Abdelkrim El Khattabi and the forgotten war 1921

Mohammed Abd al-Karim was the leader of the Rifkabylene uprising against Spanish and French colonial troops in the Spanish-Moroccan Rif region.

El Khattabi and his comrades-in-arms fiercely opposed Spanish colonialism by the simplest means and became a role model in many countries of this period exposed to colonialism.

With his guerrilla tactics he set a sign for the resistance and showed all other oppressed peoples that it was possible to defend themselves and even to win or at least to inflict heavy losses on the colonial powers. His rebellions have strongly influenced Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara among others.

Mohammed Ben Abdelkrim El Khattabi was born in 1882 in Ajdir in the Rif region of Fez. He received a traditional education and training and studied in Tétouan and at Qarawine University in Fez. After completing his studies in 1906, he settled in Melilla (the Spanish enclave in northern Morocco). Here he worked as a teacher, translator and journalist for the Spanish newspaper el Telegrama del Rif.

How it came to Rif War (1921–1926) and how it escalated

Before Abdelkrim became the fiercest opponent of Spanish rule in northern Morocco, he initially worked closely with the Spaniards. It was only gradually that the intentions of Spanish rule in Morocco became clear to him. Disturbed by Spain’s plans to subdue the Moroccans in the north, Abdelkrim decided to conduct an organized armed struggle. The aim was to put an end to Spanish colonisation. In 1921, the Spanish suffered a historic defeat.

The Battle of Annual took place on July 22, 1921 at the town of Annual in northeastern Spanish Morocco as part of the Rif War. It was a military conflict between the Spanish army and insurgents of the Rif region. In Spain, in connection with the battle, one speaks of the disaster of Annual. The defeat in Spain led to a domestic political crisis and a short-term rethink of colonial policy in the Rif region.

Mohamed Ben Abdelkrim Al Khattabi in captivity on the island of La Reunion.
Mohamed Ben Abdelkrim Al Khattabi in captivity on the island of La Reunion.

After the fortified garrison base in Igueriben had already fallen, as a result, the Spanish garrison fortification of Annual fell on 22 July 1921 after five days after a bitter siege. General Manuel Fernández Silvestre ordered the retreat to Melilla, which ended as a panic flight. Weapons, equipment, wounded and sick people were simply left behind. General Silvestre died during the fighting, the cause of his death was never clarified. Some say he died during the fight, others say he committed suicide.

After this devastating defeat, Spain used deadly force on several occasions, in the form of poison gas attacks, against the defenceless population of the Rif area. Although chemical weapons were banned by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, which Spain, interestingly, had signed, the Spanish did not keep their promise and revealed their ruthlessness! This was only possible with the help of the German Hugo Stoltzenberg, who was an equally evil companion.

The end of the war and exile

In May 1926, after several months of heavy attacks by Spanish and French forces with a total of 250,000 soldiers, Abdelkrim surrendered to the French. A year later, the last tribe of the Rifkabylen ended the battle.

Abdelkrim El Khattabi was later deported to the island of La Reunion, where he lived in exile until 1947. On the way to southern France, where he was to spend the rest of his life, he used a stopover in Port Said in Egypt. Legend has it that Mohammed Ben Abdelkrim El Khattabi escaped here. Another legend of a release from exile in 1947. Fact is, that Abdelkrim stayed in Egypt and never returned to Morocco.

Abd al-Karim went to Cairo and became chairman of the Liberation Committee of the Arab Maghreb in December 1947. Even after the independence of Morocco (1956), he did not return to his beloved homeland in protest against the French troops who were still in the country. Despite an invitation from Moroccan King Mohammed V to return to his beloved homeland, he remained in Cairo. Abd el-Karim witnessed Algeria’s independence and died in Cairo on 6 February 1963. There he was also buried.

The main film documentary by Daniel Cling

A good and informative documentary about Mohammed Ben Abdelkrim El Khattabi and the last Rif war is the Arte documentary by Daniel Cling “Morocco 1921 – A forgotten war – (Abdel krim el khattabie)”






More links on this topic

You Find more interesting articles on this topic in the following link list.

In English language

In French language

In German language

Other rare film footage

Footage from British Pathé

If we are looking for the world’s leading multimedia resource, then “The British Pathé” is what you’re looking for! When it comes to old movies, it is the world’s leading multimedia resource with over a century of history, it is a very interesting source!Also representing Reuters’ historical collection – a huge archive. This archive which includes more than 120,000 great articles from the well-known news agencies Gaumont Graphic (1910-1932), Empire News Bulletin (1926-1930), British Paramount (1931-1957) and Gaumont British (1934-1959). All film footage can be very well researched and viewed on the website, which you can find here: www.britishpathe.com

A Warrior In Exile (1927)

The Rif offensive 1925 in Morocco

More Pictures From Riff Front (1925)

More Pictures From Riff Front (1925)

Spain Withdraws From Rif Boundary (1925)

French Offensive Launched (1925)

French Offensive Launched (1925)

War Of The Riffs Aka War On The Riffs (1925)

French Moroccan Campaign 1922 (1922)

Abdel Krim (1919)

View more exciting films and documentaries

In spanish and arabic language

Abdelkrim y la epopeya del Rif by Camaroneo Cabañalero

Tragedia en Arruit 1921 by Camaroneo Cabañalero

Guerre Du Rif – Abdelkrim al Khattabi – Dhar Oubarran

Mohammed Abdelkrim El-Khattabi – Legend of The Rif

Message de liberté aux Riffains par Mohamed n Abdelkrim EL-Khattabi

Abdelkrim al-Khattabi, la légende du Rif


Abd el krim El Khattabi Épopée de légende d’un émir guérillero

Abd el-Krim et la guerre du Rif! Nous avons été battu, mais vous aussi

Que savez vous de Mohamed Ben Abdelkrim El Khattabi

La leyenda del Rif (Mohamed Ben Abdelkrim El Khattabi)

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