On the terror front, the world’s attention has been trained on Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet recent developments in Algeria suggest that Al Qaeda has a renewed interest in establishing a foothold in the region, especially in the rough border terrain between Algeria, Mali and Mauritania. This is rugged country, difficult of access. In many ways a perfect staging ground for terrorism.
Algeria been strangely understated in news coverage which is remarkable, given the killing spree that has been going on behind the scenes. Information is hard to come by, hardly surprising when you consider that the government routinely stifles news of terror bombings. For example numerous attacks in the Kabylei Mountain region have gone unreported.
Recently though, two bombings in Algiers did make the headlines and point to new developments on the terror front that over time could have implications for Europe.
It is precisely the close proximity to Europe that makes it surprising the Algerian situation hasn’t been put under a lot more scrutiny. Said Saadi, an opposition politician, had this to say about the Algeria/Europe connection … “It is as if Bin Laden has stationed his people on an aircraft carrier off your coastline.”
Is this overstatement? To what extent do Algerian terrorist groups pose a threat to Europe? To get a realistic view of any potential threat it’s important to look at the background to the current developments.
Back in 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Army (FIS), looked as though it was going to be elected, a coup d’etat ensued. The military takeover was opposed by the GIA or Armed Islamic Group, a militia connected with FIS. In the civil war that followed some 200,000 lives were lost, in addition to many reports of abductions, rapes and other human rights violations.
The GIA operations at that time included French targets. In an effort to prevent the French from getting involved in the Algerian struggle, the GIA hijacked an Air France plane with the intention of flying it into the Eiffel Tower. Their plans fell apart when the plane was stormed by French commandos at Marseilles-Marignane airport.
Further European attacks were attempted with the emergence of the GSPC, or Group for Call and Combat. Members of this group were implicated in planning a terror attack in France during the 1998 World Cup. A German connection also emerged when four Algerian GSPC members were arrested in Frankfurt. Evidence revealed that they were planning an attack in Strasbourg. A story that got extensive coverage was the 2003 GSPC kidnapping of 17 German tourists in the Sahara – all later released after a ransom was paid.
Just as the GIA morphed into the GSPC, the GSPC has lately morphed into “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”. Any doubt that this marked a link to the Bin Laden network was dispelled by comments from GSPC leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, who has explicitly confirmed the connection between his mujahideen and Al Qaeda. It’s not as though this was a new and startling revelation. GSPC leader, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, allegedly corresponded with Al Zarqawi, the now deceased Al Qaeda leader in Iraq. Wadoud is also on record lauding the achievements of Zarqawi in a 2005 interview.
Why has Algerian terrorism been able to get such a foothold? Part of the problem lies with initiatives on the part of the Bouteflika government with respect to post-civil war reconciliation strategies. Reconciliation was never a simple proposition in a climate that had become poisonous and divisive. Following a referendum for “national reconciliation”, an amnesty was granted to Islamists from the 1990′s civil war. Under a new “national reconciliation” law Islamists have been released from prison, but a percentage of these have drifted back to the networks that support them. It should also be noted that the GSPC totally rejected the reconciliation efforts and vowed to continue their jihad.
Intelligence experts fear that if not checked, these Al Qaeda affiliated operators may attempt to broaden the zone of combat into a regional struggle that could include Morocco and Tunisia. Some even speculate that the combat zone might be extended into Europe. This seems far fetched at this point, but there is a danger in underestimating the resourcefulness of these fighters, as we have recently seen with the surprising determination of Taliban offensives in Afghanistan. Opportunistic terror bombings though can’t be ruled out.
There has been much talk about a new generation of terrorists and new theaters of combat. In the years following 9/11 Al Qaeda appeared to be on the run, but all the evidence now points to resurgent activity. American and European intelligence agencies have little doubt that border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan have become the staging ground for the new version of Al Qaeda. What is most troublesome about this phenomena, is that thanks to ill conceived strategies in Iraq, radicalism has spread like wild fire and there are now many more Muslims throughout these regions ready and willing to take up arms. Many of these people aren’t directly affiliated with Al Qaeda, but are prepared to act nonetheless
Originally posted 2011-08-24 14:45:58.