Algiers — The discovery of a high-grade weapons stockpile in Illizi is prompting Algerian authorities to boost security along the border with Libya.
The desert cache found last week included hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, rockets, land mines and rocket-propelled grenades.
According to a security source, the weapons were smuggled from Libya.
The arsenal was located some 200km from the Tiguentourine gas complex, the site of last winter's deadly siege by terrorists under the command of former al-Qaeda emir Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
"This is not the first time that an arms cache has been discovered on the Algeria-Libya border," Illizi official Abbas Bouaamama told Magharebia.
"Monitoring the vast border region should no longer be the job of the army alone," he added. "There is a more than urgent need to involve the population, who know the region better than anyone else, in maintaining security along the border."
To deal with the threat along its shared frontiers with Tunisia, Libya and Sahel neighbours Mali and Niger, Algeria is deploying addition security personnel. Some 1,500 soldiers and gendarmes were sent to the Libya border zone in the wake of the arsenal's discovery.
"They will support the 20,000 other men who have already been stationed along the borders and in the south-east," a security source told El Watan.
The government also moved to increase its defence budget. According to former Algerian Finance Minister Abdelkader Harachaoui, "the situation in the region requires the government to deploy more resources along the borders and hence to spend more in this sector".
"The Algerian army must protect the borders while continuing its campaign against the terrorist groups who are active inside the country," security expert Mourad Sellimi told Magharebia. This will require "financial and human resources and highly developed logistics", he said.
As part of the security push, Algerian border officers will also receive some 500 new 4x4 vehicles to boost surveillance along the eastern and western frontiers, and in the south of the country, national customs authority (DGD) chief Mohamed Abdou Bouderbala announced last Wednesday in Batna
Presiding over the Hamla-3 graduation ceremony for the latest class of customs agents, Bouderbala said that Algeria would also buy more helicopters in order to tackle smuggling.
The number of customs officers will increase from 20,000 to 30,000, in order to fully cover all Algerian territory, the DGD head added.
"Efforts are currently focused on high-quality training for customs officers to improve efficiency on the front line," Bouderbala said.
But one issue is complicating the security initiative. There are no Libyan soldiers guarding their side of the nearly 1,000km-long border,
Touareg tribal militias, said to be salafists, are now handling border security in Libya.
"The members of these groups no longer wear regular army uniforms," El Khabar quoted an Algerian military source as saying on October 23rd. "We have categorically refused to co-operate with them," the ANP source said.
Some 14 "salafist" militias are now reportedly active along Libya's border with Algeria.
"We will not recognise these militias. It must not be forgotten that the jihadists who carried out the terrorist attack in Tiguentourine in January came from this region," the source added.
Algeria is not the only country facing a heightened terror threat, Communication Minister Abdelkader Messahel pointed out on October 17th.
"The terrorist attacks of Agadez in Niger, Tiguentourine in Algeria and Westgate in Kenya are part of this strategy to exploit instability in Libya, the Sahel and Somalia," the minister said during a forum in Brussels.