7 May 2014

Algeria Confronts Terror Threat

Algiers — Days after al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on soldiers in Kabylie, Algerian troops on Monday (May 5th) killed ten terrorists near the Malian border.

The week-end began with the interception of an armed convoy near the border with Niger and Libya. Algerian forces arrested 20 heavily-armed Libyan nationals.

As Algeria racks up wins against terrorists, al-Qaeda leaders past and present are trying to generate media attention.

AQIM on May 1st claimed responsibility for the Iboudrarene ambush that left 11 ANP dead last month.

The same day, Mokhtar Belmokhtar pledged his allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. In a statement posted on Islamist websites, the Maghreb's most-wanted terrorist declared his "faith in the policies" of Osama bin Laden's successor.

The timing of the two al-Qaeda declarations raises many questions, analysts said.

"AQIM's declaration of responsibility is like a response by the group to Belmokhtar's statement in which he renewed allegiance to al-Zawahiri," security affairs expert Ameur Ali said.

"The Maghreb branch of al-Qaeda wanted to achieve two goals: the first is to appear in the media again to say it is still capable of launching attacks; and the second is to impliedly respond to Belmokhtar and confirm it is the official arm of al-Qaeda in the region," he added.

Analysts said that Belmokhtar's recent steps, including the merger of his Signed in Blood brigade with the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the formation of the "Mourabitounes", showed his interest in obtaining al-Qaeda's blessing to lead its armed wing in the African Sahel.

"Belmokhtar shows himself to be under the command of al-Qaeda chief and refuses to be under the command of the AQIM emir," security researcher Mohamed Samim said.

"He did that when he sent some of his fighters to Libya to join the battalions against the Kadhafi regime in response to a call by al-Qaeda", he noted. "He took that step before AQIM emir issued his orders; this was seen as rebellion against the Maghreb branch of al-Qaeda."

Belmokhtar "wants to appear as the strong man in the desert and Sahel and that none can compete with him in this regard", Samim noted.

In his turn, academic researcher Amar Abderahmane called Belmokhtar's approach a "break the bones strategy with AQIM".

"He wants to realise two goals: firstly, to raise his name among the fighters who joined the Mourabitounes to become number one; and secondly, to appear before his followers and other armed groups as the man recommended by the parent organisation to lead armed operations in the region," Abderrahmane said.

But Algerian authorities are not willing to let that happen.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said in a speech after being sworn in that despite reconciliation efforts, the law would hit with an iron fist on any terrorist attack targeting citizens' security and properties.

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