The government has found another much needed source of income; bribes from European governments to take back illegal migrants. For example, in 2016 nearly 4,000 Algerians illegally entered Germany (the favorite destination for illegals) and most applied for asylum (and permanent residence). Over 97 percent of these applications were rejected. That should have meant deporting the illegals back to their country of origin. But so far fewer than a hundred of these illegal Algerians have returned, usually voluntarily. This scam works because people smugglers market their services by pointing out to potential customers (anyone who could afford the thousand or so dollar fee to be smuggled into Europe) that all they had to do was destroy their identity papers. This meant that in EU (European Union) countries you could not be sent home. That was the result of the EU developing rules between 1958 (when the EU was founded) and 1993 that created a situation where if you could get to an EU country it was almost impossible to deport you. There were ways to identify many of these illegals (fingerprints, DNA and so on) but the nations these people fled usually didn’t want them back and refused to acknowledge most of these ID efforts. Even illegals caught and convicted of terrorist acts could not be sent back if they did not identify themselves. Thus some known terrorists (including at least one Algerian in Britain) have managed to stay in EU countries for over two decades. Eventually the EU nations found that bribes worked. These weren’t called bribes but that’s what they usually were, with much of the money going to the local officials who allowed illegals to be returned. Meanwhile the smuggling gangs (from Europe, Africa and the Middle East) now take in over a billion dollars in fees from illegals believing the risk and expense is worth it
Another factor at work here was the increase in Islamic terrorist activity after the 1990s. This hit Moslem majority countries worst, as it always had, but non-Moslem nations as well and especially after 2001, there was more cooperation (sharing of information on known or suspected Islamic terrorists) between Moslem and Western nations. This also included the many countries that maintained databases of common criminals who operated internationally. But this data only covered a small (a few percent) number of the illegal migrants. For those who were not known (and self-admitted) criminals the source nations wanted to be paid to take the illegals back, or not. Algeria saw a lot of its worst Islamic terrorists flee to EU nations after the failed Islamic rebellion of the 1990s and did not want these people back if the EU would give them a hard time for executing or torturing the returned (and much hated in Algeria) Islamic terrorists. And so it came to pass the Algeria found a way to resume extorting cash and other favors from European states. That sort of thing has not been seen since the 19th century (the Barbary Pirates and Saracen Corsairs) and before that flourished for nearly a thousand years.
Algeria has no problem in forcing illegal migrants caught in Algeria, especially those from nations to the south, to return home. Neither the illegals nor the countries they came from are able to halt this process. The security forces arrest hundreds of smugglers and several thousand illegal migrants each year and while the smugglers are prosecuted (unless they can pay very large bribes) nearly all the illegals, especially those from African nations, are sent back. Illegals from the Middle East and Afghanistan are more difficult to return but the government has no intention on allowing any to remain legally.
Algeria can plead poverty when it comes to illegals and shaking down EU governments. While oil prices (and oil income) were up a bit in 2016 (to about $48 a barrel) they have to reach $90 a barrel before national finances return to normal. In 2013, before the price of oil fell over 70 percent from record highs, oil and gas exports accounted for 30 percent of GDP, 95 percent of exports and provided enough income to cover 60 percent of the government budget. The unexpected drop in oil prices brought big changes to Algeria. The government has been largely successful in cutting the budget and finding additional sources of income to cope with this. But these solutions are only temporary because they depend on drawing from foreign exchange reserves (needed to pay for imports, especially food) each year. The government is hoping a current OPEC agreement to have major producers (like Saudi Arabia) cut production will turn things around. But there is no guarantee because the Americans have developed huge new oil and natural gas sources and that may prevent oil prices from ever returning to pre-2013 levels.
Islamic Terrorists Take A Hit
So far this year the security forces has killed 125 Islamic terrorists, which is less than the 157 for all of 2015. There are definitely fewer Islamic terrorists in Algeria. In 2016 most of the Islamic terrorist losses occurred during the first half of the year. Things quieted down a bit after than then picked up again in late September. But by November only two Islamic terrorists were killed and two captured.
Only about fifteen ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members have been killed this year and nearly all once belonged to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), which was formed in 2007 from several of the 1990s era Algerian groups. Most of these clashes took place east of the capital or in the far south near the borders of Mali, Niger and Libya. Algeria is one of the growing number of North African nations (like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt) that are defeating Islamic terrorism. Despite efforts by popular (elsewhere) Islamic terror groups to get established in Algeria the local population and security forces have successfully opposed this. This year 230 Islamic terrorists were arrested or surrendered. That’s an increase over 2015 as is success in finding hideouts (over 460 so far) and arms caches (containing over 750 assault rifles, machine-guns and sniper rifles as well as over four tons of ammo and explosives) belonging to Islamic terror groups. When Islamic terrorists lose this much infrastructure and armed supporters they are in big trouble. This can be seen in the declining number of terror attacks and growing number of Islamic terrorists clashing with the security forces and losing.
