26 March 2014

Algeria Mobilises Troops to Secure Election

Photo: Facebook/Ali Benflis
Electoral campaign in Algeria

Algiers — As Algeria's April 17th presidential election nears, authorities are taking steps to counter any terrorist threat that could impact the race.

The campaign officially kicked off on Sunday (March 23rd) and security authorities deployed units on the border to prevent the infiltration of terrorists and increased patrols in major cities and roads.

Colonel Mohamed Tahar Benaâmane, director of public safety at the National Gendarmerie, said in a March 22nd press conference that his services would provide protection for candidates during the campaign along with security for any potential gathering places.

According to the colonel, 130,000 gendarmes were mobilised to secure the presidential campaign and election offices. National Gendarmerie units will also be tasked with securing 7,541 polling stations across the country, or 64 per cent of the total voting sites. He added that gendarmerie units would also secure 168 mobile polling stations dedicated to people in the south.

Algerian media reported that authorities deployed more than 100,000 soldiers across the borders with Tunisia, Libya, Mali, and Niger in order to ensure the safety of the presidential elections. The defence ministry also provided new aircraft to security units in charge of guarding the land frontier.

El Khabar reported that more than 15,000 Special Forces troops and infantry were taking part in military manoeuvres that began over the week-end in seven locations in the southern provinces of Illizi, Adrar, and Tamanrasset. This operation will continue for a while to prevent the infiltration of armed groups from northern Mali, as well as from Libya, a country witnessing extremely difficult security conditions.

Security services recently conducted several successful operations on the ground, eliminating a dozen terrorists in March. The militants were active in groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), including seven who were killed near the border with Tunisia. Five others were taken out in Tizi Ouzou.

Prior to this operation, security forces killed seven terrorists near the forests of Ait Yahia Moussa, located 25km south-west of the city of Tizi Ouzou. Thirty-six terrorists were killed in separate operations during the period from January 9th through March 19th.

Djazairnews reported that the Algerian army action in the forests of Ighrib, east of the city of Tizi Ouzou, was to pre-empt a meeting of field commanders of AQIM, who were planning to carry out terrorist attacks during the election. The paper added that the meeting was also an attempt to lift the siege imposed on groups active in the Kabylie region and on the border by security forces.

The fear of terror attacks prompted enhanced border security, with the deployment of additional forces, intensified aerial surveillance, and pre-emptive operations against AQIM affiliated groups.

"The security measures do not necessarily mean the presence of an imminent danger," former minister Saida Benhabyles noted.

Benhabyles said that Algerian authorities have experience in organising and securing elections, adding that the recent actions were meant to deal with and prevent any scheme planned by terrorists.

"Terrorist groups are always seeking to perform spectacular operations in order to disturb the presidential election, hence carry out attacks targeting vital and important facilities," said Jamal Ammar, a writer and expert in security affairs.

He added that terrorist organisations, especially AQIM, are trying to "take advantage of the media covering the electoral period to carry out operations that can have an echo, raise fears and spread doubts about the ability of Algerian authorities to secure citizens".

"The weapons that have been seized recently strengthened this hypothesis," he stated. "It is an indication of the intention of these groups to do something that can attract the media since their activities have declined recently, largely because the security imposed on the border."

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