Algeria: Salafists escalate attacks

An Algerian army captain was killed Feb. 28 and another officer seriously injured in an attack near the village of Ain Rich, outside the city of Djelfa. Officials said the Mohadjrine Falange, a wing of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) was responsible. The army is carrying out a sweep of the area. In simultaenous coordinated night raids Feb. 27, several police checkpoints in the Kabylia region and near the coastal city of Boumerdes were attacked by gunmen with AK-47s. No casualties were reported. (AP, Feb. 28; DPA, March 1)

Feb. 13 saw seven simultaneous car bomb attacks in towns east of Algeirs, killing six. Five were wounded in an attack on a Boumerdes police station. The GSPC claimed responsibility. Eight were arrested in the days after the attacks on charges of involvement with the GSPC.

A few weeks earler, on Dec. 10, a bomb attack on a bus carrying foreign oil workers at Bochaoui on the outskirts of Algiers killed two people and wounded eight. The workers were employees of Brown Root Condor, a joint venture of Halliburton subsidiary KBR and Condor Engineering, an affiliate of Algerian parastatal Sonatrach.

Authorities are quick to push an optimistic spin. “These attacks show the weakness of those who are still in mountains,” the newspaper El Khabar quoted Inteior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni. “Using bombs is the best proof of their weakness.”

The GSPC is thought to be a holdout faction of the Islamist guerilla insurgency which rocked Algeria in the ’90s, when an estimated 200,000 were killed in political violence. Last year the government freed more than 2,000 former guerrillas under an amnesty designed to put a definitive end to the conflict. The GSPC recently changed its name to “al-Qaeda in the Maghreb” folowing a merger with Osama bin Laden’s network. (Reuters, Feb. 27; AP, Feb. 13; MISNA, Dec. 11; Reuters, Dec. 10)

See our last post on Algeria, and our special report on the politics of Islam in Algeria.