This week's Europe Channel reported:
The emergence of a new al-Qaeda-linked organization in Northern Africa is alarming Spain, which is concerned about Islamists' calls for the reconquest of the country they regard as a lost part of the Muslim world.
"We will not be in peace until we set our foot again in our beloved al-Andalus," al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said on claiming responsibility for an attack which killed at least 24 people in Algiers on Wednesday.
This news made me recall the shreds of tape retrieved at the scene where the Madrid train bombers blew themselves up in 2004 to avoid being arrested. As Lawrence Wright reported not long after in a New Yorker article, The Terror Web:
These fragments were painstakingly reassembled, to the point where police could view the final statement of Fakhet and two other members of the cell, which called itself "the brigade situated in Al Andalus." Unless Spanish troops left Iraq within a week, the men had declared, "we will continue our jihad until martyrdom in the land of Tariq ibn Ziyad."
Al Andalus is the Arabic name for the portion of Spain that fell to Muslim armies after the invasion by the Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711. It includes not only the southern region of Andalusia, but most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the next eight hundred years, Al Andalus remained in Islamic hands...
Were these the true goals of Al Qaeda? Were the besieged terrorists in Leganes simply struggling to get Spain out of Iraq, or were they also battling to regain the lost colonies of Islam? In other words, were these terrorists who might respond to negotiation or appeasement, or were they soldiers in a religious fight to the finish that had merely been paused for five hundred years?
Wright goes on to report:
Less than a month after 9/11, Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, had appeared on Al Jazeera. "We will not accept that the tragedy of Al Andalus will be repeated in Palestine," Zawahiri said, drawing an analogy between the expulsion of the Moors from Iberia and the present-day plight of the Palestinians.
The use of the archaic name Al Andalus left most Spaniards nonplussed. "We took it as a folkloric thing," Ramon Perez-Maura, an editor at ABC, told me. "We probably actually laughed."
But as Wright noted:
Th[at] January, bin Laden issued a "Message to the Muslim People," which was broadcast on Al Jazeera. He lamented the decline of the Islamic world: "It is enough to know that the economy of all Arab countries is weaker than the economy of one country that had once been part of our world when we used to truly adhere to Islam. That country is the lost Al Andalus."
As Write went on to report:
When I asked Moneir el-Messery, of the M-30 mosque, if the Madrid bombers could have been motivated by the desire to recapture Al Andalus, he looked up sharply and said, "I can speak of the feeling of all Muslims. It was a part of history. We were here for eight centuries. You can't forget it, ever."