Algeria sees regional security threats despite ebbing of terrorism

Statistics show terrorist activity has declined, but Algeria is still wary of the deteriorating security situation on the border with Mali and Libya.
Monday 04/01/2021
A file picture shows an Algerian soldier standing guard at the Tiguentourine gas complex, in Amenas, about 1,600 kilometres south-east of the capital. (AFP)
A file picture shows an Algerian soldier standing guard at the Tiguentourine gas complex, in Amenas, about 1,600 kilometres south-east of the capital. (AFP)

ALGIERS – The Algerian defence ministry’s annual report shows that the war on terror continues in conjunction with efforts to drain the financing and supply resources of jihadist groups.

Published statistics give some indication of the scope of operations army units are conducting to the fight against terrorism, including combating organised crime, which has become the backbone of terrorist activity, especially on the border strip.

Summarising its annual results in fighting terrorism and organised crime, the defence ministry report points out that the Algerian armed forces took down 37 terrorist suspects in separate operations in the country over the past year, as well as seized significant quantities of drugs and sensitive equipment suspected to be part of financing resources or other aspects of their operation.

The defence ministry report, which was released Sunday, said that 21 of the 37 suspected terrorists were killed, while nine were arrested and seven surrendered. In addition, 108 members of support cells were arrested, 251 terrorist hideouts were destroyed and dozens of weapons caches were destroyed.

The statistics indicate a decline in terrorist activity compared to the year before. In 2019, more than 80 terrorists were killed or arrested, while 250 members of support and back-up networks were neutralised.

Nevertheless, Algeria has remained vigilant in the fight against terror, especially in light of growing security concerns on the border with Mali and Libya, where about 50,000 soldiers are mobilised and supported by various military and logistical means to prevent regional infiltration.

A deal between France and militant group Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), also known as the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, that freed French hostage Sophie Petronin caused great concern in Algeria, which had not been informed of the agreement. The deal, which also saw the release of some 200 members of the jihadist group, many of whom are Algerian nationals and may head to the border strip, could have grave security repercussions for the North African state.

As 2020 came to a close, the Algerian army was able to seize the war-chest of some terrorist groups, with one army unit in the eastern governorate of Jijel seizing some 80,000 euros ($98,000), which is likely part of the ransom money paid as part of the deal to free Petronin and other Western hostages.

A picture shows the arrest of Abu al-Dahdah (Facebook)
A picture shows the arrest of Abu al-Dahdah (Facebook)

Testimony provided by terror suspect Rizkan Ahsan, also known as Abu al-Dahdah, who was neutralised a few days before, provided precious information about the movement of the ransom money, but the fate of the rest of the amount and the speed with which it reached the far north (Jijel) raised questions about the pace of terrorist groups’ logistical movements and even the possibility that they are utilising bank transfers.

A statement by the Algerian defence ministry at the time revealed that an army detachment had uncovered and destroyed five terrorist hideouts, seizing 80,000 euros ($98,000) in the process.

The ministry said that “this operation took place in a mountain in the Jijel province, and benefited from information provided by the terrorist Abu al-Dahdah, who was arrested in mid-December.” It described the man as “dangerous,”noting that he was among the first generation of terrorist groups in Algeria and was one of the first to take up arms in 1994 against the state.

Last Saturday, the Algerian defence ministry announced that army forces killed four terrorists and lost two soldiers during a clash in Tipaza, west of Algiers, during a counterterror operation.

This was the first security operation recorded during the new year, which is rarely located in the territory of the governorate of Tipaza, near the capital and known for its tourist sites, in which weapons and ammunition were seized.

The fall of the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Abdelmalek Droukdel, known as Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, in Malian territory at the hands of French military forces, was the biggest shift in the course of jihadist groups in the region. Mystery still surrounds the organisation’s hierarchy despite the announcement of the appointment of Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi (Abu Ubaida) as its new commander.