Algeria: Trademark Attacks and a GSPC-Al Qaeda Blend

4 MINS READMar 5, 2007 | 22:19 GMT
The militant group al Qaeda Organization for the Countries of the Arab Maghreb claimed responsibility March 5 for separate attacks in two different locations in Algeria. Among the targets were foreign oil workers and Algerian security forces, indicating a merger of the former Algerian militant organization the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) into the al Qaeda movement. So far, Algerian security and intelligence forces have not demonstrated an ability to prevent a revitalized GSPC from continuing its campaign.
Over a two-day period, the militant group al Qaeda Organization for the Countries of the Arab Maghreb recently attacked oil workers and security forces in Algeria. On March 3, a bus carrying 21 workers for the Russian company Stroitransgas was struck by two roadside blasts that killed at least one Russian oil worker and three Algerians about 80 miles southwest of Algiers, near the town of Ain Defla. Al Qaeda dedicated the attack to Islamists fighting against Moscow in Chechnya. The next day, seven Algerian police officers were killed in the eastern Kabylie region when their vehicles were ambushed near Beni Yeni.
These attacks continue a pattern of activity established by al Qaeda Organization for the Countries of the Arab Maghreb in late 2006. The group was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) before swearing its allegiance to al Qaeda in September 2006 and formally changing its name in January 2007. The results of this merger started to become apparent in October, when two police stations were bombed in northern Algeria. While attacking oil industry targets is al Qaeda doctrine, ambushing police officers is a tactic often employed by the former GSPC. The latest attacks are in keeping with an escalation of activity by the former GSPC and is the second time in a month that the organization has been able to attack targets in separate geographic areas in rapid succession. On Feb. 13, al Qaeda claimed responsibility for detonating seven bombs at several police stations in Algeria's Boumerdes and Tizi Ouzou provinces. After these attacks, Algerian security forces responded with a wave of anti-militant operations in Kabylie over the next two weeks that killed at least 26 insurgents. The Stroitransgas bombing was the second attack since December in Algeria in which militants have targeted employees of foreign energy-related firms. On Dec. 10, a bus carrying employees of the Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root-Condor and the Algerian Sonatrach oil company was attacked with grenades and gunfire. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed an Algerian driver and wounded eight foreign workers. This style of attack follows al Qaeda doctrine promulgated in a tape aired in December 2005 calling for attacks against economic and infrastructure targets, and reflects efforts of the former GSPC to shift its focus and tactics to conform to the greater al Qaeda agenda. The effective assimilation of GSPC into al Qaeda has proved to be a shot in the arm for the Algerian Islamist militant movement, at least for the short term. Operating under the al Qaeda banner might breathe new life into al Qaeda-Maghreb recruiting efforts, as the organization tries to stir believers throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Especially valuable to al Qaeda-Maghreb are militants who have fought with al Qaeda in other conflicts and bring combat skills and expertise in areas such as improvised explosive devices. The move of al Qaeda into the Maghreb comes at a time when militant activity in the region is on the rise, and seems to be an attempt to coordinate different regional movements that have been under pressure from strong state security apparatuses in their home countries. As the militant movements in the Maghreb have been revitalized, security forces have tried to counter them with a more concerted counterinsurgency campaign. However, even though dozens of arrests have been made and dozens of militants have been killed, the attacks continue. This pattern of arrests and attacks indicates that Algerian security and intelligence forces have not demonstrated an ability to prevent the revitalized group from continuing its campaign. Because these latest bombings have not been suicide attacks and the cell members are still at large, they are free to continue to plan and hone their skills for future operations. Resurgence of Islamist militancy in Algeria will continue in the short term. However, the Algerian government succeeded in all but shutting down the original GSPC, whose membership was believed to have dwindled to around 500 from a 1990s civil war-era peak of 30,000. After it adapts to the new militant tactics, structure and doctrine, the government should be able to contain this latest jihadist campaign.

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