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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 18:50 GMT
Arrests renew focus on Algeria's Islamists
Mourning for the victims of Algerian civil war
Mounting insecurity pushed young Algerians to Europe

In the 15 months since 11 September attacks in the United States, European security agencies have reported the dismantling of several networks of Islamic militants said to have been either plotting attacks on European soil or providing logistical support to al-Qaeda.

Body carried by Algerian police
By the mid-1990s, armed confrontation had intensified in Algeria
Many if not the majority of those arrested have been Algerian.

Tunisian, Moroccan and Libyan nationals have also been involved in the networks, but Algerians predominate.

Security experts say this is linked to the Islamic insurgency that has been raging in Algeria for the last decade.

Campaign of repression

In January 1991, the Algerian army interrupted parliamentary elections after the first round to prevent an Islamist party from winning a landslide victory.

The inability... to resolve the problems in Algeria has contributed to the spread of these militant networks in Europe

Shortly thereafter the party was banned and its numerous supporters were suddenly turned into suspects in the eyes of the security services.

Radical Islamists responded to the army's move by taking up arms against the state.

The military-backed authorities responded with a massive campaign of repression against Islamists and their suspected sympathisers.

Exodus to Europe

By the mid-1990s, the armed confrontation had intensified in Algeria.

Mounting insecurity, and a deepening economic crisis, pushed large numbers of Algerian young men to find ways of making the short hop across the Mediterranean to Europe.
Finsbury Park mosque in North London
Many become radical through the connections they make in Europe

Some were just after employment and a better life, others were Islamist sympathisers fleeing repression by the security forces.

And a third category included radicals involved in violent activities seeking a safe haven.

"The inability of the Algerian state, and indeed the international community to resolve the problems in Algeria has contributed to the spread of these militant networks in Europe," a European terrorism official said.

Illegal network

He said, however, that not all of the Algerians who join illegal groups in Europe have a history of supporting Islamic militants in their own country.

Some may have been radicalised by the repression in the Algeria, and others become radical through the connections they make in Europe.

Most North Africans arrive as illegal immigrants unable to make a living or claim benefits in host countries.

They need accommodation, friends and sometimes forged papers.

"It is easy to arrive and get sucked into an illegal network made up of other North Africans," said the official.

"It provides support and an income."

Al Qaeda links

But despite the predominance of Algerians in radical groups in Europe, cooperation between al-Qaeda and groups within Algeria remains unproven.

One day they help the Chechens, another day it is a group in Algeria or they talk to friends in the Middle East who have closer links to al-Qaeda

The Algerian press has recently carried a spate of reports quoting unnamed officials connecting al-Qaeda with the Salafist Group for Conversion and Combat (GSPC) which targets the security forces in western Algeria.

A Yemeni who was also an alleged al-Qaeda leader was reported killed by the Algerian security forces in September.

However, western security officials remain sceptical.

"We don't see the GSPC needing al-Qaeda or vice versa," said the western terrorism official.

'Multiple allegiances'

In fact, the North African groups in Europe do not appear to exist primarily to serve the Islamic radicals in Algeria.

The European official says they have what "multiple allegiances."

"One day they help the Chechens, another day it is a group in Algeria or they talk to friends in the Middle East who have closer links to al-Qaeda, " he said.

They do not necessarily even think of themselves as al-Qaeda members, said the official.

Individual members may have travelled to Afghanistan to meet al-Qaeda leaders, but in Europe they work independently of Osama Bin Laden and his hierarchy.

"They are more like fellow travellers, subscribing to the same ideology," the official said.

"That's why I don't think we will ever have a definite list of al-Qaeda members."


Islamist uprising

Berber struggle

Economic hardship

Background
See also:

06 Jan 03 | Africa
23 Nov 02 | Africa
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