Edward Gabriel espionant l’Algérie pour le compte du Maroc

 

Rapports sur la situation en Algérie élaborés par Edward Gabriel, puis transmis à l’Ambassadeur du Maroc à Washington, Rachad Bouhlal

ALGERIA MONTHLY SITUATION REPORT #138

August 31, 2014

Executive Summary

ALGÉRIE : RAPPORT DE SITUATION MENSUEL

 

31 août 2014

 

Résumé

 

Tendances Politiques

  • Après avoir purgé plusieurs aides présidentielles en juillet, la présidence a sommairement rejeté Abdelaziz Belkhadem en tant que Ministre d’Etat et Conseiller Spécial auprès du président, et donné des ordres pour son expulsion du FLN, le parti qu’il a dirigé une fois.
  • En tant que «islamo-conservateur» et critique virulent de la conduite de l’Egypte durant de la crise à Gaza, Belkhadem a peut-être tombé sous le coup de la nouvelle alliance entre Alger et le Caire.
  • L’axe algéro-égyptien survient en grande partie en réponse à l’effondrement continu de la Libye, ce qui semble également être l’une des raisons du nouveau poids accorde à la DRS dans la structure du pouvoir.
  • Habilitée par un décret présidentiel rétablissant son service des enquêtes criminelles, la DRS a également repris son rôle de surveillance à la Sonatrach. Abdelhamid Zerguine, remplacé en tant que PDG de la Sonatrach après deux ans et demi de travail, semble avoir été une victime collatérale.

 

Relations Etrangères

  • Bien que les responsables, à commencer par le Président Bouteflika continuent de s’accrocher publiquement à la ligne que l’Algérie ne s’ingère pas dans les affaires internes d’autres pays, sa longue doctrine de la non-intervention aurait été discrètement révisée pour permettre des opérations de sécurité transfrontalière s dans la défense des frontières de l’Algérie.
  • Il est prétendu que le personnel militaire et de renseignement algérien est profondément impliqué dans la Tunisie et la Libye, et il y a eu des allégations selon lesquelles l’État-major a rédigé des plans d’urgence pour les grands raids aériens contre les groupes djihadistes en Libye.
  • Bien que la plupart des signes pointent dans la direction de l’Egypte et des Emirats Arabes Unis, il existe des allégations selon lesquelles l’armée de l’air algérienne a peut-être été responsable pour deux raids aériens sur des cibles à Tripoli en août.
  • Alors que la conversation entre Alger et Washington sur la situation en Libye est en cours, les responsables américains ne semblent pas favoriser une intervention militaire externe à ce stade.

 

 

 Sécurité

  • L’activité d’AQMI en Algérie a diminué au cours des deux dernières années à des niveaux historiquement bas en raison de multiples facteurs, notamment la réduction du recrutement, l’attrition par les forces de sécurité, et, plus récemment, une scission au sein de ses rangs concernant l’attitude à adopter face à « l’État Islamique » en Irak et Syrie.
  • Il y a eu un certain nombre d’incidents au long des frontières orientales et méridionales du pays, et un affrontement à proximité de champs de gaz dans la wilaya de Ghardaïa, dans lequel un groupe armé a tenté d’intercepter un convoi de la Sonatrach.
  • Un groupe d’experts en sécurité de la France, du Japon, des États-Unis, et de l’Italie a visité le sud-est de l’Algérie, à la recherche d’assurances que les frontières et les installations de pétrole et de gaz sont assurées de manière adéquate.
  • Il semblerait que la police nationale cherche à acquérir des drones pour la sécurisation des installations pétrolières et gazières.

