Algeria: Living In A Rough Neighborhood

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March 23, 2012: In neighboring Mali the situation is chaotic. Members of the 7,000 man army staged a coup in the capital and the president went into hiding among loyal troops. News of the coup caused demoralization among the several thousand troops in the north, where several thousand Tuareg tribesmen are trying to establish a separate state. As troops withdrew to the south the Tuaregs began advancing and occupying towns and military bases.

The coup is led by mid ranking officers who insist that new presidential elections will be held, as soon as "national unity" (all opposition is silenced) and "territorial integrity" (the Tuareg rebels are defeated) is taken care of. No word on how long that might take, but it appears that the scheduled presidential elections next month are not going to happen. The mutinous soldiers were upset at a perceived lack of support by the government. The troops wanted more weapons and equipment to deal with the Tuareg rebels up north. The government preferred more emphasis on negotiation.

March 22, 2012: Mohamed Merah, a French citizen born of immigrant Algerian parents was killed by police after a 32 hour siege. Merah's parents were economic immigrants, as they left in the 1980s, before the terrorism campaign began in the early 1990s. Mohamed Merah, like many Arab migrants to the West, had a hard time adjusting to a new culture and, in effect, went to war with his adopted country. France had known about Mohamed Merah's terrorist activities for years but never had enough evidence to arrest him. He was being watched but not very closely.

March 21, 2012: In neighboring Mali, soldiers mutinied in the capital and seized the presidential palace (but not the elected president) and TV station. The troops announced they were taking over because the military had not been allowed to deal with the Tuareg tribal rebellion in the north, where the rebels had seized some towns and villages.  The current fighting in the north has caused over 70,000 people to flee their homes to get away from the violence.

The Tuaregs have been a problem for centuries, as they are ethnically distinct from the Malian majority in the south. These ethnic differences are complicated by Tuareg participation in smuggling cocaine and hashish north, through Algeria, to Europe. The drug smuggling is actually handled by Arab gangsters that are not terrorists. Al Qaeda gets paid lots of money to provide security for the drugs as they make the long run through forests, then the Sahara. The Tuareg provide local knowledge of the terrain, and people, at least in the far south. The Algerian government is afraid that the Tuareg will be tempted, by a big payday, to provide sanctuary for al Qaeda, as well as providing new recruits for Islamic terrorist operations (especially those that raise a lot of cash, like kidnapping Westerners). While the Tuareg are not fond of Islamic terrorism, young Tuareg are allowed to work with al Qaeda as hired guns. The pay is good and, so far, not too dangerous. But the young Tuareg are picking up some radical ideas from their al Qaeda bosses and that is causing some tension with tribal leaders. The mere fact that Tuareg are working for al Qaeda in southern Algeria has angered Algerian officials. Most of the 1.5 million Tuareg in the region are living in nations bordering Algeria (Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, and Niger). Mali has faced rebellious Tuareg for a long time and made peace with most of them in 2007.  The current bunch of Tuareg rebels insist that they have no connection with al Qaeda or MOJWA, but many other Tuaregs do and there's no denying that. On the southern border of Algeria the Sahara desert turns into the semi-desert Sahel, a band of barely livable land stretching from the Atlantic coast to Somalia.

In France, Mohamed Merah (armed and holding out in his apartment while surrounded by police) confessed to recently murdering four men and three children. He was of Algerian descent and had gone to Afghanistan and Pakistan to take part in Islamic terrorism and work with al Qaeda. He returned to France and sought to continue his terrorist activities. His recent victims had been soldiers or Jews. France has always been very tolerant of Islamic radicals, as long as they behave in France. That is not likely to change, which annoys countries like Algeria quite a lot. That's because many Islamic terrorists, wanted for murder in Algeria, go to France and are able to live there and plan their next operation against Algeria.

March 12, 2012: Algeria, along with nine North African countries (including Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt) agreed to the "Tripoli Plan" for improving border security. This is meant to hamper smuggling and terrorist operations.

 

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