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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 11:49 GMT
Algeria: a new front for al-Qaeda?
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Building damaged after Algiers bombing (11 December 2007)
The bombings in Algiers hit UN buildings and a bus full of students
Is Algeria experiencing a resurgence of the violence it suffered during the civil war of the 1990s, or is its conflict becoming internationalised?

When a local Islamist group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), re-branded itself in January 2007 as "al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb", some experts were sceptical, seeing the move as tactical opportunism.

Now they are not so sure.

Over the last year, the group has launched a string of operations, including an attempt to assassinate Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and two attacks in the heart of the capital, Algiers.

On 11 April, a triple suicide bombing left 33 people dead. The latest attacks, on Tuesday, killed at least 26 people, although some officials have said more than twice as many died.

New methodology

The method, the timing and the targets all appear to bear the hallmarks of a group of the al-Qaeda type.

ATTACKS IN ALGERIA IN 2007
11 December: twin car bombs kill at least 26 including 10 UN staff in Algiers
8 September: 32 die in bombing in Dellys claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
6 September: 22 die in bombing in Batna claimed by al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb
July: Suicide bomber targets barracks near Bouira, killing nine
May: Dozens killed in run-up to elections, in fighting between military and militants
April: 33 killed in Algiers in attacks claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
March: Three Algerians and a Russian killed in attack on gas pipeline workers
February: Seven bombs kill six east of Algiers

The Islamists who fought the Algerian government in the 1990s used brutal methods, but suicide car bombings were not among them.

Now they are the method of choice.

The timing of recent attacks, on the 11th day of the month, suggests the perpetrators were paying homage to the attacks of 9/11.

And, perhaps most significant of all, one of the main targets of Tuesday's attacks was a complex of buildings used by the United Nations.

For the groups which were active in the 1990s, it would have made no sense to attack the UN. Their quarrel was with a military-backed regime, which they saw as illegitimate.

But al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM) holds the UN in open contempt. It refers to it - in jihadi terminology - as a "slave of America".

Wider web

The North African group typifies the "new" al-Qaeda.

Like its counterparts in Iraq and elsewhere, it uses the al-Qaeda label but probably has little or no operational links with Osama Bin Laden and his movement

AQLIM's reported leader, Abdel Moussab Abdelwadoud (archive)
AQLIM is thought to have between 600 to 800 fighters

Experts believe it is linked nevertheless to a wider web of international networks.

North African governments are worried that local groups in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia may be starting to link up under the umbrella of the new movement.

European governments are increasingly alarmed about ties between Islamists in North Africa and their counterparts in Europe.

Finally, there appears to be an Iraq connection. It is not just that methods used in Iraq, such as car bombings, are being imitated elsewhere.

The Algerian authorities have recently captured a number of Islamists who have returned home from Iraq.

If these do indeed represent a new breed of global jihadist, they may prove to be a formidable challenge for both regional and Western governments.

SEE ALSO
In pictures: Algeria bomb attacks
11 Dec 07 |  In Pictures
Eyewitness: Algiers bomb blasts
11 Dec 07 |  Africa
Country profile: Algeria
13 Nov 07 |  Country profiles



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