 

 

 

Political Trends

 

Following on from July’s mini-purge of presidential aides, the past month has seen the surprise departure of two more senior officials. At the very end of July, after just over two and a half years in the job, Abdelhamid Zerguine was dismissed as Sonatrach CEO and replaced by Saïd Sahnoun (hitherto Vice President/Upstream). There has been no official explanation for Zerguine’s dismissal – leaving the field wide open to speculation in the press. Then, on August 26, official news agency APS dropped a political bombshell in the form of a dispatch quoting a “source at the Presidency” as announcing that:

President Bouteflika has signed a decree terminating the functions of Abdelaziz Belkhadem as Minister of State and Special Advisor to the President of the Republic, as well as all activities related to the overall structures of the state. The Secretary General of the FLN has [also] been contacted in order to take the necessary steps to terminate all Abdelaziz Belkhadem’s functions within the party and ban him from participation in any of its structures.

Again, no explanation was offered by APS or its source at the Presidency for this abrupt political death sentence, which seemed eerily reminiscent of the days of the one-party state.

 

Given that Belkhadem’s presidential ambitions were an open secret, his abrupt dismissal might seen as another symptom of the inward-looking palace intrigues that cost the four unfortunate presidential aides their jobs in July. Some senior FLN members have suggested that Belkhadem’s unsuccessful attempt to force entry into the June 24 Central Committee meeting, flanked by his ministerial bodyguards and claiming that he had been mandated by the President to settle the party’s festering internal crisis, had so angered the President and his closest advisors that it was decided that he had to go. But it is possible that there may be a more substantive political dimension to Belkhadem’s sudden termination.

 

Belkhadem has long been clearly identified as an “islamo-conservative”, or “barbe FLN” as those within the former single party who have sought to fuse Algerian nationalism with political Islam are often known. In the past, the Presidency has been happy enough to have Belkhadem on its team, as a gesture to conservative/moderate islamist opinion. But Belkhadem’s islamist-tinged nationalism has led him of late to be openly critical of the conduct of various Arab regimes, and in particular of the Egyptian authorities’ response to the Israeli offensive against Gaza. Unfortunately for Belkhadem, this comes at a time when Algiers, faced with a rapidly deteriorating situation in Libya, is forging a new axis with Cairo (and thus, indirectly at least, with its Saudi and Emirati backers, who have thrown their full weight behind President Abdulfattah Al-Sisi as a rampart against the Muslim Brotherhood and all its offshoots, including Hamas). In this context, Belkhadem clearly is no longer an appropriate choice as President Bouteflika’s ‘Special Advisor’ and representative.

 

In this respect, it is worth noting a reports that a bilateral Algerian-Egyptian security commission, made up of high-ranking intelligence officers from both countries, has been established to address the threat posed by the situation in Libya, with unnamed “security sources” quoted by Algerian daily El Watan (01/08/14) claiming that a delegation of DRS officers had been dispatched to Cairo “on orders from President Bouteflika” to establish a roadmap for strategic security cooperation on Libya. This may be a pointer to a subtle but important shift within the Algerian power structure. In earlier reports, we discussed the possibility that the DRS’s position within the power structure might have suffered in 2012 and 2013 as a consequence of the twin crises in Mali and Libya, with the army emerging as the defender of the country’s borders and main interlocutor of the Western powers and thereby profiting at the expense of the intelligence and security agency. Paradoxically, however, the prolongation of those crises, having stretched the regular armed forces to the limit, may now have paved the way for the return to grace of the DRS, whose services cannot be so easily dispensed with. This would seem to be what a retired Algerian general (now in private business, dealing with Tunisia) was suggesting when speaking to us in mid-August:

Algeria’s national security doctrine is in the process of changing. Faced with mounting dangers in neighbouring countries, but also with foreign military interventions in those same countries, Algeria’s sacrosanct principle of refusing to intervene militarily in the territory of any foreign country is giving way to a new doctrine. This new doctrine says that national security requires that our borders be protected, and this task must be addressed on the soil of any neighbouring country that harbours a threat to Algeria. It is the DRS that is responsible for the intellectual acrobatics required to justify abandoning the old doctrine, [DRS chief Gen. Mohamed] ‘Tewfik’ [Médiène] having won over President Bouteflika. […] Bouteflika has no choice: he has to strengthen the DRS. The Army is being kept busy on the borders with Libya, Mali and Tunisia. And the domestic situation is becoming worrying, for two reasons: a return to the creation of terrorist sleeper cells to keep their struggle in neighbouring countries supplied, and a rise in the incidence of economic crimes.

