Algeria: Big Bark, Small Bite

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September 1,2008:  Al Qaeda's terror campaign in Algeria  reflects lessons learned in Iraq. A real effort is made to avoid civilian deaths. Attacks are concentrated on military and police and foreigners (al Qaeda does not want foreign investment to improve the economy). The overall death rate is much lower now. During the 1992-2005 war, Algerian Islamic terrorists killed, on average, over 10,000 people a year (most of them civilians). That's more than ten times the number al Qaeda is now killing in Algeria. But the relative lack of civilian dead enables the new generation of Algerian terrorists to publicize their actions more energetically.

The government believes that there are only about 500 active al Qaeda members in Algeria.  The attacks are occurring mainly in rural and suburban areas. The terrorists are being very careful in establishing remote bases, communicating carefully and planning and carrying out attacks meticulously. The terrorists do not have much support among the people, and are not strong enough to bring down the government. But at the same time, the corrupt and inefficient government has not been able to do much to bring down the unemployment rate (near 20 percent, and much higher for men aged 18-30). This makes it easier for al Qaeda, and criminal gangs in general, to recruit.

August 31, 2008: In the last week, Al Qaeda has killed seven soldiers and police, and one prison guard, in a number of incidents. In one case, soldiers came upon a fake police check point, run by al Qaeda disguised as police. Cars were being stopped and robbed, as a way to raise money for the cause. Another method is to raid illegal bars. While alcohol is legal in Algeria, it is highly regulated, and forbidden by the Koran. Being strict Moslems, al Qaeda has at least one cell that specializes in raiding these illegal bars and taking all the cash they can find. In one recent raid, they found one of the customers was a prison guard, and beheaded him on the spot. All this causes the government to categorize al Qaeda as a bandit problem, as a large criminal gang with a political and religious agenda.

Talks in Algeria, between the Mali government and Tuareg rebels, has ironed out a peace deal, which includes establishing a special army unit including soldiers and ex-Tuareg rebels, to police the truce.

August 29, 2008: Moroccan police arrested fifteen al Qaeda terrorists, who were in the midst of planning and preparing a series of attacks. In the last five years, Morocco has prevented nearly all Islamic terrorist violence by using an informant network, and a cooperative population, to identify Islamic terrorists before they can act. Thousands of suspects have been arrested and questioned, and about ten percent are still in jail.  

August 27, 2008: In the last few days, terrorists set off two roadside bombs. In the same period, six terrorist suspects were killed. One bomb went off prematurely, killing the terrorist who was on his way to emplacing it. Another was placed near a road, but exploded before the police patrol vehicles were close enough to be damaged. This is consistent with what the police know of the terrorists; that there are only a few dozen experienced ones, with the rest being rather recent recruits. These newbies get most of their training from documents downloaded from the Internet. This is a dangerous way to learn, as recent incidents indicate.

August 24, 2008: Troops killed ten terrorists 250 kilometers west of the capital, capturing. Assault rifles and RPGs were captured.  

 

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