Nouakchott, Tripoli, Rabat, Algiers — A new report from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) holds some surprises for Maghreb countries.
The Global Terrorism Index, published December 4th, is the first-ever ranking of 158 countries based on the number of terrorist attacks, the number of fatalities and injuries from terrorism, as well as the estimated property damage.
Algeria had the highest impact of terrorism in the Maghreb, coming in at 15th worldwide in the ground-breaking study. Morocco had the second highest impact of terrorism (40th), followed by Tunisia (53rd), Mauritania (54th) and Libya (93rd). Among Sahel states, Mali ranked 43rd.
The index data accrued through 2011, however, does not reflect the recent deterioration in security in Libya or Mali.
More than 7,000 people were killed by terrorism during the course of 2011, according to the report. A further 14,000 people were injured in attacks over the one-year period.
The report also said that over the last decade, the Middle East and North Africa saw the highest number of fatalities due to terrorism. With the exception of Algeria, which saw a decline in the impact of terrorism, all Maghreb countries saw slight increases over 2010.
Mauritanians welcome positive ranking:
However, Mauritanians welcomed the news, putting it in the context of a country on the front line against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other groups. According to analyst Abdelfattah Ould Brahim, the relatively stable ranking is due to the noticeable improvement of security, the strength of army and control of border.
"This is a very positive thing for a country located near a region where terrorists operate, a country where some of its own young people have joined terrorist groups," he adds.
Elban Ould Salek, a secondary school teacher, comments that "rankings made by some specialised centres and institutes don't necessarily reflect the real condition because they focus on certain events that have a strong impact."
Across the Maghreb in Libya, most citizens say that arms proliferation and the absence of a strong government are behind the worsening security situation. The weak security apparatus and nascent national army are also contributing to the growth of terrorism in post-revolution Libya.
While the Global Terrorism Index only used data through 2011, the last year has seen the rise of a number of armed jihadist groups within Libya. Those extremists include Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group some have accused of carrying out the terror attack on the US mission in Benghazi.
Libyans agree with index spot:
In view of the huge quantity of weapons at people's hands, the rank of 93 is very modest, says engineer Salem al-Sharif.
"Acts of violence and threats against national security have only appeared in the last two years because of the revolution that turned into a war," notes journalist Mohamed al-Najem. "Libya has never suffered from acts of violence that led to damages in the last decade. However, what we saw during the revolution and after was a natural thing."
"Still, we may realise a better place once the constitutional institutions have been built," he adds. Faisal Ziqta, an oil engineer, says that "before February 17th, Libya never witnessed clear or prominent terrorist acts".
"On the contrary, Libya was one of the safest and most secure countries in the world," he adds. As to Libya's 93rd place, he says the ranking is suitable, given the post-revolution instability and security vacuum.
"We never heard of bombings at markets or car bombs, and there were no arms in Libya before February 17th, and the country was a model for security and safety. Its ranking was among the more secure countries. As to now, the situation is different, and Libya has become an open hotbed for all parties," Ziqta adds.
"Libya is now threatened with bombings and assassinations, and terrorism is now spreading across the country," he says.
In Morocco, analysts praised the index for bringing attention to the issue. Jawad Kerdoudi, president of the Moroccan Institute for International Relations (IMRI), said that the impact from terrorism was becoming an essential piece of security information in today's world, in stark contrast to the situation long ago.
He points out that al-Qaeda is active in several regions of the world and that the index makes it possible to identify the most vulnerable countries.
Moroccan analysts welcome report:
The Institute head says that Morocco's ranking is "in the middle".
"Morocco is not very exposed to terrorism, which has several facets. The risks are still there, but compared with Algeria, they're much smaller," he says. Kerdoudi points out that that several Moroccan terror cells, including one that allegedly recruited fighters for al-Qaeda and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad (MUJAO) in northern Mali, were broken up before they were able to put their plans into effect.
However, he laments the lack of co-operation with Algeria and believes that the two countries need to form a united front against terrorism. "The most important thing is to share intelligence. I would like to see Morocco and Algeria stepping up their security co-operation," the IMRI chief adds.
Mourad Sabouni, a political analyst, shares this view and says that the Global Terrorism Index demonstrates that the security threats are very real. "Efforts need to be co-ordinated across the region in order to combat terrorism effectively and prevent the spread of extremism across the Maghreb," Sabouni says.
While Morocco has recently been able to prevent attacks by breaking up terror cells, he says, this policy cannot always succeed and the risks are ever-present.
The new global terrorism ranking could also spur exposed countries to take action on terrorism, according to law student Samir Cherouani. He argues that in addition to taking security measures, Morocco must also improve job prospects for young people so that they will not be vulnerable to indoctrination.
Algeria saw marked improvement in the Global Terrorism Index. Algeria is no longer close to the top of the table and has dropped from 3rd to 15th in terms of the number of acts of terrorism, victims and damage to property.
Algeria leads world in positive data:
Indeed, "the biggest falls in terrorist impact from 2002 to 2011 were in the US and Algeria", the IEP report says. The report also reveals that the number terrorist attacks in Algeria fell from 109 in 2003 to 15 in 2011. The number of victims also fell, from 500 fatalities in 2002 to just 25 in 2011.
"Of all attacks since 2002, Algerian Islamic Extremists account for 27%, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Fighting (GSPC) and al-Qaeda in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) account for 18% each and it is not known who perpetrated 26% of the attacks," the report adds.
But Cherifa Kheddar, the president of the Djazairouna Association for victims of terrorism, says that "for as long as Algerians fear for their lives, Algeria is not completely out of the woods".
"Today, the problem Algeria faces is the lack of information. Members of the public are not informed about the security situation. No one can tell them not to travel down a particular road where they risk being robbed and above all killed," Kheddar adds.
Hind Bendali is more optimistic. A photographer, she says that the report reflects what Algerians are seeing on the ground. "A few years ago, the idea of travelling at night or taking certain roads without risking one's life was unthinkable. Nowadays people go out at night, and night-time weddings have started again with renewed popularity," she says.
"Although it can't be said that terrorism is ancient history, the situation has improved a lot and you can really feel that in daily life," Bendali adds.
Magharebia, by Jemal Oumar in Nouakchott, Essam Mohamed in Tripoli, Siham Ali in Rabat, and Hayam El Hadi in Algiers (Jan. 4, 2013)