 

Speaking to us ten days later, an official at Sonatrach’s legal department drew a picture which seems to confirm that the DRS is bouncing back after a period of somewhat diminished power:

We are going back to the situation that prevailed before the changes within the DRS. Over the past few weeks, DRS officers have been returning to Sonatrach – and not just at group headquarters. The decision to bring back the DRS was taken in application of a presidential decree dated June 14 [sic] that bestows expanded powers on the DRS[1].

The same source at Sonatrach claims, furthermore, that the dismissal of Abdelhamid Zerguine “was one of the consequences of the return of the DRS”. The legal department official explains:

Various accumulated reasons led to his departure, but the first was his security plan for Sonatrach’s sites and buildings. In a note to the Ministry [of Energy and Mining] he had advocated various measures, including the authorities supplying weapons to Sonatrach’s security guards. After equipping Sonatrach’s own security guards with weaponry appropriate to the threat [that Sonatrach’s facilities face] in the initial phase, the measure would later be extended to include staff employed by private security companies. In writing his note, Zerguine drew on regulations dating back to the 1990s, i.e. before Bouteflika came to power. He had also adopted a stance of opposition to the government’s decision in May to authorise shale gas production (although in fact, like many other Sonatrach managers, his position was not one of rejecting of shale gas outright but suggesting that development be postponed until the impact studies have been completed). As of June, he was no longer ‘covered’ by Energy and Mining Minister Youcef Yousfi or the Prime Minister. And so, at meetings at the Presidency, he was told that his management methods were not only responsible for the security lapses [in the oil and gas sector] but also for the decline in production at Hassi Messaoud and Hassi R’mel.

It might be argued that scapegoating Zerguine in this manner for problems that are, in fact, systemic harks back, like Belkhadem’s unceremonious dismissal, to the methods of the 1970s – were it not the most frequent fate of Sonatrach CEOs even in the post-single-party era[2].

 

 

Foreign Relations

 

In a speech to mark Algeria’s Veterans Day on August 20, read on his behalf by his advisor Mohamed Ali Boughazi, President Bouteflika revisited the theme of the threats to Algeria’s stability and integrity posed by the turmoil in neighbouring states, and restated Algiers’ traditional position of non-intervention in foreign countries:

The stability our country enjoys today [stands in contrast to] a background of regional and geostrategic upheavals which have unfortunately weakened many countries, in particular because of insufficient attachment to the values of unity and sovereignty and a poor understanding of the traps laid by those who are bent on sowing discord in order to divide and rule those societies.

[…]

We have opted for dialogue and good neighbourly relations with everyone, without seeking to interfere in the internal affairs of other states. Algeria will pursue its efforts to put a stop to hegemony, bloodshed and the dismantling of regimes, because the stability and security of our country are dependent on the stability, development and prosperity of our neighbours.

 

Such statements of principle, however, ring increasingly hollow. Over the past months, sources have alluded on more than one occasion to an Algerian military presence in neighbouring Libya, in direct contravention of Algeria’s long-established doctrine; more recently, a retired Algerian general, who is now in business and involved in trade with Tunisia, has told us that the official doctrine has been revised to bring it into line with the new realities (see above, Political Trends). The same source adds:

