Algeria: Intractable Problems

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July 22, 2014: The government is pressuring imams (Islamic clergy who run mosques and religious schools) to tone down their sermons that endorse or encourage Islamic terrorism. Most imams are anti-Islamic radicalism but there are exceptions and even moderate imams note the continued attraction of Islamic terrorism to young men. To connect with these young men imams will discuss Islamic radicalism and often in a neutral or positive way that the government is trying to discourage. There are few openly Islamic radical imams around, a result of the savage campaign in the 1990s to suppress a rebellion by Islamic terrorist groups that left over 200,000 Algerians dead. But the grievances (corrupt and inept government) still remain and prospects for improvement are dim. This is particularly the case after the April presidential election was rigged (as usual) to ensure incumbent (Abdelaziz Bouteflika) got yet another term even though he is too infirm (because of age and a recent stroke) to campaign himself, much less govern. Most Algerians want Bouteflika and his corrupt cronies out of power but that is not happening as long as Bouteflika still has the support of the security forces. As public anger grows there is a the increasing risk of dissatisfaction spreading to the soldiers and police, who have a better sense of the public mood than the wealthy and corrupt officials and businessmen who surround Bouteflika. This could get ugly and to avoid losing power the government offered to change the constitution to, in theory, give more people more access to government decision making. Most Algerians see this another scam that provides the illusion of democracy while the reality is still rigged elections and bureaucrats doing what they want, not what the people need. Bouteflika has been in power since 1999 and a few dozen families of prominent leaders of the fight against France in the 1950s and 1960s and have been running things since independence from France was achieved in 1962. Until this problem is solved the potential violent unrest will remain.

In the south, there has been less Islamic terrorist activity on the Mali border in the last year and the government is trying to revive the economy down there. The Islamic terrorist violence in the south after 2008 saw tourism shrink dramatically (from 30,000 visitors a year to a few hundred) and the rest of the economy went with it. The government made it clear that troops are assigned to provide security for tourist sites and tourists as well as economic activity in general.

Foreign firms that operate much of the Algerian oil and gas industry are still uneasy about the ability of the military to protect facilities out in the desert. The January 2013 Islamic terrorist raid on a natural gas plant near the Libyan border is blamed on poor performance by the Algerian security forces. But the government refused to accept this assessment by the foreigners. Algeria cannot afford to expel the foreign firms and has not interfered with the foreigners upgrading their own security. In the past the government opposed the foreign firms creating their own security forces and for years that seemed to be no problem. But after the 2013 attack the foreign firms realized that the rumors of inept and corrupt military leadership were true and that they had to defend themselves or leave. They let the government know how they felt.

July 19, 2014: In neighboring Tunisia the government ordered a crackdown on mosques and radio and TV stations that support Islamic terrorism. This is an aftereffect of recent attacks on two army checkpoints near the Algerian border. In the last week at least 60 people have been arrested on suspicion of supporting Islamic terrorism.

July 16, 2014: In the capital the government is hosting peace talks between Mali and the Tuareg rebels in northern Mali. For any peace deal to work the Islamic terrorists have to be kept out of the Tuareg territories of northern Mali and this requires some help from Algeria. For decades the main source of Islamic terrorists in North Africa has been Algeria. Thus both countries want their mutual border to be an effective barrier to Islamic terrorists and smugglers. Algeria closed the official border crossings in January 2013 to make it more difficult for Islamic terrorists to get into Algeria from Mali. This shut down trade and that hurt Mali more than Algeria. Meanwhile Algeria sent more troops to the border area this year and went after the smugglers and others trying to cross illegally. Mali is coordinating efforts to secure the border in order to keep the border crossings reopen. Meanwhile Algeria has long range plans for increasing security along all its previously unguarded borders. These borders are 6,343 kilometers long and include frontiers with seven countries. Moreover most of these borderlands are in the thinly occupied desert. Before aircraft were invented it was impossible to secure these borders. But even with aircraft a tightly sealed border remains impossible. About half that area is dangerous because of the Islamic terrorist threat in those countries. Libya, Mali and Tunisia comprise 52 percent of Algeria’s borders and the 1,376 kilometer long Mali border is particularly troublesome since it is all desert and very popular with smugglers and other outlaws from the regions to the south. Thus the Algerian effort to more effectively patrol those borders. Most of those caught sneaking in are smugglers, mainly because Algeria is now considered a hostile refuge for Islamic terrorists fleeing increasingly successful counter-terrorism efforts in the Sahel.

In neighboring Tunisia dozens of Islamic terrorists attacked two army checkpoints, killing 14 soldiers and wounding 23. This took place just across the border in the Chaambi Mountains. Earlier this year thousands of Tunisian troops and police conducted a major operation to find hidden Islamic terrorist camps. This effort had little success. At the same time Algeria also moved more troops to the border area opposite the Chaambi Mountains to prevent any fleeing Islamic terrorists from entering Algeria. These big sweeps in the Chaambi Mountains usually come up empty but often they get close enough to hidden terrorist camps to cause some of the terrorists to move, sometimes across the border, until the search operation is over. Tunisia believes the Islamic terrorists in these mountains are sustained by supporters in cities and towns who get supplies and new recruits to them. Thus Tunisia is now paying more attention to the Islamic terrorist support network in the cities and towns.

July 14, 2014: AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) posted a message on the Internet agreeing with Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda in denying the legitimacy of the new ISIL caliphate in eastern Syria and parts of Iraq (the east and northeast). This caliphate is basically an Iraqi Islamic terrorist effort that no Islamic terrorist groups outside Iraq support. While there are many (dozens, or more) Algerian Islamic terrorists in ISIL the senior Algerian Islamic terrorists back in North Africa want nothing to do with this new caliphate.

This year the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris commemorated World War I and all the nations that fought alongside France to expel the German invaders. Thus France invited Algeria (and neighboring Morocco and Tunisia) to send troops or representatives to march. This triggered a debate in Algeria where many still resent the fact that Algerian participation in the two World Wars was often coerced. But many veterans (the World War I ones are all dead but many World War II vets are still around) are proud of their contribution. All three North African countries, former colonies that were set free after World War II, sent people to march in the parade.

July 12, 2014: Islamic terrorists used a roadside bomb to kill seven soldiers on a road 500 kilometers west of the capital.

July 11, 2014: In the capital dozens of Islamic conservatives demonstrated to protest a decision to reopen synagogues that had been closed, for safety reasons, since the 1990s. While there were 140,000 Jews living in Algeria in 1954 that number steadily declined, especially after Algeria became independent in 1962 and Islamic conservatives and nationalists pressured all non-Moslems to leave. Today there are only a few dozen Jews left in Algeria and the few remaining mosques are more historical sites than houses of worship.

July 10, 2014: France revealed that it had arrested several Arab migrants, including one Algerian, who were plotting with AQIM to blow up French cultural institutions, including the Eiffel Tower. The Algerian man had been in communication with AQIM via encrypted email, which French intelligence had monitored and decrypted. Hundreds of Algerian Islamic terrorists fled to Europe after the Islamic terrorist uprising was defeated in the 1990s and continued to support Islamic radicalism. This included recruiting others in Europe (especially Arab migrants or their children) for attacks in Europe or back in North Africa. This has not produced a lot of attacks but there have been some and the threat continues to exist.

 

 

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