May Algerie monthly report (4/4)


After a period of several months in which its presence in the north of Algeria appeared to be waning, Aqmi’s activity picked up notably in late April and early May. The last week of April was the busiest in terms of jihadist activity since early July 2012, and the whole month was the busiest since August 2012. Fourteen jihadist operations were recorded in April (up from seven in March, seven in February and eight in January) and six in the first half of May. The security forces initially lagged behind, with only seven operations reported in April (comparable to March) but appear to have stepped up their efforts in May, with eight operations recorded in the first half of the month.
ALGIERS and its environs remained quiet. The most noteworthy incidents in northern Algeria took place in the WEST[8]. During the night of April 20-21, a jihadist group attacked a convoy of Italian staff heading to a work site near Theniet el-Had, between the wilayas of Aïn Defla and Tissemsilt. The attackers first shelled the convoy with home-made mortars (heb heb) and then attacked directly, but the gendarmes escorting the convoy fired back and repulsed them, according to London-based According to Al-Qods Al-Arabi. It is believed the jihadists were trying to kidnap the Italian staff. Three gendarmes were wounded in the operation but none of the foreign nationals were hurt[9]. Also of note was the arrest by the security forces two jihadists in the town of Chlef on May 3, one of whom was found to be carrying a suicide belt according to the Algerian press – an indication that suicide bombings remain a possibility in the north of country, despite a lull in the use of this tactic. 
The oil and gas producing regions of the SOUTH saw at least three incidents. On April 24 armed men attacked a civil engineering team working on the road between Hassi Messaoud and El-Oued and made away with an offroader. A force of gendarmes chased the assailants, forcing them to abandon the vehicle, according to the Algerian press. The recurrent carjackings and acts of brigandry around Hassi Messaoud notably indicate security is still not optimal in the region (El Watan on May 11 published a long article on “exceptional security measures” in the town, but a close reading shows these are aimed mostly at angry local protesters calling for jobs, not against jihadist activity). Near In Amenas, wilaya of Illizi, the security forces arrested a group of “Libyan terrorists” driving an offroader, Algeria’s privately owned Ennahar TV claimed on May 8 (the station did not give the exact date or any further details on the incident). Two other Libyans travelling in a 4WD vehicle were arrested by the Algerian security forces inside Algerian territory near Debdeb, wilaya of Illizi, on or around May 17. They were found to be carrying Kalashnikovs and satellite phones. On May 21, a group of around 15 terrorists is reported to have attacked a convoy of gendarmes escorting a prisoner transport in the wilaya of Illizi (L’Expression 22/05). Several gendarmes were wounded, one seriously, but none of the prisoners, all held on terrorism charges, were freed. The authorities suspect AQMI-offshoot MUJAO of being behind the failed operation, according to L’Expression (which did not specify the exact location of the incident). 
Elsewhere in the south, an Algerian army position near Tinzaouatin, wilaya of Tamanrasset, on the border with Mali, was hit by “rocket shells” from Mali on April 25 and riposted by shelling over the border. El-Khabar (27/04) reported that the attack was the work of “jihadist groups” and had “nothing to do with French or Chadian forces in northern Mali”. Two days later, the army killed two “armed men” who were trying to cross into Algeria from Mali near Tinzaouatin (El-Khabar 28/04). On the border with Libya, the Algerian army clashed with a jihadist group near Djanet, wilaya of Illizi, on April 26, an operation that left two jihadists dead and two soldiers wounded according to El-Khabar (27/04), while Echorouk reported that the operation started when Algerian army surveillance aircraft spotted a convoy of four offroaders with armed men on board that tried to cross into Algerian territory from Libya. The Algerian press also reported that a “heavily armed group” attacked and robbed the post office at Bordj Baji Mokhtar (wilaya of Adrar) on May 13 and “fled over the border into Mali”, although the next day the Gendarmerie issued a statement describing the event as a “criminal robbery” and ruling out “any terrorist involvement”.

[1] The nom-de-guerre of DRS chief Lt-Gen. Mohamed Médiène.

[2] This is, however, dismissed by another source with close knowledge of the workings of the DRS, who argues that Tewfik, having received his formative training from the KGB in the Soviet Union, has as his model the founder of the Cheka (the KGB’s forerunner) Felix Dzerzhinsky, who worked on through years of illness and died of a heart attack after delivering a speech to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

[3] Publication was blocked by the authorities at the last minute, and the papers’ proprietor Hichem Aboud has reportedly been charged with “harming state security”. Aboud, who was once editor in chief of theArmy’s mouthpiece El Djeïch, is thought to have ties to the DRS and/or sections of the military hierarchy.

[4] In 2012, Gen. Tahar Yala issued at least two statements in the name of his new organisation and gave a number of interviews in which he called for “radical change” but did not hold forth at length on the theme of corruption and carefully avoided attacking Bouteflika personally.

[5] Although Gen. Tahar Yala does not suggest it explicitly, one option might be impeachment under article 88 of the constitution, which allows for a sitting head of state to be removed on grounds of “serious and lasting illness”. This possibility has been floated in the last few days by dissident human rights lawyer Ali Yahia Abdenour.

[6] “The security of [Tunisia and Libya] is a matter for those countries. I will not comment. We secure our borders from within.” There is no infiltration of terrorists from these countries, and “even if there are one or two, they are arrested very swiftly. The Tiguentourine incident will not happen again.”

[7] Back in December, Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia visited Tunis for talks on security and border issues, while Algerian Gendarmerie Commander Maj-Gen. Ahmed Boustila inspected new installations and units along the border with Tunisia (16 new advanced posts for the border guards, seven new intervention squads and an air squadron).

[8] Although most of north-west Algeria has been largely free of jihadist activity for several years, small groups remain active in the wilayas of Ain Defla, Chlef and Tipaza, responsible for one or two incidents every month.

[9] This incident was not was not reported this way in mainstream Algerian press. El-Watan (21/04) reported an APS story that “three gendarmes were wounded on April 21 by a roadside bomb explosion near Theniet el-Had”. No mention at all of foreign nationals. El-Khabar (22/04) reported “roadside bomb hits escort of foreign workers”, without giving details of the nature of the attack or the nationality of the foreign workers.

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