The Algerian army’s involvement in Tunisia and Libya goes beyond anything one could imagine. In Tunisia, Algerian officers in plain clothes are present on the ground, with a double mission: to train Tunisian military and security personnel in counter-terrorism, and to gather intelligence. Tunisia lacks effective intelligence structures and relies on collaboration with its allies. Algeria is gathering both TECHINT, including by satellite, and human intelligence. Tunisia and Algeria signed an agreement allowing for this in May[3]. Algeria has set up an intelligence processing and analysis centre in Skikda focussing on the situation in Tunisia and on the borders with Tunisia. Meanwhile, Algeria, which heads the security commission of the group of Libya’s neighbours[4], has been given a green light by the other member countries to take executive action in Libya. The army and the DRS are present on Libyan territory in all operational forms, with the primary objective of collecting human intelligence and building permanent intelligence-gathering channels. The Algerians have infiltrated some of the armed groups in Libya.

 

The foreign ministers of Libya’s neighbours met again in Cairo on August 25, adopting a statement, drafted by Egypt, stressing “respect for Libyan unity and sovereignty and rejection of any interference in the country’s internal affairs”, while calling for “all militias to lay down their arms simultaneously” and “an immediate end to all military operations, in order to support the political process and reinforce the dialogue between all parties that have renounced violence”. But as Libya descends into open warfare between a host of militias and political groups with islamist leanings on the one hand and a loose alliance of forces with generally more secularist inclinations on the other, such pious statements look increasingly like mere window dressing. The latter grouping – comprising the Zintan brigades from north-west Libya, forces in the east of the country loyal to former General Khalifa Haftar, and former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance – clearly enjoys Egyptian support, and there have been insistent suggestions, including from US officials quoted anonymously by the New York Times (25/08/14), that two night-time air raids against islamist militias in Tripoli, first on August 18 and again a few days later, were carried out by the Emirati air force flying from Egyptian airbases (although Cairo and Abu Dhabi have officially denied involvement). There have been similar, but less widely reported, claims[5] that the air raids, which are understood to have targeted a major arms depot in the Libyan capital that had fallen under the control of an islamist militia, may have been the work of the Algerian air force. This followed earlier suggestions in the Algerian and international media that “Algeria and Egypt have decided to provide air support to forces fighting the islamist insurgents’ (Euronews, 28/07/14) and that the Algerian General Staff has been drawing up contingency plans for major bombing raids against targets in Libya should the situation deteriorate to the point of posing an imminent threat to Algerian national security[6] (Al-Khabar, 14/08/14).

 

The situation in Libya was at the heart of American-Algerian conversations during the US-Africa Summit in Washington at the beginning of August, including talks between a delegation of high-ranking Algerian military officers who met discreetly with officials from the National Security Council. Such contacts have encouraged those media commentators who are inclined to believe that Algiers has conducted air raids against targets in Libya to leap to the conclusion that any such action would have been undertaken with the blessing of the Western powers in general and the United States in particular. However, comments by the American officials quoted by the New York Times in the wake of the raids on Tripoli (albeit working on the assumption that they were the work of Egypt and the UAE) suggest to the contrary that Washington is not for now on the same page as Libya’s largest and most potent neighbours: the airstrikes, the “fuming” US government officials are said to have argued, risked further inflaming the Libyan conflict even as the United Nations and Western powers were trying to broker a peaceful resolution. As Algiers continues cautiously to cultivate security relations with Washington, it would seem that there is still ample scope for disagreements over questions of strategy and tactics – which may be either eased or exacerbated by developments in the field over which neither, as things now stand, has very much influence.

 

 

Security

 

With only six incidents reported, of which two were operations initiated by AQMI, the level of political violence in July was slightly higher than in June, but still way below the trend in previous months.  The relative calm continued into August, with only seven incidents reported up to Aug. 28, of which just three were initiated by jihadists or armed smugglers.

 

Looking back at trends over recent years, these figures represent a new phase in what seems to be a long-term decline in AQMI’s capability to wage effective guerrilla warfare. In the two years to August 2013, Aqmi averaged about 12-13 operations a month.  The level of activity dropped abruptly after that to an average of about five operations a month from August 2013 to May 2014.  Since late May there has been another drop, with Aqmi barely mustering two or three operations a month in June, July and August.  In reaction, the security forces too appear to have scaled back offensive operations inside Algeria.

