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September 27, 2007 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 392

Surge of Terrorism in Algeria Intensifies Debate Over Government's National Reconciliation Policy

September 27, 2007 | By R. Barducci
Algeria, North Africa | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 392

Following several bombings earlier this year, Algeria has recently seen another series of deadly terrorist attacks. On September 6, 2007, 22 were killed and over 100 were wounded in city of Batna in eastern Algeria, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a public gathering just before a scheduled appearance by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.[1]

Two days later, in the town of Dellys, suicide bombers drove a van loaded with 800 kg of explosives into the barracks of a naval base, killing 30 servicemen and wounding 47. This bombing was carried out by two terrorists – one of them a 15-year-old boy nicknamed "Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi."[2] Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (formerly the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC) took responsibility for both attacks.[3]

A third attack took place on September 14, 2007, during the first week of Ramadan. A bomb exploded in front of a police compound in the town of Zemmouri, about 30 miles east of Algiers, killing three and wounding five – all this in addition to frequent smaller-scale attacks.

This escalation has led columnists to question the Algerian government's National Reconciliation policy, which is aimed at reintegrate repentant terrorists who have renounced the use of violence back into the political system.

The following are excerpts from reactions and articles on the bombings and on their implications for the National Reconciliation program.

Bouteflika: We Refuse to Renounce the Policy of Reconciliation; The Terrorists Are Acting on Behalf of Foreign Countries and Leaders

Responding to criticism that his reconciliation policy is responsible for the latest outbreak of terrorism, Bouteflika stated: "I say to the Algerian people, and to the whole world, that we have chosen the path of National Reconciliation, and that we will not renounce it, whatever the price… We reject the extremism of the Islamists as well as that of the secularists… The perpetrators of these terrorist [attacks] are operating on behalf of foreign capitals and foreign leaders."[4]

El-Watan Columnist: The Terrorists Are Taking Advantage of the National Reconciliation Policy

In his column in the Algerian daily El-Watan, Ali Bahmane wrote that the attacks in Algeria were part of a war waged by the global jihad against the entire Maghreb using "Iraqi methods" such as suicide bombings and kidnappings. He also named several factors that, in his opinion, made Algeria especially susceptible to terrorism.

First, he argued that terrorism has been present in Algeria for a long time, making it relatively easy to recruit terrorists, particularly from among so-called "repentant terrorists," i.e. those who claim to have renounced extremism as part of the National Reconciliation. He added that the nature of the terrain in Algeria makes it easy for terrorists to operate, and also that modernity has had little impact on Algerian society, making it fertile ground for extremism.

Lastly, Bahmane pointed out that the Algerian regime has allowed fundamentalist parties to re-enter the political scene in order to use them against the democrats. The politicians, he said, thought they could neutralize the Islamist parties and get them to follow a path of "peaceful coexistence," but this policy has only led to terrorism. "National Reconciliation [thus] crashed on the rocks of reality," he wrote. "The GSPC doesn't want it, and the [allegedly] repentant terrorists have used it as a springboard in order to re-enter the political scene and re-establish the Islamic Salvation Front."

Bahmane added: "In order to avoid the Iraq syndrome, Algeria needs a new strategy combining political solutions with security [measures]. A good solution would be to shut the door to political Islamism in all its forms, and to foster the modernization of Algerian society in order to eradicate religious fundamentalism. That means giving hope to young people by [promoting] employment and education, so that they learn to love life and stay away from the [Islamist] recruiters and their false promises of Paradise."[5]

Liberté Columnist: When the Government Never Reassesses the National Reconciliation, It Becomes Dogma

Columnist for the Algerian daily Liberté Moustafa Hammouche wrote that the National Reconciliation serves the extremist and violent core within the Islamic groups. As long as these extremists think that they have some hope of victory, he argued, the reconciliation process would be counterproductive. Hammouche criticized the regime's claim that the National Reconciliation is "a strategic and irreversible choice of the Algerian people," arguing that if the policy is not periodically reassessed, revised, adapted, and reformulated, then it ceases to be policy and becomes dogma.[6]

Algerian Citizens: Reconciliation Must Be Supplemented by Security Measures

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, anti-terrorism demonstrations were held in various parts of Algeria. In an article titled "Batna and Dellys – Never Again! Algerians Come Out Against Terrorism," Liberté columnist Hafida Ameyar presented statements by some of the demonstrators.

"Among the thousands of demonstrators," she wrote, "many complained about the way the National Reconciliation is being implemented… One young man said… that for years, Algerians have been participating in [public] meetings and rallies 'in order to tell the government and the world that they reject terrorism. Many of them took part in the battle against terrorism at the cost of their own lives. But has it been worth it?… People continue to die because the [reconciliation] policies are not supplemented by security measures, and because the Charter for National Reconciliation is not enforced… We don't know [what measures are taken by the authorities] to ensure that the [allegedly] repentant terrorists do not relapse into crime'.

