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The Muslim conquest of North Africa continued the century of rapid Arab Muslim military expansion following the death of Muhammad in 632 CE. By 640 the Arabs controlled Mesopotamia, had invaded Armenia, and were concluding their conquest of Byzantine Syria. Damascus was the seat of the Umayyad caliphate. And by the end of 641 all of Egypt was in Arab hands. Then, with the destruction of the Persian army at the Battle of Nihaw?nd (Nehawand) in 642, the conquest of the Persian Empire was essentially finished.
It was at this point that Arab military expeditions into North Africa were first launched by local initiative from Egypt, continuing for years and resulting in the spread of Islam.
In 644 at Madinah, Caliph Umar (Omar) was succeeded by Uthman ibn Affan (Othman), during whose twelve-year rule Armenia, Cyprus, and all of Iran, would be added to the growing Islamic empire; Afghanistan and North Africa would receive major invasions; and Muslim sea raids would range from Rhodes to the southern coasts of the Iberian Peninsula. The Byzantine navy would be defeated in the eastern Mediterranean.
Sources for the history of the invasion
Before the accounts below are read, it should be realised that there are virtually no contemporary records of the conquest, and particularly of events outside Egypt. It should also be noted that, as the history of a war is usually written by the victors, Arab accounts of the conquest tend to predominate and possibly present a more favourable account of the invasion.
The earliest Arab accounts that have come down to us are those of Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, Al-Baladhuri and Ibn Khayyat, all of which were written in the 9th century some 200 years after the first invasions. These are not very detailed. In the case of the most informative, the History of the Conquest of Egypt and North Africa and Spain by Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, Brunschvig has shown that it was written with a view to illustrating points of Maliki law rather than documenting a history, and that some of the events it describes are probably historical.
Beginning in the 12th century, scholars at Kairouan began to construct a new version of the history of the conquest, which was finalised by ar-Raqiq. This version was copied in its entirety, and sometimes interpolated, by later authors, reaching its zenith in the 14th century with scholars such as Ibn Idhari, Ibn Khaldun and Al-Nuwayri. It differs from the earlier version not only in the greater detail, but also in giving conflicting accounts of events. This, however, is the best known version and is the one given below.
There is ongoing controversy regarding the relative merits of the two versions. For more information, refer to the works cited below by Brunschvig, Modéran and Benabbès (all supporters of the earlier version) and Siraj (supports the later version).
The first invasion of North Africa, ordered by the caliph, was launched in 647. Marching from Medina, Arabia, 20,000 Arabs were joined in Memphis, Egypt, by another 20,000 and led into the Byzantine Exarchate of Africa by Abdallah ibn al-Sa’ad. Tripolitania in what is modern Libya was taken. Count Gregory, the local Byzantine governor, had declared his independence from Byzantine Empire in North Africa, gathered his allies, confronted the Islamic invasion force and was defeated at the battle of Sufetula, a city 150 miles south of Carthage. With the death of Gregory his successor, probably Gennadius, secured the Arab withdrawal in exchange for tribute. The campaign lasted fifteen months and Abdallah's force returned to Egypt in 648.
All further Muslim conquests were soon interrupted, however, by a civil war between rival Arab factions that resulted in the murder of Caliph Uthman in 656. He was replaced by Ali Ibn Abi Talib, who in turn was murdered in 661. The Umayyad (Omayyad) Dynasty of largely secular and hereditary Arab caliphs then established itself at Damascus and Caliph Muawiya I began consolidating the empire from the Aral Sea to the western border of Egypt. He put a governor in place in Egypt at al-Fustat, creating a subordinate seat of power that would continue for the next two centuries. He then continued the invasion of non-Muslim neighbouring states, attacking Sicily and Anatolia (later Turkey) in 663. In 664 Kabul, Afghanistan, fell to the invading Muslim armies.
Then, from 665 to 689, a new invasion of North Africa was launched.
It began, according to Will Durant, to protect Egypt "from flank attack by Byzantine Cyrene." So "an army of 40,000 Muslims advanced through the desert to Barca, took it, and marched to the neighborhood of Carthage." A defending Byzantine army of 30,000 was defeated in the process.
