North Africa Theater
Hassan Hattab, founder of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)—now dubbed "al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb," which has claimed responsibility for last week's deadly Algiers bombings—called on militants to put down their weapons under a government amnesty. Hattab made the comments in an open letter to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika published in the Echorouk daily. "I call on the militants to give up the fight," he wrote, accusing the organization of being "a small group that wants to transform Algeria into a second Iraq."
A Mauritanian court indicted six men on terrorism charges April 11—the same day al-Qaeda's North African wing claimed responsibility for two deadly blasts in Algeria. The six are said to belong to a local cell linked to "al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb," formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. Five of the six were charged with "belonging to a terrorist organization whose aim is undermining national security," said chief prosecutor Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Talhata. He said the cell, known as the Mauritanian Group for the Teaching of Jihad, is allied with the authors of the Algerian attack. Talhata said authorities had been tracking the men for three months when they arrested them two weeks ago in Nouakchott, the capital. They were caught with a cache of weapons, including Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Morocco and the Polisario Front independence movement have both turned proposals for the future status of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara over to the UN. The Moroccan proposal calls for regional autonomy for the territory under Morocco's sovereignty. The Polisario proposal calls for a referendum with three options: local autonomy, complete integration with Morocco, or independence. Polisario's plan does offer a "special relationship" with Morocco, maintaining close economic and political ties, even in the case of independence.
Gloria Muñoz Ramírez, columnist for the Mexican left-leaning daily La Jornada, reports back April 8 from Tifariti, Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front resistance movement recently held its fifth national congress. Tifariti is the principal town in the Morocco-occupied territory controlled by the Polisario Front, whose exile government is recognized by the African Union. Ramírez writes that this year Polisario's national congress was occassioned by the emergence of a "struggle within the struggle"—that of women demanding their right to an equal place within the movement to liberate their homeland.
Nine Algerian soldiers and at least four Islamist insurgents were killed in clashes after militants ambushed an army patrol in the southwestern province of Ain Defla, 150 kilometers from Algiers April 7. Government troops, backed by helicopters, are searching for the attackers, estimated at 50 militants. They are presumed to belong to the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. Fighting was also reported between security forces and Islamist rebels in the Biskra region, southeast of Algiers, which has been tense following an April 2 rebel attack which killed three soldiers. The new fighting has brought the largest single casualty toll among government forces since Islamist guerrillas killed at least seven troops in November 2006 in the Bouira region east of Algiers. (Reuters, April 9)
BBC Monitoring reports on a March 14 story on the website of the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, "Libya hints at [possibility of] expelling the Palestinians under the pretext of combating settlement in the diaspora":
The Palestinians have expressed surprise at Libya's remarks of the possibility of expelling thousands of Palestinian residents under the pretext of combating settlement, and called on Col [Mu'ammar] al-Qadhafi to refrain from that [measure].
Two Algerian Islamist militants were killed and several wounded when a roadside bomb they were planting outside the capital Algiers exploded prematurely, the official APS news agency said March 14. The two bombs were to be buried and detonated from a distance by mobile phone, said the agency. An unspecified number of wounded militants were taken away on a tractor they hijacked from a farmer in the area, witnesses said. The militants are believed to be followers of al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. (Reuters, March 14)
Abu Abduallah Ahmad, financial officer of the so-called "al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb," confirmed to AlJazeera's Morocco office that his group was responsible for two attacks in Algeria over the March 3-4 weekend that killed seven police and four Russian gas pipeline workers. Said Ahmad: "We, al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb, claim responsibility for the bombing of the bus of the Russians, who fight Islam and its followers and our brothers in Chechnya. We ask the Muslim Algerian people, to keep away from the infidels and tyrant posts to avoid future attacks."