"Another demonstrator said: 'There is an urgent need to adopt a different [policy] whereby amnesty is accompanied by resoluteness on the part of the state. Lenience should not leave us [helpless] vis-à-vis the impunity and provocations of the [allegedly] repentant terrorists and Islamist activists.'"

Public Organizations Call for Demonstrations Against Terrorism and For National Reconciliation

According to the official organ of the FLN party El-Moudjahid, the General Union of Algerian Workers issued a statement calling to hold mass rallies and meetings denouncing the "cowardly terrorist attacks" in Batna and Dellys. The statement urged the workers, and all trade unions, "to express their commitment to the values of the Algerian republic, to peace, and to National Reconciliation."

It was also reported that the official National Organization of Mujahideen (ONM)[7] likewise issued a statement calling on its members to hold anti-terrorism marches and demonstrations throughout the country, in order to "reaffirm… their commitment to National Reconciliation as the sole and essential solution" and to "express their support for President Bouteflika's initiatives..."[8]

Needed: An Anti-Terrorism Media Campaign to Counter the Islamist Propaganda Disseminated Through Al-Jazeera

Liberté columnist Amine Allami wrote: "The logic of reconciliation hitherto employed by the government has reached its limit. In the aftermath of the April 11 attacks, President Bouteflika understood that the security situation demanded a renewed effort, and therefore ordered… an intensification of the battle against terrorism… However, [this military campaign] by the troops on the ground must be supplemented by a consistent media strategy."

Allami added that the GSPC, unlike the government, is well aware of the importance of psychological warfare, and therefore makes an effort – with the help of its ally Al-Jazeera TV– to convince people that it is still strong despite the heavy blows it has sustained from the security forces. "In order to counter this daily media attack by the terrorists," Allami concluded, "it is necessary, and even urgent, to launch a new anti-terrorism media campaign."[9]

In another Liberté editorial, Allami reiterated the need to counter jihadist propaganda: "It is inconceivable that we should stand idly by while the GSPC propaganda [machine] disseminates misinformation and falsehood, with the help of Al-Jazeera and other Middle Eastern media [outlets] and websites, and manipulates young Algerians in order to recruit them [for terrorist activities]."[10]

* Dr. R. Barducci is a research fellow at MEMRI.


Endnotes:

[1] Algerian sources asserted that the target of the attack was President Bouteflika himself. Liberté (Algeria), September 8, 2007.

[2] The boy's mother told the Algerian daily El-Watan: "He was the quietest of my children… He never talked about politics and even less about the government and political parties. Then he started to attend the Apreuval mosque in Kouba on a regular basis, but continued to go to school. He never skipped class until the day he stayed overnight at the mosque, and then he disappeared… [One day], he called me on a mobile phone… [and said]: 'Mother, I'm scared. I don't know where I am. I'd like to run away, but I am afraid they will kill you. They told me that if I ran away, they would take revenge on you. But don't worry, I'll find a way to get out of here'. Then he hung up. [After that], he called again only two or three times. I informed everybody [about what was going on]. I did everything I could to save him, but they ended up killing him. I am certain they forced him to get into that cursed van... I am certain that he wanted to run away but that the driver kept him there by force. He was only a child. How can you explain a man of 35 hanging around with a boy of 15?… Why do they choose children [to carry out terrorist attacks]? Had he been an adult, I would have said that he had gotten what he deserved. But he was only a child. He was turned into a suicide bomber by adults." El-Watan (Algeria), September 10, 2007.

[3] A communique issued by the GSPC on September 8, 2007 stated that the Batna attack had been perpetrated by an individual named "Abu Muqdad Al-Wahrani." An investigation by the Algerian security forces revealed his real name as Belazreg Houari. El-Watan (Algeria), September 10, 2007.

The GSPC is also responsible for the April 11, 2007 attacks in Algiers in which 30 were killed and over 200 were wounded, and for the July 11, 2007 truck bomb attack in the city of Lakhdaria, in which 10 Algerian soldiers were killed.

[4] Liberté (Algeria), September 8, 2007.

[5] El-Watan (Algeria), September 9, 2007.

[6] Liberté (Algeria), September 9, 2007.

[7] The "mudjahideen" in this organization's name refers to those who fought in Algeria's war of independence against France.

[8] El-Moudjahid (Algeria), September 9, 2007.

[9] Liberté (Algeria), September 9, 2007.

[10] Liberté (Algeria), September 10, 2007.

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