Next came a force of 10,000 Arabs led by the Arab general Uqba ibn Nafi and enlarged by thousands of others. Departing from Damascus, the army marched into North Africa and took the vanguard. In 670 the city of Kairouan (roughly eighty miles or 160 kilometers south of modern Tunis) was established as a refuge and base for further operations. This would become the capital of the Islamic province of Ifriqiya, which would cover the coastal regions of what are today western Libya, Tunisia, and eastern Algeria.
After this, as Edward Gibbon writes, the fearless general "plunged into the heart of the country, traversed the wilderness in which his successors erected the splendid capitals of Fes and Morocco, and at length penetrated to the verge of the Atlantic and the great desert." In his conquest of the Maghreb (western North Africa) he besieged the coastal city of Bugia as well as Tingi or Tangier, overwhelming what had once been the traditional Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana.
But here he was stopped and partially repulsed. Luis Garcia de Valdeavellano writes:
In their struggle against the Byzantines and the Berbers, the Arab chieftains had greatly extended their African dominions, and as early as the year 682 Uqba had reached the shores of the Atlantic, but he was unable to occupy Tangier, for he was forced to turn back toward the Atlas Mountains
by a man who became known to history and legend as Count Julian.
Moreover, as Gibbon writes, Uqba, "this Mahometan Alexander, who sighed for new worlds, was unable to preserve his recent conquests. By the universal defection of the Greeks and Africans he was recalled from the shores of the Atlantic." His forces were directed at putting down rebellion. In one such battle he was surrounded by insurgents and killed.
Then, adds Gibbon, "The third general or governor of Africa, Zuheir, avenged and encountered the fate of his predecessor. He vanquished the natives in many battles; he was overthrown by a powerful army, which Constantinople had sent to the relief of Carthage."
Meanwhile, a new civil war among rivals of the monarchy was raging in Arabia and Syria. It resulted in a series of four caliphs between the death of Muawiya in 680 and the ascension of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (Abdalmalek) in 685 and didn't end until 692 with the death of the rebel leader.
This development brought about a return of domestic order that allowed the caliph to resume the Islamic conquest of North Africa. It began with the retaking of Ifrikquiya. Gibbon writes:
“the standard was delivered to Hassan governor of Egypt, and the revenue of that kingdom, with an army of forty thousand men, was consecrated to the important service. In the vicissitudes of war, the interior provinces had been alternately won and lost by the Saracens. But the seacoast still remained in the hands of the Greeks; the predecessors of Hassan had respected the name and fortifications of Carthage; and the number of its defenders was recruited by the fugitives of Cabes and Tripoli. The arms of Hassan were bolder and more fortunate: he reduced and pillaged the metropolis of Africa; and the mention of scaling-ladders may justify the suspicion, that he anticipated, by a sudden assault, the more tedious operations of a regular siege.”
But the Byzantine Empire responded with troops from Constantinople, joined by soldiers and ships from Sicily and a powerful contingent of Visigoths from Hispania. This forced the invading Arab army to retreat to Kairouan. Then, writes Gibbon, "the Christians landed; the citizens hailed the ensign of the cross, and the winter was idly wasted in the dream of victory or deliverance.
The following spring, however, the Arabs launched a new assault by sea and land, forcing the Byzantines and their allies to evacuate Carthage. The Arabs totally destroyed the city and burned it to the ground, leaving the area desolate for the next two centuries. Another battle was fought near Utica and the Arabs were again victorious, forcing the Byzantines to leave that part of North Africa for good.
This was followed by a Berber rebellion against the new Arab overlords. Gibbon writes:
“Under the standard of their queen Cahina, the independent tribes acquired some degree of union and discipline; and as the Moors respected in their females the character of a prophetess, they attacked the invaders with an enthusiasm similar to their own. The veteran bands of Hassan were inadequate to the defence of Africa: the conquests of an age were lost in a single day; and the Arabian chief, overwhelmed by the torrent, retired to the confines of Egypt.”
Five years passed before Hassan received fresh troops from the caliph. Meanwhile the people of North Africa's cities chafed under a Berber reign of destruction. Thus Hassan was welcomed upon his return. Gibbon writes that "the friends of civil society conspired against the savages of the land; and the royal prophetess was slain in the first battle."
