Algeria: Terrorists Hustle To Survive Mali Defeat

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March 30, 2013: The defense budget is up 14 percent this year to $10.4 billion, and much of that is going to buy new equipment to replace the aging Cold War era stuff. Because of the war with the Islamic terrorists in the 1990s most of the defense budget went to counter-terror activities during the last two decades. But in the last few years that has changed. The army is getting 300 new Russian T-90 tanks and 1,200 German wheeled armored personnel carriers. Russia and Germany are also providing new warships for the navy and dozens of Russian Su-30 warplanes are arriving. Most of the weapons ($7.5 billion worth) are coming from Russia. Russia offers low prices and a tolerant attitude towards corruption and bribes. Plus, the Russian stuff looks impressive and is not likely to be used in any serious fighting because Algeria is surrounded by weaker nations.

Canada revealed that two Canadians were among the 32 terrorists killed during an attack by AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) terrorists on an Algerian natural gas facility in January. The Canadian government would not release the names of the two dead Canadians, indicating that an investigation involving the two was still underway. Canada is under pressure (from foreign governments as well as a lot of Canadians) to change its policy of granting so many Canadian passports to recent immigrants from Moslem countries. Many of these passports have been obtained by Islamic terrorists because it makes it much easier to travel around the world.

The investigation into the terrorist attack last January on the natural gas facility revealed that the operation was made possible by poor security procedures at the facility. That is being fixed, and more armed guards and better physical defenses and local intelligence collecting procedures are being implemented. The poor security was the result of decades in which local Islamic terrorists would not attack Algerian oil and gas facilities because so many Algerians depended on the oil and gas revenue to survive. Thus a terrorist attack on these facilities would be very unpopular and hurt the terrorists. But the January attack involved only one Algerian. Most of the attackers did not care what the Algerian people thought.

In addition to recruiting expatriate Moslems for international terrorism, AQIM (the most active branch of al Qaeda at the moment)  is now urging those Moslems who moved to the West (or were born of parents who had) to organize terror attacks where they were, using the numerous “how to” documents found on the Internet. Many pro-terrorism Algerians fled to the West after the Islamic terrorist campaign of the 1990s failed. These Algerians keep turning up among active Islamic terrorists worldwide. The Maghreb has historically been Moslem North Africa west of Egypt. It used to include parts of Spain, before Moslems were expelled in the 15th century. After that Maghreb based pirates raided non-Moslem shipping and towns in southern Europe into the 19th century. The piracy was finally ended when European nations (mainly France, Spain, and Italy) invaded North Africa and shut down the pirate bases by turning the region into colonies. But that caused great resentment among the locals, and these bad feelings persist to this day. Islamic conservatives find many North Africans attracted to sermons explaining how God wants North African Moslems to dominate the region. This is why there are so many Islamic terrorists active in Spain, France, and Italy. Visions of lost glory and power are always a powerful narcotic to young men from countries that have failed to build strong economies and effective government.

March 27, 2013: East of the capital soldiers, acting on a tip, ambushed five al Qaeda men,  killing three and capturing the other two. Five AK-47s were seized. AQIM continues to maintain bases for several hundred members in the thinly populated coastal mountains of eastern Algeria. These men sustain themselves by working for drug smugglers. This helps maintain a chain of AQIM bases down to West African drug portals like Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau. Then there is the $100 million in ransom the terrorists have collected in the last decade by kidnapping Europeans. Those two sources provide over $300,000 a week to keep AQIM going. That pays for weapons, food, transportation, and salaries for senior members. Some of that cash is lost to corruption and theft (as captured documents make clear), but there’s enough to maintain a force of several thousand armed members. Kidnapping and drug smuggling only occupy (on average) a few hours a day, leaving plenty of time to plan and carry out righteous mayhem. To encourage this there are a lot of inspiring religious diatribes from AQIM leaders and clerics.

In practice a large minority of the AQIM men are in it mainly for the money. The recent defeat in Mali caused a lot of desertions, as well as deaths among true believers. This has weakened AQIM, making those still in Algeria more crucial to the survival of the organization. The drug smuggling routes have been disrupted by all the military activity throughout the Maghreb because of the Mali fighting. There are fewer potential kidnapping victims around and the long-established AQIM bases and stores of weapons and ammo in northern Mali are under attack. With fewer men, cash, and resources AQIM is in big trouble. Algerian counter-terror experts see this as making Islamic terrorists in Algeria more vulnerable. Many experienced Algerian AQIM men went to Mali and have been lost. Many back in Algeria were demoralized by what happened in Mali and have deserted the cause or, in some cases, went to work for the government. So for the next few months there will probably be fewer terrorist attacks in Algeria and more terrorist casualties until AQIM can pay more attention to rebuilding.  

March 24, 2013: AQIM announced that an Algerian (Djamel Okacha) has replaced Abou Zeid as leader in the Sahara region. Zeid was killed in late February in northern Mali near the Algerian border. At first AQIM insisted Abou Zeid was still alive but he wasn’t. AQIM leadership is dominated by Algerians, most of them veterans of the failed terrorist war in Algeria during the 1990s.

March 14, 2013: Over ten thousand people demonstrated against high unemployment in the central Algerian town of Ouargla. Corruption and incompetence among government officials is seen as the main reason for the lack of jobs. The official unemployment rate is ten percent, but underemployment (with make-work jobs) and heavy immigration by the young and unemployed mask a real rate of over twenty percent. The government has reduced the unemployment rate in the last decade (from an official rate of over 20 percent) but it’s still too difficult to find a job. Moreover, most of the jobs are in places people don’t want to move to.

March 8, 2013: East of the capital soldiers killed two al Qaeda men.

 

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