 

There is no obvious single cause for this decline[7]. There does not seem to have been any major offensive or series of offensives by the security forces in the summer of 2013, or the spring of 2014. Prior to this, AQMI’s forces, notably in its historic core areas in Kabylia, may have been depleted to some extent by the group’s reported decision to send reinforcements from northern Algeria to boost the forces of its Saharan units after the jihadist takeover of northern Mali as of mid-2012, and to assist in the fight against the French intervention in Mali as of early 2013. But the number of fighters involved is hard to establish and may have been rather lower than the ‘several hundred’ claimed by some Western sources. AQMI’s battle-readiness is likely to have been further damaged by the outbreak of dissident within its own ranks as of March of this year over the question of what attitude to take towards the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (since rebranded as the Islamic State), which appears to have resulted in an outright split between AQMI’s national leadership and the organisation’s “central region” (seemingly the operational units in the organisation’s heartland in the Kabyle Wilayas of Tizi Ouzou, Boumerdes and Bouira)[8]. These factors aside, it is possible that the drop in recorded levels of jihadist activity as of the late summer of last year reflects a tipping point in the Algerian military’s long war of attrition against AQMI and related groups: having seemingly slowed to a trickle[9], recruitment of new fighters may no longer be sufficient to replace those killed in combat, resulting in a slow but steady decline in the organisation’s ability to fight.

 

Indeed, AQMI itself implicitly admitted that it was suffering from the effects of attrition and struggling to maintain its numbers as far back as March 2013 when it issued a statement[10] urging “the Muslim youth in the Maghreb and especially Tunisia” not to leave to take part in jihad in other countries unless forced by circumstances to flee, in which case they “would do better to join the jihad in the Islamic Maghreb, where your brethren in northern Mali are struggling in the face of the French Crusade, or in northern Algeria, where the need for men and materiel is pressing, after two decades of war against the infidels.” That March 2013 communiqué drew attention for the first time to the possibility that AQMI might be facing competition from more ‘fashionable’ theatres of jihad, in particular Syria. There is now mounting evidence that recruitment is indeed taking place for groups active in Syria and, possibly, Libya. In June, it was reported that security forces in the Wilaya of Blida had dismantled a network that had been recruiting fighters for Syria, making a number of arrests. Speaking to us in early August, a retired senior Algerian army officer told us that there is currently “a return to the creation of terrorist sleeper cells to keep their struggle in neighbouring countries supplied” with fighters – a development which is being viewed with some concern by the Algerian military, according to the source.

 

Looking more closely at political violence region by region, no incidents were reported in ALGIERS, while KABYLIA saw a handful of clashes – the first since early June – including a search and destroy mission by the army, complete with “heavy aerial bombardment”, in the wooded areas between Aït Chafaa and Zekri in the east of the Wilaya of Tizi Ouzou as of August 11.

 

One incident was reported in the oil and gas producing areas of the SOUTH: on August 23, according to Arabic-language daily Echourouk, a Sonatrach convoy of four off-roaders, heading towards the gas fields south of Métlili in the Wilaya of Ghardaïa, was intercepted by an armed group at Hadb el-Troudi, deep in the desert, 80 km from the RN-1 (main north-south highway). The eight armed assailants made away with the vehicles, GPS devices and “some other equipment”. The Sonatrach workers were later rescued by helicopter and the security forces launched a search and destroy mission in the area.

