The recently reported discovery of an abandoned blue Iveco truck about 90 miles west of Illizi, close to the Libyan border, was seen as a significant breakthrough in the search because it matched the description of a truck two of the missing Germans had been using. In addition, a senior French security official told the French newspaper Le Monde the tourists had been split into two groups and were being held in caves and gullies near the town of Illizi.
‘The One-Eyed’ and ‘The Doctor’
European media have speculated that GSPC leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar — also known as Belaoeur, the "The One-Eyed" — is behind the kidnappings. A jihadi in his teens, when he volunteered to fight the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan, he later developed a reputation of a romantic outlaw that helped the poor.
Intelligence analysts claim recent activities of the GSPC are more symptomatic of a developing network of Islamist terrorism.
In 1996, the GSPC splintered from GIA, and by 1998 it had surpassed the parent organization in power and popularity. By 2000, according to Italian and French intelligence, the GSPC had taken control of GIA's external networks in Europe and North Africa and was moving to establish a pan-European terrorist organization to complement other Islamist terrorist groups in other parts of the world — such as al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's network.
GSPC's European cells were the brainchild of Haydar Abu Doha, an Algerian known as "The Doctor." Abu Doha is alleged to have been a senior official at an al Qaeda terrorist camp in Afghanistan, and is accused of materminding the plot to bomb Los Angeles International Aiport during the millennium celebrations ushering in 2000. He was arrested in February 2001 in London and is awaiting extradition to the United States.
The Strasbourg plotters allegedly made contact with the Meliani Organization, a network headed by Algerian national Mohammed Bensakhria, who was arrested in July 2001 for allegedly planning to bomb the European Parliament in Strasboug. After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bensakhria was linked to Mohamed Atta, who is believed to have been the ringleader among the 9/11 hijackers.
Prior to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, militants of Algerian origin were the most numerous to be found at al Qaeda terror training camps. Those who managed to escape are believed to have either returned to Algeria to join GSPC or to have gone to Continental Europe, where many established sleeper cells for the GSPC.
In recent years, the GSPC has expanded beyond its Algerian base of recruits by incorporating radical militants who have left dormant or lost conflicts such those in as Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan.
Multifront War on Terror
Europe has been a significant front in the war on terrorism, as European authorities have unearthed webs of alleged terrorists since 2001.
On Dec. 16, 2002, French officials arrested four people — two Algerians and two Moroccans — who allegedly were in possession of chemicals and a military personal protection suit.
In December 2002, a 27-year-old Algerian was arrested at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport with plastic explosives, detonators, a handgun and a machine gun, police said.
On Jan. 15, 2003, three North African men, including an Algerian, were arrested in Manchester, England, in connection with an alleged terrorist plot to use the deadly poison ricin, authorities said.