By 698, the Arabs had conquered most of North Africa from the Byzantines. The area was divided into three provinces: Egypt with its governor at al-Fustat, Ifrikquiya with its governor at Kairouan, and the Maghreb (modern Morocco with its governor at Tangiers.
Musa bin Nusair, a successful Yemeni general in the campaign, was made governor of Ifrikquiya and given the responsibility of putting down a renewed Berber rebellion and converting the population to Islam. Musa and his two sons prevailed over the rebels and enslaved 300,000 captives. The caliph's portion was 60,000 of the captives. These the caliph sold into slavery, the proceeds from their sale going into the public treasury. Another 30,000 captives were pressed into military service.
Musa also had to deal with constant harassment from the Byzantine navy. So he built a navy of his own which went on to conquer the Christian islands of Ibiza, Majorca, and Minorca. Advancing into the Maghreb, his forces took Algiers in 700.
Completion of the conquest
By 709, all of North Africa was under the control of the Arab caliphate. The only possible exception was Ceuta at the African Pillar of Hercules. Gibbon declares: "In that age, as well as in the present, the kings of Spain were possessed of the fortress of Ceuta [...] Musa, in the pride of victory, was repulsed from the walls of Ceuta, by the vigilance and courage of Count Julian, the general of the Goths."
Other sources, however, maintain that Ceuta represented the last Byzantine outpost in Africa and that Julian, whom the Arabs called Ilyan, was an exarch or Byzantine governor. Valdeavellano offers another possibility, that "as appears more likely, he may have been a Berber who was the lord and master of the Catholic tribe of Gomera." In any case, being an able diplomat who was adept in Visigothic, Berber, and Arab politics, Julian might well have surrendered to Musa on terms that allowed him to retain his title and command.
At this time the population of Ceuta included many refugees from a Visigothic civil war that had broken out in Hispania (modern Portugal and Spain). These included family and confederates of the late King Wittiza, Arian Christians fleeing forced conversions at the hands of the Visigothic Catholic church, and persecuted Jews. Perhaps it was they, through Count Julian, who appealed to the North African Muslims for help in overthrowing Roderic, the new king of the Visigoths.
As Gibbon puts it, Musa received an unexpected message from Julian, "who offered his place, his person, and his sword" to the Muslim leader in exchange for help in the civil war. Though Julian's "estates were ample, his followers bold and numerous", he "had little to hope and much to fear from the new reign." And he was too feeble to challenge Roderic directly. So he sought Musa's aid.
For Musa, Julian, "by his Andalusian and Mauritanian commands, ... held in his hands the keys of the Spanish monarchy." And so Musa ordered some initial raids on the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula in 710. In the spring of that same year Tariq ibn Ziyad—a Berber, a freed slave, and a Muslim general—took Tangier. Musa thereupon made him governor there, backed by an army of 1,700.
The next year, 711, Musa directed Tariq to invade Hispania for Islam. Disembarking from Ceuta aboard ships provided by Julian, Tariq plunged into the Iberian Peninsula, defeated Roderic, and went on to besiege the Visigothic capital of Toledo. He and his allies also took Córdoba, Ecija, Granada, Málaga, Seville, and other cities. By this process, Tariq was conquering Iberia for Islam rather than taking sides in a Visigothic civil war. And in so doing he established beyond all doubt that Ceuta, the last Christian stronghold in North Africa, was now part of the Arab empire. By this means the Umayyad conquest of Hispania brought to a close the total Islamic conquest of North Africa.
Fate of indigenous Christianity in northwest Africa after the Arab conquest
The conventional historical view is that the conquest of North Africa by the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate between AD 647–709 effectively ended Catholicism in Africa for several centuries. The prevailing view is that the Church at that time lacked the backbone of a monastic tradition and was still suffering from the aftermath of heresies including the so-called Donatist heresy, and that this contributed to the early obliteration of the Church in the present day Maghreb. Some historians contrast this with the strong monastic tradition in Coptic Egypt, which is credited as a factor that allowed the Coptic Church to remain the majority faith in that country until around after the 14th century AD.
