kill the Algerian People. Antar Zouabri is a Timid Youngster Who did not join the militants in the mountain carrying a Bottle of Wine. - Part II - (by Camille Tawil)
Camille Tawil Al - Hayat - 07/06/07//
Baraki (Algeria)- "We took up arms to defend the people not to kill them", a phrase repeated by the Emir of the Armed Islamic Group, who was recently released from prison after serving 13 years during which his country sunk in "pools of blood", largely shed by the GIA whose founder and first Emir in October 1992 was killed.
But Abdelhak Layada (Abu Adlane) did not try to disavow his past. He told al-Hayat that he actually took up arms against the Algerian government in the belief that he was "defending the people" in the face of a regime that had "canceled their votes" when it abrogated the results of the 1991 elections, but he never knew that the group that he founded would turn in a few years into "a monster" eating away at the body of the people that he took up arms to defend.
The GIA Emir was speaking to al-Hayat in his modest house in the impoverished suburb of Baraki area in the Algerian capital. Baraki and the adjacent regions constituted a human reservoir of armed groups in the 1990s. They had been for long periods 'liberated areas' that neither security personnel nor government servicemen had the guts to enter at night. Of course, that era ended now, but the region remains a security concern in the light of suspicions that militant groups' activists still enjoy relative freedom of movement there.
Layada expressed reservations elaborating on the origins of the GIA, as he does not want to cause embarrassment to some co-founders, although most of the founders have already died. Nonetheless, he was dissatisfied with the fact that leaders in the banned 'Islamic Salvation Front' (FIS) have disavowed the violence that took place in Algeria in the early 1990s, passing the buck to the others, particularly the GIA. "It is them that drove the people to do what they have done", said Layada implying that those who took up arms against the regime were abetted and egged on by the FIS leaders to embark upon Jihad.
Abu Adlane (Adlane, who attended the interview with his father, is a third-year college student) explained the reason for his reservations, saying: "If I speak now about some matters with regard to the emergence of the GIA we might harm leaders in FIS, the State and even politicians from foreign countries". Names and details must wait, as "time has not yet come" to uncover everything the Emir has.
Layada is not trying to deny his responsibility for founding the GIA, but what concerns him is to distance himself from its course during the 'bloody years'. "I took up arms to defend and restore the people's rights, not to kill them. Our principle was to protect our country", Layada told al-Hayat. "I disavow the massacres and the killing of innocent people. I never took up arms to kill people", he added.
Layada, a former car mechanic, took over the GIA leadership in the autumn of 1992, months after the cancellation of elections and the start 'armed action' against the regime. But his leadership was short-lived, as Morocco arrested him in the summer of 1993 and handed him over to the Algerian authorities in August 1993. He said he was not detained in Morocco, but he met with senior Moroccan officials that tried to make an agreement with him on matters "I rejected", in a reference to the conflict in Western Sahara and Algeria's support for the Polisario Front that seeks the territory's independence from Morocco. "They told me I am worth a hundredweight of gold", before being handed over by Moroccan officials to the Algerians.
His arrest in Morocco and extradition to Algeria had no effect in the beginning on the march of the GIA. Instead of falling behind with its construction at his absence, the result was completely the opposite: the group rocketed to fame and became in a short period the master of armed action on the ground and the powerful organization. In July 1993 he was succeeded by Isa bin Ammar, who was killed weeks later. He was replaced by Jaafar al-Afghani, who began to extend the circle of fighting to include foreigners living in Algeria. But Jaafar's leadership was short-lived as he was killed by security forces in February 1994 and was replaced by Cherif Gousmi, who managed two months after assuming the Emirate to bring about an alliance under the umbrella of the GIA. It included a wing from the Islamic Salvation Front led by Sheikh Mohamed Said (leader of the Algerisation trend), and the 'Movement for an Islamic State' led by Sheikh Abdelkader Chebouti and Said Makhloufi. But Gousmi's leadership did not last long as he was killed by security forces in September 1994, before being replaced by Djamel Zitouni.
Under Zitouni's leadership the GIA experienced a total deviation that overstepped all boundaries in 1997 when his assistant and close ally Antar Zouabri took over as the new Emir. Zouabri considered the Algerian people as apostates and allowed genocide against them.
All these developments took place while Layada was in Serkadji prison (where he survived a horrendous massacre in 1995 that claimed the lives of about 100 prisoners when security forces attempted to crush a prisoners' rebellion). But Layada, who sometimes seems proud of GIA even during his absence in prison, quickly condemned its deviation, though he himself was surprised how it happened.
He is proud that the group was a large military force that managed to stand in the face of the security forces for long periods in the 1990s. "All generals of Algeria were not able to enter Talaacheh in that period. The Green Battalion (the strike force in GIA formed by Djamel Zitouni) under the command of Antar Zouabri (former commander of the Battalion and GIA's leader since 1997) had a law providing that lying on the ground is against Islamic Sharia even under aerial bombardment. Running away during confrontations was also impermissible. If you escape you will be killed. The Green Battalion in the mountain was fired on and was responding with fire. Whenever they (army personnel) advance on Talaacheh dozens of them get killed and the GIA takes their weapons while the army withdraws", Layada said of GIA's stronghold in Talaacheh (Blida province south of the capital).
However, this boastfulness of the GIA's 'acts of heroism' quickly disappears when the issue of massacres attributed to GIA under Zouabri's leadership is raised. Layada, who knows Antar from his brother Ali, a co-founder of GIA, seems puzzled today how Antar changed from an ordinary soldier that blushes if you speak to him to a 'bloody emir' that has no scruples about spilling the blood of millions of Algerians on the basis that they became 'renegades' because they did not join the group.
"I swear by Allah that Antar went up the mountain while holding the Qur'an in his hand. It is not true that he went up the mountain with a bottle of wine in his hand. There were exchanged killings between Antar group and Mustapha Kartali group (there is enmity and rift between the two groups. Kartali's claim that Antar was drinking wine while he was climbing up the mountain comes in the framework of differences between them). But, I swear by Allah Almighty, his face goes red with shyness. When I heard what he has done (massacres) I did not believe. I was never convinced of what happened", he said.
Apparently there is some confusion about Antar's drinking wine before going up the mountain. Layada has the right to defend him by saying that he went up the mountain "holding the Qur'an in his hand, not a bottle of wine", but apparently he who talked about Antar's relation with wine was talking about his past before joining GIA.
Antar was brought up in the extremely impoverished alley of Karou in Boufarik (in the province of Blida, south of the Algerian capital). It is no secret today that he and his brothers formed a gang of villainous thieves. But what happened was that the brother was arrested and imprisoned in 1989 - 1990 and he became an Islamist when he came out of prison. He persuaded his brothers to abide by Islamic obligations.
One of Antar's old friends told al-Hayat that Antar told him that he and his brothers' becoming religious did not appeal to even some of their family members, who had once visited them and found that Antar and his brothers had shortened the table's legs to the ground and they were eating while sitting on the floor instead of chairs (some Salafists justify this as being a Sunni tradition).
Until today there are still 'shades of grey' about how Antar changed from a shy young man at the beginning of military action to such a 'bloody' man capable of regarding the whole Algerian people as renegades, although it is clear that what happened to his family undoubtedly was a motive for what he did.
It has been said that non-Islamist extremists savagely mutilated the bodies of some of his family members. Security forces killed Antar in 2002 and released his first and second wives, although he had only one girl from one of them.
He was yearning for a boy, as his former friend said. In the end, he is known in the mountain by 'Abi Talha'.