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Algeria: Al Qaeda And The Savage Splinter
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December 29, 2011: Islamic terrorists, sustained by drug gang cash and kidnap ransoms, are growing south of Algeria. This includes the appearance of a more radical splinter group - MOJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa). These two terror groups currently hold twelve Europeans for ransom and expect to get at least a million dollars for each of them. This would enable the terrorists to recruit a lot more impoverished young locals and equip them with vehicles and weapons. European nations are under pressure by African countries to not pay the ransom but to help track down the captives and rescue them (dead or alive). The European governments are under domestic pressure to pay the ransoms, as the voters back home are more concerned about the captive Europeans than North African victims to European financed terrorism. 

The president of Algeria, sensing something was very wrong, asked a prominent academic and former Minister of Health to go out and get a sense of what popular attitudes are. The professor reported that the people are very unhappy because the centralized economy is mismanaged, there is too much corruption and favoritism in the government, and the government officials are out-of-touch with the Algerian people. All this is nothing new to foreign observers of Algeria but it apparently was surprising to many senior government officials. The report warned of the remaining potential for a violent uprising. This may be avoided by the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will create a legislature whose main chore is to create a new constitution. This is expected to toss out the old elected dictatorship of families who were prominent in the fight against colonial France half a century ago. Many Algerians doubt that the old "revolutionary" families will give up power without a fight. Worse, Islamic political parties, recently made legal again, seem likely to win most of the votes in the April elections. This may lead to a second "Arab Spring."

December 26, 2011: The government has named a retired general to command police and army units assigned to counter-terrorism operations against the remaining al Qaeda and Islamic radical groups in Algeria, Libya, Niger, and Mali. While the Islamic terrorists have been greatly weakened in Algeria, some of them have crossed Algeria's southern borders and formed more Islamic terrorist cells by recruiting unemployed locals and raising lots of money via drug smuggling and kidnapping.

December 21, 2011: Without much fanfare, Algerian troops finally responded to calls from their southern neighbors and sent a convoy of troops into Mali to help with operations against Islamic terrorists.

December 19, 2011: The government announced an agreement with Niger to carry out joint border patrols to help control the smugglers, gangsters, and Islamic terrorists operating along the border.

December 14, 2011: Separatist rebel group Polisario claims to have arrested several people involved with the kidnapping of three European aid workers in a Polisario refugee camp last October. Some of those arrested were taken by Polisario gunmen operating in Mauritania.

December 12, 2011: An al Qaeda splinter group, MOJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) announced itself by releasing a video of three European aid workers (a man and two women) they had kidnapped in an Algerian refugee camp last October. Actually, the three may have been kidnapped by a criminal group and then sold to Islamic radicals. MOJWA is unique because its leadership is black African. There has long been a lot of tension between Arabs and black Africans. The Arabs disdain the blacks and that causes a lot of tension and resentment. It appears that MOJWA is striving to show they can be more extreme and effective than the Arab dominated al Qaeda. MOJWA claims inspiration by 19th century West African Moslem leaders, who fought European colonial powers.

The appearance of MOJWA presents the possibility of a war among Islamic radical groups. MOJWAs three captives were taken at a Polisario refugee camp near the Moroccan border. The three European aid workers may have been taken with the help of some Polisario officials. This may have something to do with the declining prospects of Polisario, which has been in bad shape since 1991. Back then, Morocco finally won its war with Polisario Front rebels, who were seeking independence for the Western Sahara (a region south of Morocco). Polisario remained powerful in Mauritania, where the rebel group has official recognition and maintains several more refugee camps. Because Polisario was so well-subsidized by Algeria, back when Algeria was a radical state, Polisario still has enough diehards out there to keep a lot of people in Western Sahara unhappy. Polisario was known to provide recruits and sanctuary for al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals. For two decades, the UN has been trying to work out a final peace deal between Polasario and Morocco. In the 1990s Algeria cut off all support for Polasario. But that, and UN efforts to mediate the differences, have just not worked. The contested area is largely desert with a population of less than 300,000. Logic would have it that the area is better off as a part of Morocco. But there are still thousands of locals who would rather fight for independence rather than submit to Morocco. Some resistance is tribal and cultural, with the Moroccans seen as another bunch of alien invaders (the area was administered, until 1976, as a Spanish colony). If the fighting breaks out again, possibly inspired by Islamic radicals, it could go on for years, just as it does in many other parts of Africa and the immediate neighborhood. Getting involved in cocaine smuggling provides money, some of which goes towards buying guns and vehicles, making the Polisario fighters more formidable. Mali and Mauritanian police are increasingly arresting members of the Polisario Front who are involved with a major drug smuggling operation (moving cocaine from Guinea-Bissau, where it is flown in from South America, to the Mediterranean coast). Polisario Front members have long been involved in smuggling and other illegal activities but their involvement in moving cocaine is relatively recent. This implies cooperation with al Qaeda, which apparently has worked out deals with Polisario.

December 11, 2011: The government has refused to allow American and French UAVs to cross the southern border while tracking drug gangs and Islamic terrorists. The UAVs are based in Libya and are patrolling the Libyan and Niger border areas.

Algeria and Mauritania signed a number of economic cooperation agreements.

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