However, new scholarship has appeared that disputes this. There are reports that the Roman Catholic faith persisted in the region from Tripolitania (present-day western Libya) to present-day Morocco for several centuries after the completion of the Arab conquest by 700 AD. A Christian community is recorded in 1114 in Qal'a in central Algeria. There is also evidence of religious pilgrimages after 850 AD to tombs of Catholic saints outside of the city of Carthage, and evidence of religious contacts with Christians of Arab Spain. In addition, calendrical reforms adopted in Europe at this time were disseminated amongst the indigenous Christians of Tunis, which would have not been possible had there been an absence of contact with Rome.
Local Catholicism came under pressure when the Muslim fundamentalist regimes of the Almohads and Almoravids came into power, and the record shows demands made that the local Christians of Tunis to convert to Islam. We still have reports of Christian inhabitants and a bishop in the city of Kairouan around 1150 AD - a significant report, since this city was founded by Arab Muslims around 680 AD as their administrative center after their conquest. A letter in Catholic Church archives from the 14th century shows that there were still four bishoprics left in North Africa, admittedly a sharp decline from the over four hundred bishoprics in existence at the time of the Arab conquest. Berber Christians continued to live in Tunis and Nefzaoua in the south of Tunisia until the early fifteenth century, and "[i]n the first quarter of the fifteenth century, we even read that the native Christians of Tunis, though much assimilated, extended their church, perhaps because the last Christians from all over the Maghreb had gathered there."
By 1830, when the French came as colonial conquerors to Algeria and Tunis, local Catholicism had been extinguished. The growth of Catholicism in the region after the French conquest was built on European colonizers and settlers, and these immigrants and their descendants mostly left when the countries of the region became independent.
The Armed Islamic Group (GIA, al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha, from French Groupe Islamique Armé; Arabic ??????? ????????? ???????? ) is an Islamist organisation that wants to overthrow the Algerian government and replace it with an Islamic state. The GIA adopted violent tactics in 1992 after the military government voided the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front, the largest Islamic opposition party, in the first round of legislative elections held in December 1991. During their 1994 hijack of Air France Flight 8969 the GIA announced "We are the Soldiers of Mercy".
Between 1992 and 1998 the GIA conducted a violent campaign of civilian massacres, sometimes wiping out entire villages in its area of operation (see List of Algerian massacres of the 1990s; notably the Bentalha massacre and Rais massacre, among others.) Since announcing its campaign against foreigners living in Algeria in 1993, the GIA has killed more than 100 expatriate men and women in the country. The group uses assassinations and bombings, including car bombs, and it is known to favor kidnapping victims. The GIA is considered a terrorist organisation by the governments of Algeria, France and the United States. Outside of Algeria, the GIA established a presence in France, Belgium, Britain, Italy and the United States.
Early in 1992, Mansour Meliani, with many "Afghans", broke with his former friend Abdelkader Heresay and left the MIA (Islamic Armed Movement), founding the first Armed Islamic Group (GIA) around July 1992. This group dispersed after his arrest that month, but the idea was revived in January 1993 by Abdelhak Layada, who declared his group independent of Heresay and not obedient to his orders. It adopted the radical Omar El-Eulmi as a spiritual guide, affirming that "political pluralism is equivalent to sedition"
It was far less selective than the MIA, which insisted on ideological training; as a result, it was regularly infiltrated by the security forces, resulting in a rapid leadership turnover as successive heads were killed. It explicitly affirmed that it "did not represent the armed wing of the FIS", and issued death threats against several FIS and MIA members, including MIA's Heresay and FIS's Kebir and Redjam.
From its inception on, the GIA called for and implemented the killing of anyone collaborating with or supporting the authorities, including government employees such as teachers and civil servants. It named and assassinated specific journalists and intellectuals (such as Tahar Djaout), saying that "The journalists who fight against Islamism through the pen will perish by the sword.". It soon broadened its attacks to civilians who refused to live by their prohibitions, and in later 1993 began killing foreigners, declaring that "anyone who exceeds that period [a one month deadline] will be responsible for his own sudden death"
Under Cherif Gousmi (its leader since March), the GIA became the most high-profile terrorist organization in 1994. In May, FIS suffered an apparent blow as Abderrezak Redjam, Mohammed Said, the exiled Anwar Haddam, and the MEI's Said Makhloufi joined the GIA; since the GIA had been issuing death threats against them since November 1993, this came as a surprise to many observers, who interpreted it either as the result of intra-FIS competition or as an attempt to change the GIA's course from within. On August 26, it declared a "Caliphate", or Islamic government for Algeria, with Gousmi as Commander of the Faithful, Mohammed Said as head of government, the US-based Haddam as foreign minister, and Mekhloufi as provisional interior minister.
