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Will Algeria be the next to fall? If so, by whose hand?

Interesting Article: Al-Qaeda Flourishes in the Sub-Sahara by FRANK CRIMI / San Diego published Thursday, September 22, 2011

A recent article by Frank Crimi mentioned a little known division of al Qaeda known as Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The article spoke about the possibility that the organization might look to disrupt the status quo in Algeria. Who are they and what can they do?

First let me describe Algeria for you. Algeria is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital. The country is bordered in the northeast by Tunisia, in the east by Libya, in the west by Morocco, in the southwest by Western Sahara, Mauritania, and Mali, in the southeast by Niger, and in the north by the Mediterranean Sea. Algeria is a member of the African Union, the Arab League, OPEC and the United Nations. The country is also a founding member of the Arab Maghreb Union. Algeria is the third largest producer of oil in Africa and fourth largest gas exporter in the world; Algeria is also the second recipient after Saudi Arabia of US investments made in the hydrocarbon sector in the Arab world. With supplies of petroleum products currently covering 5% of the US market needs and with plans to increase that share to 20% by the year 2015, Algeria is an important and reliable supplier of oil and liquefied natural gas to the United States and, in that capacity, plays an increasingly significant role in ensuring the security of America’s energy supply. The military relationship between Algeria and the United States has also been bolstered and cooperation between the militaries of both countries continues to grow. Numerous senior officers of the Algerian Army, including its Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense, have made official visits in the United States. In May 2005, both countries conducted their first formal Joint Military Dialogue in Washington; the second military dialogue took place in Algiers in November 2006, and a third occurred in October 2008 in Washington DC. Algeria has hosted US Navy and Coast Guard visits and took part with the United States in NATO joint naval exercises. Additionally, Algeria has been a key participant in the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP), which involves other countries of the region as well. Today, Algeria is the largest trading partner of the United States in North Africa and ranks second in the Arab world and Africa. In less than five years, our volume of trade went from $3.3 billion in 2002 to over $20 billion in 2008. On the other hand, Algerian exports to the United States reached a record level of 18.64 billion dollars in 2008 making the US the largest client of Algeria in the world. Algeria's relationship with the U.S is very important for future years to come, and until 2010, it was relatively a stable nation (in relation to the middle east anyway). Unfortunately, during 2010 and 2011, Algeria saw a continuing series of protests taking place throughout the country from 28 December 2010 onwards, part of similar protests across the Middle East and North Africa. Causes cited by the protestors included unemployment, the lack of housing, food-price inflation, corruption, restrictions on freedom of speech and poor living conditions. While localized protests were already commonplace over previous years, extending into December 2010, an unprecedented wave of simultaneous protests and riots, sparked by sudden rises in staple food prices, erupted all over the country starting in January 2011. While riots on this scale are unprecedented since the 1991 election, their wider political implications are not yet clear. The rioters had no collective ties to any Algerian political party, organization, or trade union. The current opposition does not seem to have one voice, and protests have been kept relatively controlled compared to the Arab Spring. This was the status until about January 13, 2011 when AQIM voiced support for demonstrations against the Tunisian and Algerian Governments in a video. Al Qaeda offered military aid and training to the demonstrators, calling on them to overthrow "the corrupt, criminal and tyrannical" regime, calling for "retaliation" against the Tunisian government (AQIM leader Abu Musab Abdul Wadud appeared in the video, calling for Islamic sharia law to be established in Tunisia), and also calling for the overthrow of Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Protests continued to occur throughout 2011, but on August 26th, 2011, the protests gave AQIM a reason to execute twin suicide bombings at the Cherchell military academy, west of Algiers, claiming it was in response to the government supporting Gaddafi in neighboring Libya. AQIM (also known as Groupe Salafiste pour la PrĂ©dication et le Combat, GSPC; also known as the Group for Call and Combat) was founded by Hassan Hattab (now in custody) in 1998. The organization boasted about 4000 members at one time, and its leadership was taken over by Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud in 2004. In a September 2005 interview, Wadoud hailed Abu Musab Al Zarqawi's actions in Iraq. In September 2006, the top Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced a "blessed union" between the groups in declaring France an enemy. They said they would work together against French and American interests. In January 2007, the group announced a formal change of name to AQIM. As followers of a Qutbist strand of jihadist Salafism, the members of the AQIM are thought to share al-Qaeda's general ideological outlook. After the deposition of Hassan Hattab, various leaders of the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. In November 2007 Nigerian authorities arrested five men for possession of seven sticks of dynamite and other explosives. Nigerian prosecutors alleged that three of the accused had trained for two years with AQIM. According to Frank Crimi, AQIM, aided by a flood of weapons and mercenaries from Libya, has turned the Sahara into the newest epicenter of terrorist activity. Among the mercenaries (hired by Gaddafi to protect him) fleeing Libya are the notorious Tuareg, a collection of brutal, disaffected and impoverished nomadic tribesmen from Morocco, Algeria, Niger and Mali. Tuareg rebel chieftain Ibrahim Ag Bahanga was reported to have shipped large quantities of weapons back to Mali for his tribal allies, according to a UPI report (Special Reports: Africa fears al-Qaida push after Libya war). Those weapons include a stockpile of SA-7, SA-14 and SA-24 shoulder-fired missiles called MANPADs. Highly accurate, these heat seeking missiles are easily launched from a shoulder or a truck bed and are able to take down low flying aircraft. The missiles, according to a European Union counter-terrorism expert, were smuggled to AQIM strongholds in Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria. Now, it appears that AQIM may be on the cusp of actually utilizing those weapons. Specifically, the State Department has recently warned the US Embassy in Algeria that AQIM was reportedly planning to target civilian planes chartered by oil companies in the Algeria Mahreb region with shoulder-fired missiles. That Algeria should be a focal point of an AQIM attack should be of little surprise, given that AQIM, before it pledged its fealty to al-Qaeda in 2006, originally grew out of a Salafist group that waged war with the Algerian government during the 1990s. As we look towards the future, the Arab Spring has brought about many changes, whether those changes are good for the nations that saw them, is yet to be seen, but one can see that organizations such as AQIM, will surely use this to their own advantage and cause extensive operational security issues for years to come. 

Sidaoui, Riadh (2009). "Islamic Politics and the Military – Algeria 1962–2008". Religion and Politics – Islam and Muslim Civilisation (via Google Books). Farnham: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0-7546-7418-5.
Algeria entry at The World Factbook
Watson, Rob. "Algeria blasts fuel violence fears", BBC News, 04-11-2007. Retrieved 04-22-2007.Jean-Pierre Filiu, "Local and global jihad: Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib", The Middle East Journal,Vol.63, spring 2009.
Islamism, Violence and Reform in Algeria: Turning the Page (Islamism in North Africa III) International Crisis Group Report, 30 July 2004
BBC Documentary about increased US military focus on the Sahara region. August 2005.
Algerian group backs al-Qaeda, BBC News, 23 October 2003
"Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)", Terrorist Organizations, World Statesman. Retrieved 09-08-2007.
Algerian terror group seeks Zarqawi's help, UPI 2 May 2006
Five Nigerians on terror charges". BBC News. 23 November 2007. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
"AQIM leader exploits Tunisia, Algeria unrest". Magharebia. Retrieved January 15 2011.
"Libya: An opportunity for al Qaeda?". CNN International. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
"US condemns suicide bombing in Algeria". AFP. August 29, 2011.


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