Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Algeria

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 5 August 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Algeria, 5 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c63b65a21.html [accessed 24 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The security situation in Algeria was marked by a decrease in the number of high-profile terrorist attacks throughout the country, although low-level terrorist activities continued in non-urban areas. The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which formally merged with al-Qa'ida (AQ) in 2006 and now calls itself al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), previously focused on targeting Algerian government interests and had been more averse to suicide attacks and civilian casualties. Some senior members of AQIM are former GIA insurgents. Although Algerian government interests remained the primary focus of AQIM, the group was forced to resort to kidnappings for ransom and expanded operations against westerners in the Sahel region. Algerian government counterterrorism operations, which included an increased security presence and the dismantling of support and recruitment networks, restrained AQIM's capacity to conduct high-profile attacks, particularly in major Algerian cities.

There were no suicide bombings after March. The month of Ramadan, typically a period of frequent attacks, was quiet. Nevertheless, AQIM carried out lethal operations, using ambushes and roadside bombs against government and civilian targets, particularly in the Kabylie region east of Algiers, and increased its terrorist activities along the Algerian-Malian border.

The year was punctuated by several terrorist attacks:

  • On March 9, two people were killed when an AQIM suicide bomber attacked a communal guard post in Tadmait, 70km east of Algiers.

  • On June 17, AQIM killed 18 officers in an attack against a police vehicle escorting a group of Chinese workers to a site near Bordj Bou Arreridj, east of Algiers.

  • On August 4, terrorists injured 25 people, including four police officers, using a vehicle borne IED at a police station in Tizi Ouzou, east of Algiers.

  • On October 22, terrorists killed seven and wounded three Algerian security guards working for a Canadian water project.

Roadside bombs and ambushes persist despite the efforts of the security forces. The combination of a population weary of civilian casualties from over a decade of Islamic terrorist violence and the growing availability and use of cell phones has made the terrorists more vulnerable to detection and targeting by the police. The majority of attacks occurred in rural and suburban areas. Terrorists have been very careful to establish remote bases, communicate sparingly, and carry out meticulously-planned attacks. AQIM does not have significant popular support and is not assessed as strong enough to bring down the Algerian government. When security forces are in the countryside, approaching terrorists often stand out and are intercepted before they can successfully complete their attacks.

Following massive suicide attacks in 2007, AQIM has issued directives to avoid civilian deaths, and operations have been concentrated more on military, police, and foreign national targets. AQIM is likely seeking to disrupt business and commercial activity and probably uses such attacks to discourage foreign investment. The overall civilian death toll from terrorist attacks has declined in recent years. During the civil war that began in 1992 and had largely subsided by 2000, Algerian Islamic terrorists killed on average more than 10,000 people a year, with the majority being civilians.

In the past, Algerian security services have expressed concern about AQIM using propaganda based on the call to fight in Iraq as a hook to recruit young people, many of whom never made it to Iraq but were redirected towards joining local groups. In previous years, AQIM propaganda videos originating in Algeria were of amateur quality and poorly produced. This began to change dramatically in 2008. It was evident that AQIM placed a greater emphasis on improving the quality of the videos, and these videos and communiqués were orchestrated to attract Algerian youth to the AQIM "cause." Several videos posted on the Internet, such as the series Shadows of the Sword and Apostate Hell, showed operations conducted against Algerian military and security targets that included preparations for the attacks and pre-briefings with the commanders that led the attacks. The ability to conduct an attack and claim responsibility via communiqué within hours demonstrated the importance AQIM placed in transmitting its message in an attempt to win the media war.

Criminal activities, such as holdups of motorists at roadblocks on remote roads (often disguised to look like security forces roadblocks), armed robbery, and the kidnapping of Algerian citizens remained critical to funding operations of the cash-strapped AQIM units located in northern Algeria. Besides relying heavily on kidnapping for ransom in Algeria and the Sahel, AQIM financed itself with extortion and smuggling in southern Algeria/northern Mali.

The counterterrorism successes of the Algerian services, combined with the public rejection of terrorism, appears to have reduced AQIM's overall effectiveness during the past two years. In August, the Algerian government hosted a meeting of the military chiefs of staff from Mali, Libya, Mauritania, and Niger to develop a regional counterterrorism strategy and establish a regional command center in the southern city of Tamanrasset. Algeria led efforts in international fora to condemn payment of ransom to terrorists. During 2008, the Government of Algeria instituted a program to hire 100,000 new police and gendarme officers, reinforce the borders, augment security at airports, and increase the overall security presence in major cities. The initiative was effective in reducing the impact of terrorist incidents and also demonstrated the Government of Algeria's determination to fight terrorism.

Partly because of high unemployment among Algerian youth, AQIM has had some success replenishing its numbers after the arrest or death of an estimated 1,300 terrorists. Those remaining appeared to be more hard-line and resistant to the government's amnesty offer. Despite continued AQIM attacks, the overall security situation remained greatly improved from the situation of the late 1990s. That said, the Algerian military and security forces must continuously adapt to AQIM's changing tactics and accept that an organization that had primarily been a local threat now has a reach that extends to the surrounding region and has international ties. Algerian security and military forces remained capable of handling a prolonged effort against internal terrorist threats.

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