Algerian bombers strike again

August 20, 2008

Police officer inspects the site of a car bomb attack in BouiraFor years Algerian authorities have said the country’s Islamist armed groups are on their last legs. Attacks are sometimes described as the last kicks of a dying horse.

However, the militants have proved themselves to be resilient. Bombings and ambushes over the past week have caused at least 65 deaths, making it the bloodiest in years, and the toll so far for August stands at more than 80. That is the worst month in a long time.

It is true that the security forces have been effective in containing the armed groups in much of the countryside, apart from the Kabylie region.

And the intense rural-based violence of the 1990s is highly unlikely to reoccur – an understanding struck in 1997 between the army and the original leaders of the Islamist rebellion laid the foundations for the end of the worst of Algeria’s political violence.

But a shift in tactics in 2007 to Iraq-style suicide bombings – delivered by car, motorbike and in person – has been a relative success for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. There is apparently no shortage of young men willing to offer themselves for duty as kamikaze attackers.

Twinned with use of the al Qaeda brand, they have helped the insurgent leaders cast a pall over Algeria’s efforts to emerge from its troubled past.

Quite why that should be is a puzzle. The state is much stronger, and wealthier, and better equipped than it was in the 1990s.  It is no longer an international pariah. So why are its security forces making such heavy weather of the fight? Is it because the militants are strong? Or is it because the security forces are weakened? Is the overall policy of offering amnesty to the rebels sensible? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the reconciliation policy of the government is a major factor in demotivating the army and police. What do you think?


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Suppose someone carried out a bombing like this and the media didn’t pay any attention: no headlines, nothing. Do you think someone would be more likely to do that again, or less likely? Therefore aren’t these bombers essentially using the media’s criteria for what’s worthy as “news” to give attention to their cause?

For example if a few thousand Algerian’s held a peaceful political protest, the international media probably wouldn’t consider that news worthy. However if one person carries out a bomb attack in order to make a political statement, the media treats it as worthy of full international media headlines. Therefore who is really the problem: the people who use the media’s criteria of what’s worthy as “news” to make a statement, or the organization who set the criteria for news “worthiness”?

Posted by Chris Baker (US) | Report as abusive

the free media thrives on things that are sensational and shocking. thats just the way the media works, and it works that way because people like to hear about sensational shocking things like bombings, more so than a peaceful protest. its human nature.

the best way to fight an insurgency is to pull the wood from the fire. this means winning people over to your own cause, improving the ecocomic conditions, improving rule of law, getting rid of coruption and such like that. of course, thats easier said than done.

Posted by questionist | Report as abusive

One needs to understand that the GSPC is a different animal than the formal terrorist movement in Algeria. We are now talking of a trans-national group — although there are claims that it is an ‘Algerian-based group’ many are overlooking the fact that no-one knows from where exactly they are operating or what their line of command is. Bottom line, this is a trans-national group operating in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and that has presumably international linkages with Al Qaeda. In my opinion, therefore, even if the Algerian army has succeeded in fighting the terrorist movement in Algeria, it will require more international cooperation to fight a trans-national group. The fact that the group is operating between poorly controlled countries (security-wise) and I would even say weak states (Mali and Mauritania) makes it even more difficult.
So I would not say one needs to look at this as a solely Algerian issue – i.e. the failure of the Algerian army or the continuous support among some Algerians of these terrorist groups. The picture is much bigger.

Posted by Faten Aggad | Report as abusive