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.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • crosspatch says:

    This fits the usual al Qaida pattern of becoming active when they sense a weak central government in a Muslim region. I am not up on the situation in Algeria. Is there some government instability there at the moment that al Qaida is taking advantage of?

  • Tim says:

    I’m certain it’s in retaliation for Algeria’s stance on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and for the massive troop presence in Iraq.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Some of the posters here need to do a little looking up on the history of this conflict in Algeria before approaching this as a new problem. I know it wasn’t in the press,but Algeria’s war against Islamic extremists was every bit as bad as the current war in Iraq.
    I’m just saying this isn’t a new development. It’s the latest resurgence of an old problem.
    There’s a lot of history behind this.

  • crosspatch says:

    Okay, I found the context I was looking for here. That provides the historical context. This document provides more recent context.
    So what we apparently have here is an Islamist insurgent group that is being hammered reaching out to al Qaida. We have seen that in the past when local insurgent groups begin to wilt from lack of resources and local leadership, they tend to jump onto the al Qaida bandwagon as a last ditch effort to get the resources they need to survive. Basically an act of desperation in an attempt to revitalize the movement and seem more intimidating.
    So basically it is the old GSPC jumping on to the al Qaida bandwagon which these days is more of a collection of lost causes than anything else. It seems to me that al Qaida is where insurgencies go to die. Once you align with them, you are assured of being hammered hard but if you have nothing left to lose, it is apparently worth a shot in their thinking.

  • Tony says:

    Wikipedia seemed to have an interesting article on Algeria at this site:
    I’m excerpting 2 interesting paragraphs from that article below:
    “Elections were planned to happen in 1991. In December 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of the country’s first multi-party elections. The military then cancelled the second round, forced then-president Bendjedid to resign, and banned the Islamic Salvation Front. The ensuing conflict engulfed Algeria in the violent Algerian Civil War.
    More than 160,000 people were killed between 17 January 1992 and June 2002. Many civilians were massacred. The question of who was responsible for these deaths remains controversial among academic observers; many were claimed by the Armed Islamic Group.”
    160,000 people killed in the very recent past sounds like a pretty chaotic situation.
    Does anyone know anything about the cancellation of these elections?

  • Neo says:

    I’m not sure I would term it a “collection of lost causes”

  • crosspatch says:

    Well, my point is that if you go down that list of al Qaida “franchises” you find insurgent movements that are shells of their former selves. Yes, the list is impressive in number of individual groups but many of them are barely operating at this point. They have reached out to al Qaida in order to gain some synergy. They are using al Qaida as validation of their cause.
    I don’t share the conclusion of the Jamestown article. Casting your lot with al Qaida can also be seen as a last ditch effort to maintain your “legitimacy” as an insurgency. Lacking any legitimacy of your own or seeing it severely diminished, you look for the biggest, scariest thug in the room and run to join his gang. I see that sort of thing as what is happening with several of these insurgent groups.

  • crosspatch says:

    Let me illustrate it in another way: If you are the Salafist Group for Preaching and Call and your threats are no longer intimidating anyone and you are having trouble getting recruits and your future looks pretty bleak, then maybe you shake things up a little. You hitch your wagon to Osama’s group and re-brand your violence as being new and improved al Qaida brand bombings.
    That horse in Pakistan sure has a lot of wagons hitched to it. At some point the world is going to tire of this.

  • joe says:

    An interesting aspect of this is that these attacks were possibly intended to co-ordinate with attacks in Morocco. Just yesterday 4 attackers blew themselves up in their apartments when they were surrounded by police. They already had their explosives made and Im not a big believer in coincidences so these attacks were probably meant to go together. Al Qaeda often uses the principle of synergy to advance their goals. Their was also another instance in morocco a couple of weeks back when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a internet cafe when the owner threatened to report him to the police for looking at jihadist websites. I would disagree that Al Qaeda is withering away in North Africa. Their organization is likely being rejuvenated be pledging allegiance to AL Qaeda and tapping into their vast funds and support systems. Also there have beens a series of reports about algerian fighters who trained in iraq returning home much more skilled in urban warfare. These attacks demonstrate to me at least that Al Qaeda is on the offensive in North Africa.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Well, the very purpose of Al Quada was to globalize the Islamist franchise. The ideological underpinnings were already there. Bid Laden hasn’t introduce anything ideological the Muslim Brotherhood hadn’t developed previously. Al Quada never was the cause, it’s a specific way of franchising the cause. Unfortunately, the Al Quada idea allows for a flexible support base and wide variety of front organizations to plug into an increased base of resources.
    It also allows for deniability if Al Quada fails. The Muslim Brotherhood is not directly connected to the operations of Al Quada or any other militant front. That way the ideological cause isn’t too tied to the success or failure of any specific organization.
    I’m not sure of the level of international support for Islamists in Algeria during the 90’s. I think money and material support were substantial. There were outsiders brought in for specific purposes. I don’t think outsiders were brought in to fight to the degree they do today. Some of the thinking in the 90’s was that if there were a multitude of these movements that where regionalized it would further their appeal locally, plus make it difficult to get at them all. I’m not sure that worked out so well because they could also be isolated to a degree and dealt with separately. They also proved to be difficult to support this way because regional fights only have limited appeal to outsiders. After a while the funding starts to drop off because supporters thousands of miles away don’t maintain interest.
    I’m not sure the name change is too significant for these organizations now. Fact is Al Quada has been keeping quite a few of these regional organizations on life support for some time now. The name change allows for greater visibility. They are also preparing for massive expansion of Al Quada activities after the US withdrawal in Iraq and Afghanistan. There ambitions are no secret, they clearly outline them in regular communiqu

  • crosspatch says:

    “An interesting aspect of this is that these attacks were possibly intended to co-ordinate with attacks in Morocco.”
    That is a hallmark of al Qaida; multiple coordinated attacks. That is why we had multiple planes on 9/11, multiple embassies, etc. You will see the same thing with multiple car bombings, in Iraq. When you see several events within a few minutes of each other, it is a good indication that an al Qaida “franchise” is behind it. It is one of their trademarks.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    “More than 160,000 people were killed between 17 January 1992 and June 2002. Many civilians were massacred. The question of who was responsible for these deaths remains controversial among academic observers; many were claimed by the Armed Islamic Group.”

  • Al Qaeda strikes in Algiers

    Courtesy of The Fourth Rail:
    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, th…

  • crosspatch says:

    This article is a little worrying:

    Madrid (dpa) – The emergence of a new al-Qaeda-linked organization in Northern Africa is alarming Spain, which is concerned about Islamists’ calls for the reconquest of the country they regard as a lost part of the Muslim world.
    “We will not be in peace until we set our foot again in our beloved al-Andalus,” al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said on claiming responsibility for an attack which killed at least 24 people in Algiers on Wednesday.

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 04/12/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.


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