However, the very next day Said Mekhloufi announced his withdrawal from the GIA, claiming that the GIA had deviated from Islam and that this "Caliphate" was an effort by Mohammed Said to take over the GIA, and Haddam soon afterwards denied ever having joined it, asserting that this Caliphate was an invention of the security services. The GIA continued attacking its usual targets, notably assassinating artists, such as Cheb Hasni, and in late August added a new one to its list, threatening schools which allowed mixed classes, music, gym for girls, or not wearing hijab with arson.
Cherif Gousmi was eventually succeeded by Djamel Zitouni as GIA head. Zitouni extended the GIA's attacks on civilians to French soil, beginning with the hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 at the end of December 1994 and continuing with several bombings and attempted bombings throughout 1995. In Algeria itself, he continued likewise, with car bombs, assassinations of musicians, sportsmen, and unveiled women as well as the usual victims. Even at this stage, the seemingly counterproductive nature of many of its attacks led to speculation (encouraged by FIS members abroad) that the group had been infiltrated by Algerian secret services.
The region south of Algiers, in particular, came to be virtually dominated by the GIA; they called it the "liberated zone". Later it would be known as the "triangle of death". During this period, judging from its London-based magazine Al-Ansar, it worked out ever broader ideological justifications for killing civilians, with the help of fatwas from such figures as Abu Qatada. Abu Qatada's writings and speeches have been critically assessed by a contemporary Muslim scholar, Shaykh 'Abdul-Malik ar-Ramadani al-Jaza'iri, in the book Takhlis al-'Ibad min Wahshiyyat Ab'il-Qataad aladhi yu'du ila Qatli'n-Nisa wa Awlad (Jeddah: Maktabah Asalah al-Athariyyah, 1422AH
Reports of battles between the AIS and GIA increased (resulting in an estimated 60 deaths in March 1995 alone), and the GIA reiterated its death threats against FIS and AIS leaders, claiming to be the "sole prosecutor of jihad" and angered by their negotiation attempts. On July 11, they assassinated a co-founder of FIS, Abdelbaki Sahraoui, in Paris (although some question the authenticity of their statement claiming credit for this.)
During the 1995 election, the GIA threatened to kill anyone who voted (using the slogan "one vote, one bullet".) Soon afterwards, the GIA was shaken by internal dissension: shortly after the election, its leadership killed the FIS leaders who had joined the GIA - Mohammed Saïd, Abderrezak Redjam, and their supporters, accusing them of attempting a takeover. Other Islamists suggested that they had objected to the GIA's indiscriminate violence. This purge accelerated the disintegration of the GIA, leading to suspicion of Zitouni's leadership: Mustapha Kartali, Ali Benhadjar, and Hassan Hattab's factions all refused to recognize Zitouni's leadership starting around late 1995, although they would not formally break away until somewhat later. The GIA killed the AIS leader for central Algeria, Azzedine Baa, in December, and in January pledged to fight the AIS as an enemy; particularly in the west, full-scale battles between them became common.
In July 1996, GIA leader Djamel Zitouni was killed by one of the breakaway factions - Ali Benhadjar's Medea brigade, later to become the AIS-aligned Islamic League for Da'wa and Jihad - and was succeeded by Antar Zouabri. Djamel Zitouni had earned notoriety for such acts as the killing of the seven Monks of Tibhirine in March, but his successor would prove to be far bloodier. Under the leadership of Antar Zouabri, its longest serving "emir" (1996–2002), the GIA became a "takfiri" group, considering Algerian society to be in violation of Islamic precepts, therefore justifying the killing of members of that society as a form of purification of heretical elements.
