Al Qaeda strikes in Algiers
Aftermath of a suicide car bomb which exploded near the prime minister's headquarters in central Algiers. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi. Click to view.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb attacks Prime Minister's office, market
Al Qaeda's new regional affiliate in Northern Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), conducted two major attacks in Algiers, the capital of Algeria. A powerful bomb, reported to be delivered by a suicide bomber, was detonated outside the headquarters of Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem. "The blast at the prime minister's headquarters gouged a gaping hole in the six-story building, shattering windows and showering rubble on to cars for blocks around," reports Reuters. A second blast occurred out the outskirts of the city. Over 30 have been reported killed and an untold number wounded in the two bombings. Initial reports indicated 82 were wounded. Prime Minister Belkhadem was not wounded in the attack. Based on the scope of the damage of the attack on Prime Minister Belkhadem's office, it appears al Qaeda used a car bomb to conduct the strike.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is the result of Al Qaeda's efforts to unite the various Salafist terror groups in North Africa. AQIM is the result of the merger of the Algerian Salafist Group for Prayer and Combat (GSPC), the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the Tunisian Combatant Group. The GSPC forms the nucleus of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
While the GSPC has always had very close relationship with al Qaeda, the terror group officially merged with al Qaeda in September of 2006. GSPC officially renamed the group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in January of 2007. "We had wished to do this from the first day we joined (al Qaeda) but we wanted the permission of Sheikh Osama, may God protect him. This obstacle has now been removed," according to a GSPC statement released on its website.
The attack in Algiers comes as Algerian security forces are conducting a major operation against al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the mountains and forests in the east of the country. Several thousand Algerian troops, backed by armor and assault helicopters, are sweeping the forests and mountains east of Algeria.
AQIM has fought a pitched battle against Algerian security forces. On April 9, An AQIM attack force of about 50 fighters ambushed an Algerian Army convoy while transiting to eastern Algeria. Nine soldiers and at least 4 al Qaeda were killed in the fighting. On April 5, AQIM killed 3 soldiers and wounded 7 in another ambush.
In February of 2007, Algerian police killed 26 suspected terrorists and arrested another 35 during operations in the mountainous region of Qashra, near the eastern city of Skikda. This is an area where AQIM is known to operate. Algeria security forces also broke up an AQIM arms smuggling network in Constantine. The weapons ring included "a French national, two Tunisians and 24 Algerians." In March, AQIM offered amnesty to Algerian security personnel if they lay down their arms and 'repent.'
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's last coordinated attack occurred on February 13, after the terror group target police in seven separate attacks east of Algiers. Six were killed and over 30 wounded in the assault. The terror group claimed responsibility for a attack on the Russian petroleum company bus that killed 1 and wounded 3, as well as other attacks in Algeria.
European security officials have become increasingly concerned over Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's operations in the Mediterranean and the organization's spread across North Africa. In October of 2006, Italian police broke up GSPC cell and arrested six. In January of 2007, Tunisian security forces killed 12 Algerians terrorists and captured 15 after a battle north of Tunis. The terrorists "were part of a larger group of militants who had crossed the border from Algeria."