Al-Qaeda in Algeria’s Kabylia
(original post from 4/11/07) A resurgent Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based in Algeria, is leading North Africa’s trend of rising militant violence. They have claimed responsibility for attacks today across Algeria that killed at least 20 people and wounded many more. It was one the country’s worst days of violence in years and comes amid a recent swell of Islamic militant activity in North Africa.
The group, previously called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, was created in 1998 as an offshoot of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that had been fighting a civil war with the secular government for a decade. Until recently, they had been held in check: Military crackdowns and amnesty offers had reduced Algeria’s jihadists to a fading organization of fighters holed up in rural hideouts. Many of the remaining holdouts retreated to the mountainous Kabylia region east of Algiers to regroup, thus repeating a pattern seen in Algeria throughout the ages.
From there the core of the resistance, hundreds strong, steadfastly rejected amnesty and reconciliation and last year aligned with Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, publicly anointed the group as Al-Qaeda’s representative in North Africa. The organization has undergone an apparent revival since then, drawing new members from across North Africa. Governments on two continents, Europe and North Africa, now fear that the Algerian Al-Qaeda cell is a prime mover in a growing regional terror movement which appears to be gaining strength rapidly, as evidenced by recent violence elsewhere: Islamic militants have launched numerous attacks recently, including bombings in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.
In response, the government in Algiers recently launched attacks on the group’s suspected eastern Algerian strongholds in Kabylia.
“It is clear that for the past month or so there has been an increase in clashes between the security forces and the Al-Qaeda in Algeria in the Kabylia region, with the regime engaging in some very intense fighting,” said William Quandt, an Algeria specialist at the University of Virginia.
“So this could be a warning from the Al-Qaeda group to back off in Kabylia.”
In fact, Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb has been carrying out a series of bombings lately in an effort to derail Algeria’s fragile peace. Today’s bombings came as the oil-rich country is preparing for parliamentary elections in May. The government in Algiers has been performing a delicate balancing act– they are an ally to the US in the war on terror, unpopular with a large part of the population, and at the same time they are trying to put down a 15-year Islamic insurgency that has killed countless thousands.*
Recent events illustrate how North African nations are struggling to contain Islamic extremism. Feuds between fundamentalists and secularists are flaring up again as the Wahhabism of Al-Qaeda spreads. The problems in Iraq, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, are also fueling the radical Islamist movement in the region. Taking into account the current turmoil in Eastern Africa– in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia– the African continent is once again revealing it’s deep, long existing, fault-lines between two tectonic plates: religious revivalism and modernity.
* Islamic militants and the secular government have been at violent odds for decades. Algeria’s insurgency broke out in 1992 after the army canceled legislative elections that an Islamic party appeared set to win. The Algerian government, ruling at the behest of the army, then fought against insurgents in a vicious civil war. Ensuing violence left an estimated 200,000 dead – civilians, soldiers and Islamic fighters – according to the government.
Profile: Algeria’s Salafist Group
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