Algeria: The Other One Percent

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November 2, 2014: In Tunisia an Islamic terrorist beheading in late September, just across the border in Algeria, led to a sharp (over 30 percent) drop in tourists from France. Since France is the main source of foreign tourists, this is expected to cause a six percent drop in tourist activity for 2014. Tourism accounts for seven percent of the GPD and Tunisia is considered the safest of the “Arab Spring” countries. Algeria has suffered worse tourism losses, mainly because of the intense Islamic terrorist violence in the 1990s that continued in much diminished intensity despite the Islamic terrorist defeat by the end of the 1990s. Tunisia has been successful against Islamic terrorism because most of the population opposes the religious fanatics. Yet a minority of Tunisians, a few percent of 11 million people, support the Islamic terrorists and that led to 1,500 Tunisians being arrested so far this year on terrorism charges. The government believes that at least 3,000 Tunisians went to Syria to join ISIL and several hundred have come back, most still enthusiastic about Islamic terrorism and urging others to join the mayhem.

Meanwhile Algeria responded to the September beheading by forming a special task force of 3,000 troops and sending them to Bouïra Province where the murder took place. The troops had orders to hunt down and eliminate (kill or capture) any Islamic terrorists still operating in that hilly and heavily forested region. An Islamic terrorist group known to be present in the area recently declared its allegiance to ISIL and was believed responsible to the atrocity. This area has been home to Islamic terrorists for decades and since 2005 about 80 Algerians have been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists there and held for ransom. As a result the locals are always wary and most will report Islamic terrorist activity to the police. With arrival of cell phone service after 2002 tipping off the police became a lot easier.  

In the southeast the army has another problem with the growing number of Islamic terrorist camps being set up in southwest Libya (where the borders of Libya, Algeria and Niger meet). Algeria and Niger are hard pressed to prevent all illegal crossings. As many Islamic terrorists are caught doing so, many more make it through.

October 29, 2014: In the southwest (Adrar province) police raided a smuggler hideout and killed four smugglers who attempted to shoot their way out. Police seized weapons, vehicles, two satellite phones and drugs the men were smuggling. The police are mostly concerned with weapons frequently smuggled into or out of nearby Mali. The Algerians have some help with that on the other side. Earlier in the day French troops clashed with a group of at least 30 Islamic terrorists just across the border in Mali, a battle that left one French soldier and at least twenty Islamic terrorists dead. The French discovered that Islamic terrorists had recently returned to this area, probably after coming in from Libya and were looking for them. These mountains along the Mali border have long been a terrorist and smuggler hideout.

October 26, 2014: Soldiers ambushed and killed two Islamic terrorists 320 kilometers east of the capital. Two AK-47s and other equipment were recovered.

October 18, 2014: Morocco claimed that an Algerian border guard (in the northwest, near the coast) fired three shots into a crowd of Moroccans badly wounding one of them. This caused a diplomatic crises that took more than a week to deal with. Algeria has been having a hard time with Morocco for about a year now, mainly because of a group of Moroccan terrorists (Polisario) that Algeria helped create decades ago. Polasario has always caused problems with neighboring Morocco and the problem recently got worse. In 2013 the two countries recalled ambassadors and there was talk of escalation. This made cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts (or anything else) with Morocco impossible. Meanwhile provided Islamic terrorists have found safe haven in Polisario refugee camps in Algeria (90,000 refugees) and Mauritania (24,000). This is all connected 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 remains powerful in Mauritania, where the rebel group has official recognition and maintains several refugee camps. In the beginning (the 1960s) Polisario was so well-subsidized by Algeria, back when Algeria was a radical state, that Polisario still has enough diehards out there to keep lots of people in Western Sahara unhappy. This situation has also provided 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 current population of less than 600,000. 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 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. Most Western Saharans have made peace with Moroccan rule. Polisario still has several thousand armed men based in the refugee camps and refuses to accept Moroccan rule of Western Sahara. 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.

October 13, 2014: Police began three days of demonstrations demanding better pay and working conditions plus the replacement of the inexperienced (in police matters) man appointed head of the national police. A week ago the government said it would consider the pay and working conditions demands but rejected calls to replace the head of the national police. The demonstrations, including one in front of the presidential palace in the capital, were unprecedented. Another police complaint is the heavy workload. Police have been called out over 10,000 times since 2012 to deal with civilians demonstrating against the government. This has been happening all over the country and constantly, even though such demonstrations are illegal.

October 12, 2014: More ethnic violence (between Berbers and Arabs) broke out down south in the oasis town of Ghardaia leaving two civilians dead and several building burned. Violence last April left two policemen and at least ten civilians injured. Earlier in the year the government has sent more than 10,000 additional police to deal with the persistent unrest. In Ghardaia the violence between Arab and Berber residents is all about water rights, jobs, land, ethnicity and religion. Arabs also accuse the 800,000 Berbers in the south of supporting al Qaeda. The province of Ghardaia is on the edge of the Sahara Desert and contains only 200,000 people. The unrest has been going on since late 2013. Over a hundred people have been arrested and there have been over 400 casualties (including at least 15 dead). Over a hundred building has been burned down along with dozens of vehicles. Thousands have fled the city and many businesses stay closed for days or weeks at a time. The police, who are largely Arab, are accused of being biased against the Berbers. The ethnic tensions in this area, 600 kilometers south of the capital, have been growing since 2008 and there was another outbreak of violence in October 2013 that was put down violently. As bad as the ethnic tensions have been there are also disagreements over religion. The Arabs belong to the Maliki school of Islam while the Berbers are largely from the smaller Ibadi sect. About 30 percent of Algerians are Berber, but the percentage is higher in the south. Ghardaia is an ancient Berber city of 90,000 that contains many Ibadi shrines. Berbers are found throughout North Africa, west of Egypt and down to the semi-desert Sahel (where the closely related Tuareg tribes live). The six million Berbers of Algeria are considered the most abused in the region. Ghardaia Arabs got the recent unrest started by desecrating some of these shrines. This led to violent Berber reprisals, especially when images of the damage appeared on the Internet. The government is concerned for several reasons. For one thing there are oil fields are nearby. Worse, the sustained unrest among the Berbers could be the first breeze in an uprising that could engulf the entire country.

October 11, 2014: The 3,000 troops sent to Bouïra Province, east of the capital, to search for Islamic terrorists responsible for kidnapping and beheading a French tourist in September killed five Islamic terrorists today. Yesterday these troops encountered and killed three Islamic terrorists in the same area.

 

 

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