An al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb suicide car bomber killed 43 Algerians and wounded more than 45 in an attack on a police academy in the town of Issers. Today’s attack is the latest in a string of bombing this summer, and the largest since the attack on the UN offices and police and courts in Algiers last December.
The suicide bomber rammed his car into a line of police recruits as they lined up outside the academy in Issers, a town 43 miles east of Algiers. All but one of those killed were civilians. “Most of the dead were young men aged between 18 and 20 years. They were in line waiting to enter the school for recruiting exams when they were mowed down by the blast,” a witness told Reuters.
The attack in Issers comes one day after al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb fighters ambushed and killed a joint police and army unit in Skikda in eastern Algeria. The attack killed an army major and eight policemen; 12 soldiers were also seriously wounded, El Khabar reported.
Today’s suicide bombing is the largest mass-casualty attack in Algeria since the coordinated suicide strikes in the capital of Algiers on Dec. 11, 2007. Suicide bombers hit the Constitutional Court, the UN refugee agency, and a police station, killing 47 and wounding more than 60. Seventeen UN employees were killed in the attack.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb stepped up its terror campaign in Algeria over the summer. Since early June, the terror group has conducted five major bombings. A suicide bomber killed eight Algerians and wounded eight more during an attack on a police station in Zemmouri on Aug. 10. On Aug. 3, a suicide bomber wounded 25 Algerians, including four policemen, in an attack on a police station in the town of Tizi Ouzou.
There were three large bombings over the span of four days in early June. Twelve people were killed in twin bombings at a train station in the town of Beni Amrane in Boumerdes on June 8. The first bomb killed a French engineer and his driver; the second killed 10 Algerians as they arrived at the scene to evacuate the wounded in the first blast. On June 7, six Algerian soldiers were killed and four were wounded in a bombing in Cap Djinet on June 7. On June 4, a suicide bomber killed two Algerians and wounded five policemen in an attack outside a police barracks on the outskirts of Algiers. Another Algerian was wounded in a bombing in front of a shop in the same area.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb conducted numerous attacks on military, civilian, and government targets last year. On April 11, 2007, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb took credit for a pair of coordinated suicide bombings in the capital. A powerful bomb was detonated outside the headquarters of Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem’s headquarters in Algiers, and another blast occurred outside the headquarters of the security forces. More than 30 Algerians were killed and more than 80 were wounded in the coordinated attacks.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb took credit for two suicide attacks in Algeria over the course of three days in September 2007. The first attack targeted the Algerian president during a visit to the town of Batna while the second attack targeted a coast guard barracks in Dellys in eastern Algeria. At least 69 were killed and 154 were wounded in the suicide bombings.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is the result of Al Qaeda’s efforts to unite the various Salafist terror groups in North Africa and stems from the merger of the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching 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.
The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group officially joined al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb after al Qaeda in Afghanistan commander Abu Laith al Libi released a statement on the Internet Nov. 3. Abu Laith al Libi was a senior al Qaeda commander who was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s tribal areas earlier this year.
While the GSPC has always had very close relationship with al Qaeda, the terror group officially merged with al Qaeda in September 2006. GSPC officially renamed the group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in January 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.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb fighters have trained in terror camps in Pakistan and fought Coalition and Iraqi forces in Iraq. In July, the US Department of the Treasury designated four leaders of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as Specially Designated Global Terrorists for their links to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and the Taliban. The head of the information committee, the South Zone commander, the finance chief, and a deputy battalion commander operating in Mali were designated as terrorists.
In a worrisome trend, al Qaeda is beginning to deploy female suicide bombers in North Africa. This tactic has worked in Iraq, were female suicide bombing attacks has increased four-fold since last year.