Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 - Algeria
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism|
|Publication Date||30 April 2008|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 - Algeria, 30 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48196cbb28.html [accessed 20 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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 several high profile terrorist attacks throughout the country, an evolution of terror tactics and ongoing low-level terrorist activities in the countryside. Beginning in April, several high profile attacks were staged throughout Algeria, including the December 11 near simultaneous bombing of the Constitutional Council and the UN headquarters in Algiers. This attack against a Western hard target underlined the substantial shift in strategy by al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who claimed responsibility for the attack and touted it as a major success. Previously, AQIM's predecessor, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), had preferred to target Algerian government interests and had been more averse to suicide attacks and civilian casualties. Although Algerian government interests remained the primary focus of AQIM, this attack confirmed that foreigners were included as targets.
Two events helped fuel terrorism concerns in Algeria: the September 2006 merger of elements of the GSPC with AQ to form AQIM, and the conclusion of the amnesty period for Algeria's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation in August 2006. National Reconciliation remained an open wound for much of the Algerian population, which is divided over amnesty and re-integration on the one hand and a more aggressive, unforgiving approach to terrorism on the other. Although the Charter has officially expired, its terms may still be applied on a case by case basis at the exclusive discretion of the Presidency.
Following the AQ September 11, 2006, announcement of affiliation, AQIM began to make more threats against what it termed "crusading" westerners, particularly American and French citizens, although Russians have been targeted as well. Even before its affiliation with AQ, the GSPC was an organization whose regional ties were expanding. AQIM support cells have been discovered and dismantled in Spain, Italy, Morocco, Mauritania, and Mali, and it maintained training camps in northern Mali.
The year was punctuated with over half a dozen high profile terrorist attacks that included:
- On February 13, AQIM claimed responsibility for car bombings in the provinces of Tizi Ouzou and Boumerdes that claimed six lives and injured many.
- On April 11, AQIM conducted its trademark attack against multiple targets in the city of Algiers. The terrorists targeted government offices and a police station with suicide car bombs.
- On September 6, the first suicide vest attack targeted Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Batna, 200 miles east of Algiers.
- On September 8, a suicide bomber attacked the coast guard barracks in Dellys.
- In December, a roadside bomb attack again targeted a Russian company bus west of Algiers.
- The December 11 double suicide bombing of the Algerian Constitutional Council building and UN Headquarters in Algiers.
The most alarming trend was the evolution of tactics to include the use of suicide bombers to conduct attacks in Algeria. We have witnessed a shift in Algeria to tactics that have been successfully employed by insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. The use of suicide car bombs, suicide vests, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by Algerian terrorists indicated a greater level of cooperation and training by AQIM. Of greater concern was the degree that AQIM consistently changed its profile throughout the year. For example, the August 8 suicide bomber was a 15-year-old boy, the youngest suicide bomber in the history of Algeria. Meanwhile the suicide bomber who struck UN Headquarters on December 11 was a 64-year-old man, in the advanced stages of cancer, potentially the oldest. The proliferation of tactics used in Iraq has had a profound effect on the level of organization and sophistication employed by the terrorists in Algeria. The main sources of funding for AQIM remained kidnapping for ransom, muggings, and the narcotics trade in Southern Algeria/Northern Mali. Individual cells in Europe also provided support through small scale funding.
Algerian security services expressed a 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, the AQIM propaganda videos originating in Algeria were of amateur quality and poorly produced. This has changed dramatically. It was evident that AQIM has placed a greater emphasis on improving the quality of the videos, and that 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 their message in an attempt to win the media war.
It was estimated that the Algerian security services killed and arrested upwards of 1100 terrorists, compared to the estimated combined killed and arrested figure of about 650 for 2006. Notable successes were the surrender of GSPC founder Hassan Hattab in late September and the September 6 killing of AQIM central zone emir Zohair Harek. On September 10, Harek's deputy Fateh Bouderbala was arrested, effectively removing the top leadership of the central zone. The counterterrorism successes of the Algerian services, combined with the public's continued rejection of terrorists, have possibly influenced AQIM's shift in tactics to the use of suicide bombers. AQIM was believed to have resorted to suicide attacks as a result of its operational weakness, and to demonstrate its AQ link by adopting the organization's trademark modus operandi. Suicide attacks were cheap and attracted media attention. The head of the Algerian External Intelligence Service confirmed that AQIM's membership was becoming more international. However, the service also noted that the recruitment of foreigners had been limited thus far as a result of the joint efforts of neighboring states.
AQIM, thanks in part to high unemployment among Algerian youth, was partially successful in replenishing its numbers after the arrests, surrenders, and deaths of over 1,000 terrorists. Those remaining appeared to be more hard-line and resistant to the government's amnesty offer. Despite the upsurge of AQIM activity toward the end of the year, overall, the government had greatly improved security from the situation of the late 1990s. That said, the Algerian military and security forces were often perceived as slow to adapt to AQIM's changing tactics and have shown a resistance to accepting that they now face a better organized international threat in the form of AQIM. The Algerian security services and military remained capable of handling a prolonged effort against internal terrorist threats and were a reliable counterterrorism partner.