First Published: 2007-04-11

Analysis: Attacks in Morocco and Algeria point to revitalised Al-Qaeda

Terror networks committed, have means, chance, to launch attacks in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania.


Middle East Online

By Sammy Ketz - RABAT

The return of Al-Qaeda

Suicide blasts by suspected Islamists in Algeria and Morocco which killed at least 28 people are the first signs of a re-emergent Al-Qaeda cell in North Africa, terrorism experts warned Wednesday.

Twenty three people were killed when two car bombs exploded in the Algerian capital on Wednesday, a day after five died in Morocco in an incident that saw three militants blow themselves up.

More than 160 people were injured in the explosions in Algiers -- one directly outside central government headquarters.

In Morocco's financial capital Casablanca three militants blew themselves up on Tuesday as they were pursued by police. A fourth died of gunshot wounds, while a policeman was killed in one of the suicide blasts.

"These events (in Casablanca) are linked to the recent formation of a Maghreb (or north African) Al Qaeda cell," Mohamed Darif, professor of political science at the Rabat university of Mohammedia, said.

"This wave of attacks will not be limited to Morocco. These networks are committed, if they have the means and the chance, to attacks not just in the kingdom, but also in Algeria, Tunisia and even Mauritania," Darif warned.

Magnus Ranstorp, research director of the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College echoed Darif's fears.

He said that after the authorities in Morocco and Algeria seemed to have "broken the back of the islamist terrorist networks" it now seems that "these two fronts have been re-energized, revitalized."

Part of the explanation could be, he said, "the severity of the crackdowns. That is what we are seeing today essentially: a sort of reaction to these offensives."

Darif sees the hand of The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) the main extremist outfit fighting in Algeria's long running Islamist rebellion.

Last September, the GSPC pledged its allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, changed its name and vowed to pursue jihad in Algeria.

"The GSPC has taken its time to spread its cells throughout north Africa and once it felt confident enough, it took the name of Al-Qaeda Maghreb, grouping all the salafists in the region," Darif said, referring to the adherents of Salafism, a rigid Islamic movement based on a literal interpretation of the Koran.

Another leading expert, the French anti-terrorist judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere warned last month that "all the ingredients" existed to create an "islamic arc" including extremist groups in Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya as well as to the south, in the Sahel.

This is an arid strip along the southern Sahara that stretches across six countries from Senegal to Chad. It is also, according to Ranstorp, a training area for jihadists from "the entire region."

"This coordinates with events in the Horn of Africa, where Somalia is emerging as an even more troublesome blowback area for jihadists. We now have a belt which extends from Morocco to Somalia," he said.

"The key question is: are they going to internationalise that even further, with action in France for example or attacks on French interests, or actions in Spain by Moroccans?, he added.

Bruguiere says the Maghreb branch of Al-Qaeda is a "major preoccupation" for the French authorities and "a clear threat to France".

Following Wednesday's events, the Moroccan government said it wanted greater cooperation between North African states to counter terrorism.

"Terrorism represents a threat for the Maghreb and it is imperative that members of the Union of Arab Maghreb (UMA) opens a dialogue and strengthen cooperation to counter this scourge," a ministry of information spokesman said in Rabat.

The UMA groups Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.


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