Intelligence Brief: Al-Qaeda's New Strategy in North Africa

Posted in Terrorism | 16-Apr-07

On April 11, 2007, Algeria's capital of Algiers was hit by two attacks that killed at least 24 people and wounded more than 200. Various car bombs exploded simultaneously, damaging the prime minister's office and devastating one of the suburbs of the city, Bab Ezzouar. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a new (or rebranded) terrorist group that has replaced the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (G.S.P.C.), claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that three suicide bombers were involved in the operations.

The day before, another terrorist attack hit Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco, where three militants and one police officer died. The attack occurred as Moroccan security forces were pursuing a terrorist cell allegedly responsible for an attempted blast against an internet cafe in Casablanca on March 11. Moreover, on April 8, nine Algerian soldiers and five Islamist militants were killed in an ambush against a military patrol in the area west of Algiers, while a major counter-terrorism operation led by the army was underway in the east of the country.

Several analysts underlined the many similarities between the events in Algeria and Morocco, describing the attacks as a plan masterminded by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It does not seem plausible, however, that the two acts were coordinated by a single leadership. First of all, the two operations were not simultaneous, something that presumably would have occurred if the plans were conceived and carried out by the same group (since an attack in a neighboring country inevitably raises the level of alert and awareness toward any possible act of terrorism).

Furthermore, the actual executions of the attacks were very different in the two countries: in Casablanca, the militants were chased by the police and forced to blow themselves up, highlighting the poor planning behind their operation, as already shown during the foiled attack of March 11; in Algiers, the blasts were carefully planned and executed, hitting the heart of Algerian political power and killing tens of people. Indeed, to state a connection between the two events seems premature at this point, as underlined by Chakib Benmoussa, the Moroccan interior minister, in an interview with Reuters.

Since the end of its civil war, Algeria has experienced a low intensity conflict led by the G.S.P.C., an organization that in 2006 declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda and renamed itself to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The relentless warfare has been defined as "residual terrorism" by the Algerian government, which enacted a policy of national reconciliation last year to strengthen its legitimacy and put an end to the conflict. Due to this initiative, thousands of former jihadists involved in the civil war were freed and some of them were reported to have joined the G.S.P.C., also because of the dire economic conditions in the country and the lack of actual alternatives. [See: "Terrorism Risk Remains in North Africa"]

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