This makes it easier (and safer) to search for and find Islamic terrorist caches and hideout along the coasts. What also helps is that most of the rural population is hostile to the Islamic terrorists, mainly because so many civilians were killed by Islamic terror groups in the 1990s. The Islamic terrorists have been so greatly diminished over the last few years, and cell phones have become more common in the countryside that the police are getting a lot more calls about “suspicious men” in the forested hills. Civilians also call in caches of supplies Islamic terrorists and smugglers stash in rural areas as well as active or abandoned bunkers out there. While some civilians will risk rummage through the stashed loot, most just back off because these caches are often booby-trapped or contain old and unstable munitions. The security forces have lots of experienced explosives disposal technicians and while these men may conclude that it’s best to just place some explosives near the cache and blow it up, the intel people want to take photos first and collect what information they can.
December 18, 2016: Next door in Libya the UN recognized GNA government proclaimed that the ISIL occupation of the coastal city of Sirte had ended as the last neighborhood containing any ISIL gunmen was taken over by pro-government militia. This is highly symbolic because Sirte was the home town of deposed (in 2011) Libyan dictator Moamar Kaddafi. After that Libya turned into something of a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Not so much because the Libyan government allowed it, but more because the government could not prevent it. Sirte was the last city to have law and order restored by government security forces and pro-government armed groups. Meanwhile in the south (away from the narrow “green” coastal area) the vast and thinly populated semi-desert and desert areas has still come under any government control for some time. Here the Islamic terror groups could operate more freely. While Algeria has managed, by 2016, to get enough security personnel, especially soldiers, on the Libyan border to keep Islamic terrorists out, the threat remains from the large number of Islamic terrorists still in southern Libya. Meanwhile Tunisia and Algeria have done a lot to help Libya take care of the terrorism problem there although the political situation there is still a mess. Algeria acknowledges that there are still two major factions in Libya. The UN recognized GNA government (based in Tripoli) took Sirte and controls most of western Libya. East of Sirte the previous government (that UN supervised elections replaced with GNA) is still in charge from it capital in Tobruk. Algeria has regular talks with leaders from both governments and is not taking sides, at least not yet.
December 13, 2016: The U.S. State Department warned Americans to be very careful if they visit rural areas of southern or eastern Algeria because of the increased risk of kidnapping by Islamic terrorist groups. The Algerian government objected to the warning as being exaggerated. The areas in question are poor and depend a lot on foreign tourists.
December 11, 2016: The EU and Mali signed an agreement whereby Mali agrees to accept the return of illegal migrants who got into Europe but were denied asylum. Since early 2015 more than 10,000 Malians have illegally entered EU nations. Mali will receive $154 million from the EU for programs associated with the returned illegals and helping to prevent future illegal migration. These deals usually involve local officials taking some of the money, unofficially, as compensation for agreeing to the deal. Mali also depends on the EU for a lot of economic and security assistance so the agreement was something of an offer Mali couldn’t refuse. For nations like Algeria, which do not receive much, if any, foreign aid, using the threat of cutting aid does not work. So the direct approach, using some sort of “special aid” has to be used.
Part of the EU assistance is paying for 13,000 peacekeepers currently in Mali, mostly in the north and mostly armed (although many perform support functions). In addition France has 4,000 troops operating in Mali and adjacent countries to suppress Islamic terrorist organizations. The EU has made similar refugee return deals with other African countries and the general agreement includes nations adjacent to Mali (especially Algeria) being allowed to send back illegal Mali migrants who got caught while passing through on their way to Europe. Some of these migrants will try to settle in Algeria if they cannot get to Europe and the Algerians do not want illegals.
December 4, 2016: In the southwest (Béchar Province) pupils in a school found a bomb in a bathroom. Police disabled it and are still trying to find out who put it there.
November 29, 2016: The navy completed a week of joint training off Tunisia with the Tunisian navy. This is part of a program where the two nations regularly use a special joint (Algerian-Tunisian) headquarters to handle operations along the coast where warships or naval aircraft might have need to quickly enter the sea or air space of the other country. This joint headquarters is an outgrowth of increasing cooperation in counter-terror operations since 2011. Tunisia was one the few successful “Arab Spring” uprisings and realizes that part of the reason is having a relatively peaceful and friendly neighbor to the west.
November 28, 2016: France believes a recent airstrike in southern Libya killed Islamic terrorist leader (and Algerian native) Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The French jets were operating from a carrier off the Libyan coast. The U.S. has long offered a $5 million reward for information that would lead to the death or capture of Belmokhtar. He is a veteran AQIM leader and went on to found and lead AQIM affiliate al Mourabitoun. Belmokhtar was responsible for many high-profile attacks in Libya, Algeria, Niger and Mali since 2011. Al Mourabitoun and AQIM continue to survive in Libya because of the chaos there. He has survived several attempts (in 2013, 2014 and 2015) to kill him and has a reputation for being elusive. AQIM has not yet confirmed his demise.
November 21, 2016: In the east, just across the border in Tunisia (Kasserine province) Tunisian soldiers clashed with some Islamic terrorists. Acting on tips from locals, the soldiers found the Islamic terrorists and briefly exchanged fire with them before the outnumbered enemy fled.