Like some of his predecessors, Zouabri was himself killed in a gun battle with security forces, in February 2002. The group's leadership next passed on to Rachid Abou Tourab, who was allegedly killed by close aides in July 2004. Next, Boulenouar Oukil was designated leader of the group. On April 7, the GIA was reported to have killed 14 civilians at a fake road block. On April 29, Oukil was arrested. Nourredine Boudiafi iwas the last known "emir" of the GIA. He was arrested sometime in November 2004 and the Algerian government announced his arrest in early January 2005.
In Algeria, however, the group's repeated massacres of civilians had drained popular support (although rumors persist that security forces were involved in some of the massacres, or even controlled the group). Meanwhile, a 1999 amnesty law that was officially rejected by the GIA was accepted by many rank-and-file Islamist fighters; an estimated 85 percent surrendered their arms and returned to civilian life.
The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) splinter faction appears to have eclipsed the GIA since approximately 1998 and is currently assessed by the CIA to be the most effective armed group remaining inside Algeria. Both the GIA and GSPC leadership continue to proclaim their rejection of President Bouteflika's amnesty, but in contrast to the GIA, the GSPC has stated that it avoids attacks on civilians.
GIA in France
The Algerian state pursued a number of strategies against the GIA. One was to encourage France to take an active part in the fight against the networks of the GIA in France, and thus to cut off its principal means of support abroad.
In an unsuccessful attempt to keep France out of the struggle, the GIA hijacked Air France Flight 8969, which was due to fly from Algiers to Paris in December 1994. A GIA mole named Omar Nasiri (a pseudonym for a Moroccan spy and author of Inside the Jihad) and a police raid of a safe house discovered their plan was to crash it on Paris, a plan prevented when the GIGN stormed the plane at Marseille.
The GIA conducted a series of bombings in France from 1995 to 1996. Analysis of a bomb with a failed trigger mechanism made it possible to identify a conspirator, Khaled Kelkal, who was shot and killed by French gendarmes on September 29, 1995. In late 1999, several GIA members were convicted by a French court for the 1995 bombing campaign.
In 1998, prior to the World Cup, France in collaboration with other European countries launched a vast preventive operation against the GIA. About 100 alleged members of the group were arrested throughout Europe. In Belgium, security forces seized weapons, detonators and forged identity papers. On June 11, 1999, the GIA announced a jihad on French territory in a threatening letter addressed to the media.
Claims of Algerian Government involvement
International security analyst Nafeez Ahmed claims GIA atrocities were in fact perpetrated by the state. He claims ‘Yussuf-Joseph’, a career secret agent in Algeria’s sécurité militaire for 14 years, defected to Britain in 1997 and told the Guardian that civilian massacres in Algeria, blamed on the GIA, were ‘the work of secret police and army death squads… not Islamic extremists’. GIA terrorism was ‘orchestrated’ by ‘Mohammed Mediane, head of the Algerian secret service’, and ‘General Smain Lamari’, head of ‘the counter intelligence agency’. According to Ahmed 'Joseph' says: ‘The GIA is a pure product of Smain’s secret service. I used to read all the secret telexes. I know that the GIA has been infiltrated and manipulated by the Government. The GIA has been completely turned by the Government… In 1992 Smain created a special group, L’Escadron de la Mort (the Squadron of Death)… The death squads organize the massacres… The FIS aren’t doing the massacres.’ 
'Joseph' is also supposed to have confirmed that Algerian intelligence agents organized ‘at least’ two of the bombs in Paris in summer 1995. ‘The operation was run by Colonel Souames Mahmoud, alias Habib, head of the secret service at the Algerian embassy in Paris.’ According to Ahmed's theories, 'Joseph's testimony has been corroborated by numerous defectors from the Algerian secret services. 
Ahmed claims that Western intelligence agencies are implicated. Secret British Foreign Office documents revealed in a terrorist trial in 2000 showed that ‘British intelligence believed the Algerian Government was involved in atrocities, contradicting the view the Government was claiming in public’. The documents referred to the ‘manipulation of the GIA being used as a cover to carry out their own operations’, and that ‘there was no evidence to link 1995 Paris bombings to Algerian militants’.  
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Muslim conquest of the Maghreb" and "Armed Islamic Group of Algeria", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.