 

Several incidents were reported along the SOUTHERN BORDERS:

  • The army is reported to have foiled an attempt to smuggle foodstuffs to north Mali through the Bordj Baji Mokhtar sector on or around July 21. The security forces tracked and seized five trucks loaded with tonnes foodstuffs and fuel.
  • Security forces on July 31 ambushed and killed a jihadist near the town of Timiaouine, Wilaya of Adrar, on the border with Mali.
  • A group of armed men on motorbikes on August 21 gunned down a Gendramerie major in the town of Bordj Baji Mokhtar on the border with Mali. He worked with Border Guard units against smuggling gangs who are believed to be behind the attack.

 

On the EASTERN BORDERS and in adjacent areas:

  • El-Khabar (19/07/14) reported a heavy security presence in the Wilaya of Tébessa on the border with Tunisia and all the way to the boundary with the Wilaya of Khenchela, where army helicopters are said to have bombarded jihadists’ positions.
  • Tunisian news sources reported that seven Algerian jihadists[11] arrived in the Tunisian town of Souk el-Djoumaa, Jendouba, on the other side of the border from the Algerian Wilaya of El-Tarf, around August 5.
  • Algerian media around August 10 reported that the Algerian army was deploying Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles on the eastern borders with Tunisia and Libya. The Algerian authorities, according to the press, seemed deeply worried that the Libyan jihadist groups that had seized control of Tripoli airport might use civilian airliners in 9/11-style attacks against Algerian targets[12].
  • El-Khabar later reported that Algerian and Tunisian forces carried out joint operations against jihadists on the borders between the two countries on August 15-16. Algerian land forces and helicopters reportedly took part in the operations around the Kasserine-Tébessa sector of the border.
  • On August 19, soldiers on a search and destroy mission in the areas straddling the Wilayas of Khenchela, Tébessa and El-Oued found and dismantled three roadside bombs, according to French-language daily El-Watan.
  • Further south, in the Wilaya of Illizi, an armed group is reported to have kidnapped a 60 year-old notable of the border town of Deb Deb on July 18 and taken him to Libya, according to Echorouk (19/07/14).

 

Meanwhile, according to El Watan (23/08/14), experts from France, Japan, the United States and Italy inspected the security measures taken by Algiers in the oil areas of the south-east near the border with Libya, in mid-August. The experts, accompanied by an Algerian delegation composed of civilians and police, army and DRS officers, are reported to have expressed dissatisfaction with plans for securing oil and gas producing areas in the Wilayas of Illizi and Ouargla (including Hassi Messaoud, El Borma and In Amenas). El Watan quoted an unnamed military source as saying that

despite the presence of some 50,000 men from the army, the gendarmerie and border guard all along the 1000 km border with Libya, the commission of foreign experts doubted the effectiveness of security measures and asked that security along the border be strengthened so as to prevent terrorist incursions from Libya. The foreign security experts were obsessed with the possibility that terrorists might infiltrate the country and target an oil and gas facility, as happened at Tiguentourine.

However, the Algerian delegation accompanying the French, Japanese, Italian and American experts are reported to have informed their foreign visitors that the issue of border control was a task for the Army alone and not a matter that foreign experts could have any say in.

 

The inclusion of representatives of the police (DGSN) in the delegation welcoming the foreign security experts may seem surprising, given that oil and gas sector security and border protection have traditionally been the preserve of the army, the gendarmerie (of which the border guard is part) and the DRS. However, in a further sign that the DGSN is becoming involved in the hydrocarbons sector, reports have emerged that the Interior Ministry has been in touch with Boeing lately in connection with a project to acquire a number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to protect oil and gas facilities.

 

END

 

 

[1] This appears to refer to a presidential decree, actually dated June 11 and published in the official gazette of the Algerian Democratic People’s Republic dated June 12, establishing a criminal investigations department (Service d’Investigation Judiciaire) within the DRS’s Internal Security Directorate (DSI), replacing the old Service de Police Judiciaire which was dissolved in September of last year. According to the terms of the decree: “The activities of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Internal Security Directorate are to be carried out under the supervision of the Public Attorney and the control of the Indictments Division of each local jurisdiction, and in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Penal Code. […] The Criminal Investigation Department of the Internal Security Directorate is tasked with handling […] the prosecution of cases in connection with: homeland security, terrorism, subversion and organized crime. […] Interventions […] initiated outside the tasks and responsibilities conferred on this structure are prohibited.”

