Islamic State claims rare attack in Algeria

The Islamic State claims that its men killed eight Algerian soldiers during a counterterrorism raid in Tamanrasset, which is located in the southern part of the country. However, as of yet, no independent reporting confirms the military casualties. The Algerian military has reported other raids in the past 24 hours, but hasn’t indicated that it suffered significant casualties.

The Islamic State issued the claim via its Amaq News Agency and in a short official message, saying that “two fighters refused to surrender” and then “clashed with the Algerian” security forces before being killed. Three helicopters were supposedly deployed as part of the raid, according to Amaq.

In Nov. 2014, the Islamic State declared that it had a “province” in Algeria, making it one of the first countries outside of Iraq and Syria where the so-called caliphate had an official branch. A group known as Jund al-Khilafah established a beachhead for the group earlier that same year. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Islamic State leader claims ‘caliphate’ has expanded in new audio message.]

The U.S. government designated Jund al-Khilafah as a terrorist organization in Sept. 2015, saying it consists of a group of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) “military commanders” who “broke away” to join the Islamic State. It “is best known for its abduction and subsequent beheading of French national Herve Gourdel in September 2014,” the State Department said at the time.

Via Jund al-Khilafah and possibly others, the Islamic State has maintained a small presence in Algeria. However, the group rarely claims attacks inside the country. It appears that last claimed attack occurred more than two years ago, in August 2017, though there is some uncertainty surrounding that incident.

The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 noted that “ISIS elements,” including Jund al-Khilafah, “remained in the country.” State pointed two attacks carried out by its men. On February 26, 2017, police shot a jihadist wearing a suicide belt, thereby causing the explosive to detonate and “killing the attacker.” The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing, which injured two police officers.

Then, on August 31, another suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt “at the entrance to the Tiaret police station, about 270 kilometers southwest of Algiers,” killing two officers. Foggy Bottom reported that although “ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via its propaganda arm,” Amaq News Agency, “AQIM also claimed responsibility and denounced the ISIS claim as a lie.”

The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 did not list any claimed attacks by the Islamic State in Algeria for that year. However, AQIM did claim responsibility for the Feb. 14, 2018 improvised explosive device (IED) attack that killed five soldiers and wounded others in Ferkane, near Algeria’s border with Tunisia.

The Islamic State has claimed other operations in Tunisia, including earlier this year. And Tunisian forces have reportedly targeted the group’s fighters stationed in the mountains along the border.

Prior to today, however, the Islamic State hadn’t claimed any attacks in Algeria in some time.

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

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