Algeria: January 3, 2005

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An Algerian army convoy was ambushed by Islamic terrorists  in the early morning, killing 18 soldiers and militiamen. The ambush took place in the mountainous province of Biskra located 300 kilometers southeast of the capital. The ambush was conducted by 50 terrorists wearing afghan-style military clothes and belonging to the Islamic GSPC movement (Salafist Group for Predication and Fight) known for its links with Al Qaeda. The rebels only suffered a few injuries before dispersing.

A large scale seek-and-destroy operation started the day after, covering a zone of hundreds of square kilometers. Around 10 rebels were already encircled 10-15 kilometers away from where the attack took place. This operation is due to last several days because of the numerous caverns and hideouts that exist in this area, much like in Afghanistan.

This attack has more political than strategic value. It demonstrates that the GSPC now lacks the ability to be anything else but a nuisance to the government. Its last similar operation occurred in January 2004. The movement has indeed met several major setbacks since 2003. It was beheaded with the killings of its founder and his right arm and their successor was arrested in 2004.

Moreover, the local population increasingly reports terrorists movements and recruitment attempts. Rebels now have to live in an unfriendly territory. This denies the movements ability to gather large bands of guerrillas in one area even remote without attracting the armys  attention (all 50 terrorists taking part in the ambush came in small groups from several eastern regions). Its recruitment basis is also dramatically shortened, forcing it to rely only on Islamist veterans returning from Afghanistan.--Nicolas Mazzesi

 

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