November Algeria report (4/4)



The level of jihadist activity continued to decline in October, and slumped heavily in November.  Only three AQMI operations were reported in November, down from ten in October and 13 in September, making it the quietest month Algeria has seen in several years in terms of jihadist activity. The reason for the abrupt fall in AQMI activity in November is most likely the inclement weather that hit northern Algeria in the middle of the month, but the clear downward trend we have observed over the past few months still holds. AQMI operations remain small-scale – roadside bombs and isolated shootings – and mostly concentrated in Kabylia: eight out of ten in October and all three of the attacks in November took place in the Kabyle wilayas to the east of Algiers. The level of army activity, meanwhile, has remained steady throughout the period from August to November, at around 10 operations per month, although the municipal and provincial elections on Nov. 29 did see a special mobilisation of the security forces (notably the police, with 76,000 men detailed to protecting the 27,000 polling stations across the country).

In ALGIERS the security forces on November 9 detained “two armed men, suspected of being terrorists” at a checkpoint between Zeralda and Ben Aknoun, to the west of the capital.  The two men reportedly “tried to resist” and “an ambulance was called to the location” though “no shots were heard,” said El-Khabar (10/11).

The oil producing areas of the south were largely quiet, as were the southern borders, which saw no incidents after the three reported early October (see previous report).  The Algerian press has persistently been reporting heightened security along the country’s southern borders, especially with Mali, with Al-Khabar (05/11) indicating that the Algerian army “has begun deploying a 50km-long electrified fence along the borders with Mali around the town of Bordj Baji Mokhtar” to block access for “terrorists and smugglers” (although this would still leave about 1,100km of unguarded border between Algeria and Mali). On Nov. 4, according to Al-Khabar (04/11) security forces “arrested a  terrorist from Niger carrying a suicide belt near the Libyan border, Daraj sector, inside Algerian territory”.  The man admitted he was a member of MUJAO and was planning a suicide attack against Algerian security targets in the southern wilayas.   The Algerian press later reported that as many as 61 people (29 Malians, 18 Algerians and 14 people from other countries including Nigeria and Burkina Faso) were arrested in Tamanrasset on Nov. 23-24 on suspicion of contacts with terrorist groups in Mali, notably MUJAO; only four were reportedly charged with supporting terrorism, however.

The Libyan border, meanwhile, saw some incidents.  The security forces around October 21 intercepted a Libyan armed group that had crossed into Algerian territory near In Amenas (wilaya of Illizi).  The group, believed to be composed of a Libyan rebel commander and his armed escort, is thought to have been in Algeria to meet with weapons smugglers in the desert and close a deal.  The Algerian security forces tracked the commander and arrested him some 200km south of Debdeb.  On October 31 the army intercepted six smugglers near the Libyan border in the Djanet area (also in the wilaya of Illizi) and seized two offroaders and a quantity of weapons and ammunition believed to have been on the way to deliver to jihadists in northern Mali.  On Oct. 28 Al-Khabar published a somewhat confused account of uncertain credibility of an AQMI emir arrested near the Libyan border while trying to racketeer a shepherd and who told the security forces during interrogation about stocks MANPADS smuggled from Libya and hidden somewhere on Algerian territory.


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[1]     See AMSR #118

[2]     Benflis served as Prime Minister for three years during Bouteflika’s first term, becoming General Secretary of the FLN in 2003. Having fallen out with Bouteflika he stood as the FLN candidate in the 2004 presidential election, and for a time appeared well set to beat him with the Army’s tacit approval, but appears to have been robbed of his victory by a last minute deal between Bouteflika and Tewfik, which led to the lasting political marginalisation of the Army chiefs and, in its wake, a coup against him within the FLN – led by Abdelaziz Belkhadem.

[4]     “Our orchard has ripened”, i.e. the younger generation is ready to take over from the generation that fought in the war of independence. See AMSR#114.

[5]     A former DRS officer points out, however, that DRS chief Tewfik is unsettled by the fact that the West’s main interlocutor with Algeria on the situation in northern Mali is not him but Chief of Staff Maj-Gen. Ahmed Gaïd-Saleh.

[6]    Ansar Dine may not have actually broken with AQMI and MUJAO on the ground in northern Mali itself, however. Ansar Dine’s core objective appears to be less the establishment of sharia law than establishing and perpetuating Iyad Ag Ghaly’s dominance over the Tuareg Iforas clan and the Kidal region, and it is increasingly clear that it is quite flexible – not to say opportunistic – in pursuing that goal.

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