[2] An alternative interpretation of Zerguine’s dismissal is that he was removed at the behest of public works tycoon Ali Haddad, whose plans to branch out into petrochemicals are said to have been hindered by Zerguine. Haddad is a close associate of President Bouteflika’s brother and eminence grise Saïd. While this version of events has mainly been propagated by Workers’ Party leader Louisa Hanoune, one usually well informed source with close knowledge of the workings of the Algerian power structure has also suggested to us that a clash with Ali Haddad and Saïd Bouteflika was at least part of the reason for Zerguine’s departure.

[3] According to a “senior Algerian army officer” quoted by El Watan (04/08/14), who confirmed that Algerian military personnel are present in Tunisia, a secret agreement on border security was signed on May 27 of this year, a copy of which was subsequently deposited with the United Nations. The agreement is said to provide for exchange of intelligence between the two countries and coordination of operations aimed at securing their common border.

[4] See previous report.

[5] Notably by Algerian defence specialist Akram Kharief, interviewed by Maghreb Emergent, 28/08/14.

[6] According to the Arabic-language daily, the planning department of the Algerian General Staff has drawn up plans for major, but limited, air strikes against targets in Libya if (a) there are indications that a Libya-based jihadist group is planning a terrorist operation in Algerian territory, in particular against oil and gas industry targets in the south-east, or (b) if jihadists were to manage to seize power in Tripoli and attack Tunisia in support of similar groups operating in that country.

[7] This analysis comes of course with usual caveats concerning incomplete data. The Algerian authorities seem to have limited reporting of security incidents as of late summer of 2013. However, these restrictions appear mainly to have applied to activity along the southern and eastern borders and have in any case been irregularly applied.

[8] In what appears to be an indirect response to a statement issued by AQMI’s national leadership in early July restating the group’s allegiance to Al-Qaeda’s international leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri and disputing the legitimacy of the Islamic State’s proclamation of a “caliphate”,  the Qadi [religious judge] of AQMI’s Central Region Abou Abdallah Othmane Al-Asemi issued a new audio statement on or around July 17, in which he invites all Muslims to “hasten to declare allegiance to the Commander of the Believers, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi”, IS leader and self-proclaimed Caliph. Abou Abdallah Al-Asemi goes on to invite jihadi fighters “not to hesitate, now that God has given you what you have been looking for”, and concludes: “Before closing, I say to the noble sheikh, the Commander of the Believers Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi: We are you soldiers in the land of Algeria, so go ahead to the aim that God has set for you, and we hope you will see from us what pleases your eyes.”

[9] There is in fact very little recent data about AQMI recruitment. It is striking, however, that out of the 15 or more fighters that appeared in a recently released video of the gathering at which AQMI’s merger with the Defenders of Salafi Preaching group (see AMSR #131, 24/01/14), only one was clearly in his early 20s (the typical age bracket of new recruits), all the others appearing to be in their 30s and in many cases their late 40s. The video, which although it was released on August 10 appears to have been filmed in December 2013, prominently features AQMI’s national emir Abdelmalek Droukdel, a.k.a. Abou Mossaâb Abdelouadoud – the first proof that he is still alive since an audio recording issued in late August 2012.

[10] See AMSR #123, 19/04/13.

[11] According to a retired Algerian general who is now involved in trade with Tunisia, to whom we spoke in mid-August, “from the joint anti-terrorist operations of the past few months, it has become apparent that two thirds of the terrorists that are active in the border strip between the two countries are either Algerians or Tunisian residents of Algeria.”

[12] However, it now appears that all the aircraft at Tripoli International Airport have either been destroyed or flown to safety in Malta.

 

 

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