Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, claimed its fighters ambushed and killed more than 10 Algerian soldiers in an attack that took place just west of the capital of Algiers late last week.
The ambush, which occurred in the Ain Defla area as troops were preparing to celebrate the end of Ramadan on July 16, killed 11 Algerian soldiers according to the BBC. Al Jazeera reported that the 11 soldiers were killed as they were traveling back to their barracks for Eid festivities.
After the attack, the AQIM fighters are said to have escaped into a nearby forest. Algerian security forces have launched an operation to hunt the attackers down, according to Al Jazeera.
AQIM’s statement claiming the attack, which was released yesterday and translated by The Long War Journal, contradicts the reported number of troops killed. The jihadist group said that, “On the evening of Eid, the knights of Islam managed to kill 14 soldiers in an ambush on a group of soldiers in the apostate army [referring to the Algerian army].” AQIM confirmed that the attack took place in the Ain Defla region of northern Algeria. AQIM also said that it captured weapons and equipment in the ambush. The Ain Defla region is known as a hub of jihadist activity since the 1990’s.
AQIM said that the killings were in response to a statement released by Ahmed Gaid Salah, the Algerian chief of staff, in which he “claimed that Algeria has eradicated and destroyed the mujahideen.” The government claimed to have killed or captured more than 100 jihadists since January, and that more than 100 fighters were killed last year. The al Qaeda message ends by the jihadists sending Eid blessings “to mujahideen everywhere.”
The attack takes place a month after AQIM claimed two other attacks in Algeria. The group targeted an Algerian military convoy with an IED, killing a colonel, and assaulted a local volunteer brigade, killing four of the brigade’s fighters. Both attacks occurred in the town of Batna, which is 300 miles east of Algiers.
Algeria has long been a hub of al Qaeda activity in North Africa, but the Islamic State also claims a branch in the country.
Jund al Khilafa, or “Soldiers of the Caliphate,” claimed responsibility for the beheading of French tourist Herve Gourdel last year. Since the beheading, the group has reportedly suffered severe setbacks from the Algerian military. Late last year, the government said that it killed the leader of Jund al Khilafa and several other members of the group. In May, more than 20 members were killed in an ambush in Bouira province. The new emir of the Islamic State branch in Algeria was killed in that ambush.
The al Qaeda branch released photos along with the statement showing three killed soldiers and a number of weapons taken as “spoils” in the attack. Many of the photos are too graphic to be published by The Long War Journal.
Photos released by AQIM: