Algeria edges closer to fully defeating terrorism, official says

Sunday 20/11/2016
A 2014 file picture shows Algerian Army troops carrying out search operations in the mountainous eastern Tizi Ouzou region. (AFP)

Tunis - Twenty five years af­ter the “dirty war” that was launched by Islam­ist radicals, Algeria is on the verge of winning the battle against terrorism, said army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah.

The civil war claimed up to 200,000 lives and resulted in eco­nomic losses estimated at more than $80 billion due to sabotage and missed development opportunities, the government said.

“The Popular National Army is getting closer to a full defeat of ter­rorism and we are about to toss this phenomenon into the dustbin of history,” Gaid Salah told other offic­ers on November 10th.

“After achieving such a goal, we will focus on completing our ambi­tious project of building a strong, modern and deterrent national army.”

In November 1991, two Algerian veterans of the Afghan war, Alissa Messaoudi (known as Tayeb el-Af­ghani) and Abderrahmane Dahane (Dahane El-Afghani), led an attack on a military post at Guemar in south-eastern Algeria. The assail­ants, from the extremist group Tak­fir wal-Hijra, slit the throats of 15 young conscripts guarding the post and fled after seizing weapons and ammunition.

Gruesome violence ensued with Islamist groups metastasising from the Islamic Armed Movement to the Islamic Salvation Army and then into the Armed Islamic Group be­fore forging links with global terror groups such as al-Qaeda and the Is­lamic State (ISIS).

Over the years, civilians were of­ten the victims of extreme violence and brutality. Islamists killed more than 70 journalists. They also went after foreigners in the country, with more than 100 killed in grisly at­tacks.

Algerians have heard many opti­mistic predictions about eradicat­ing terrorism but analysts said Gaid Salah’s latest comments are more credible. They point to a lack of re­cruits by the Islamist terror groups in Algeria and a sharp drop in their financial resources. The Algerian Army has also changed its strategy and targets armed radicals in their hideouts.

“Unlike before, armed groups are no longer able to attract new re­cruits. The latest person who joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was a young man from Ain el- Hamra village in the north-eastern region of Bordj Menail. That was in July 2015,” said analyst Ramdane Kebabbi, citing local intelligence of­ficials.

“The money flow to armed groups is drying up as the radicals are growing incapable of carrying out money-generating operations like kidnappings. The government forces have stepped up assaults on the members of armed groups and over the years the numbers of radi­cal elements have not risen.”

Tewfik Hamel, an Algerian ex­pert in military history and defence studies at the University of Paul Valery in France, said: “The military and security forces have switched to a heavy-handed strategy, which is to go get the terrorists where they are, alive or dead. There are now more operations to search for radi­cals and comb regions where armed Islamists can have bases or hide­outs.”

Defence Ministry statements in­dicate that more than 120 armed Islamists have been killed in opera­tions this year compared to 157 in 2015.

Hamel and other analysts note that a shift in the Algerian military strategy has been noticeable since January 2013 when 40 people, mostly foreign contractors, were killed by al-Qaeda militants. Jihad­ists then attacked Tiguentourine gas plant near the Libyan border and took dozens of workers hostage.

While Algeria is on a steady path to reduce the domestic threat of radical Islam, its long-term stability is linked to its immediate environ­ment, analysts said.

“The regional security environ­ment is uncertain, ambiguous and complicated. It puts Algeria at a precarious junction from where it can progress towards modernity and progress or relapse into uncon­trollable chaos, especially with the abundance of weapons in the re­gion,” Hamel said.