Terrorism Risk Remains in North Africa

Posted in Africa , Terrorism | 14-Feb-07 | Author: Riccardo Fabiani

From December 23, 2006 to January 3, 2007, a major police operation in Tunisia, supported by units of the army, led to the killing of 12 and the arrests of 15 alleged Islamist militants. The fighters had crossed the border between Algeria and Tunisia a few days before and settled in the area of Nabeul, 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Tunis, where police found maps of local embassies and a list of foreign diplomats, together with an unknown amount of explosives. The operatives were said to be members of the Algerian Salafist Group for Call and Combat (G.S.P.C.). The operation revealed the existence of a rising transnational Islamist network operating across the Maghreb region.

The New Strategy of the G.S.P.C.

This episode is particularly meaningful if considered in light of the ongoing trend that has manifested itself in the region during recent months. On January 18, 2007, about 20 suspected members of the G.S.P.C. were killed in Algeria in two military operations in the areas of Skikda and Batna, in the east of the country; on January 3, the national "amir" of the G.S.P.C., Abdelmalek Droukdal, urged in a message for the Algerian population to fight against the United States and France and made an explicit reference to the allegiance of the group toward Osama bin Laden, adding that "we're looking forward to your instructions for the next step."

One month before, on December 10, 2006, two buses carrying employees of the U.S. company Brown & Root-Condor were attacked in Bouchaoui, 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Algiers, leaving two killed and eight wounded, of which four were British, one American and another Canadian.

In Morocco, on January 4, 2007, a network to recruit and send jihadists to Iraq was uncovered and dismantled by the police. Local authorities announced a connection between this group, al-Qaeda and the G.S.P.C. and 26 people were arrested. On December 12, 2006, 11 suspects were caught in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, north of Morocco; on November 11, 2005, 17 members of an Islamist terrorist organization were apprehended by the security forces.

This long series of events reveals an increase in the intensity of contacts among Islamist militant organizations operating in the Maghreb countries. In particular, while Algeria and Morocco have always been traditional targets of Islamic fundamentalism, Tunisia has usually avoided major terrorist attacks, with the sole exception of the bombing of the synagogue in Djerba in 2002, which was claimed by al-Qaeda. The recent episodes in Tunisia and Morocco, together with the declaration of allegiance by the national amir of the G.S.P.C., represent a breakthrough in the aims and strategies of Islamist militant organizations in the region.

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