Algeria bombing stirs new fears of Al Qaeda-aligned terrorist group
Tuesday's bombing may discredit the Algerian government's claims of success against the 'Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb' terrorist group.
At least 47 people have died and many more were wounded in twin bomb blasts in the center of Algiers Tuesday morning, breaking a month-long lull in a stream of militant attacks this year in Algeria. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, previous high-profile bombings have been claimed by a local militant group that allied itself to Al Qaeda last year.
The two car bombs may have also wounded up to 43 people, reports the Guardian.
Security officials have warned that the death toll from the attack - the bloodiest since Algeria's ten-year civil war ended in 2002 - could top 60.
The first car bomb was driven into the constitutional court building in the Ben Aknoun district of Algiers, killing 30 people. Algeria's official news agency said several of the victims were students travelling on a school bus.
Ten minutes later, the second car bomb was driven into the UNHCR - the UN's refugee agency - in the upmarket Hydra neighbourhood, killing at least 15. The UN said some members of staff were injured and the building damaged.
Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said the second blast was triggered by a suicide bomber, reports Agence France-Presse.
According to the British Broadcasting Corp., part of the UN building was destroyed and "it was feared people were trapped."
Throughout 2007 there have been a series of bomb attacks across Algeria in which scores of people have died.
Those blasts have been claimed by members of al-Qaeda's North Africa wing, calling themselves al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The militant group was previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) but changed its name when it joined forces with al-Qaeda last year.
This is at least the 11th bombing in Algeria this year, according to a timeline compiled by Reuters.
The bombing follows a month-long lull in attacks, which many observers in Algeria and Europe believed was a sign of the success of Algerian security forces against militants. In November, Algerian online daily Echorouk reported that the death toll from terrorist attacks had dropped to its lowest level.
Security observers believe that the decrease in the number of victims in November show that terrorists have been weakened by Algerian security forces.
Terror support cells have been dismantled and a number of prominent terrorists belonging to Al-Qaeda have been killed.
At the same time, a crisis has been triggered inside the terrorist organization.
Some conflicts inside Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were due to the strategy of suicide attacks that was opposed by the so-called lawyers of armed Islamic groups including Muntaser Al Zayat and Tartousi.
A French antiterror expert November had also said the Algerian Army was "on the road to victory" over the terrorist group, the Agence France-Presse had reported.
"I am convinced that the Algerian army and security forces are on the road to victory," said Louis Caprioli in an interview with the Algerian Arabic daily El-Khabar published Thursday.
"Al-Qaeda in Maghreb has weakened. Before their groups were found in all regions. Today, they are concentrated in certain areas. They are confronted regularly with operations by the army," he said.
A Reuters count based on newspaper reports shows that 435 people have been killed in clashes between government forces and Islamic militants this year. Algeria is emerging from over a decade of conflict that began when the military-backed government scrapped elections that an Islamic party seemed poised to win in 1992, Reuters reports.
The bloodshed has subsided in recent years and last year the government freed more than 2,000 former Islamist guerrillas under an amnesty designed to put an end to the conflict.
But an alliance early in the year between Islamist radicals and al Qaeda saw an upsurge in attacks.
Clashes continued in eastern provinces, the scene of a counter-offensive by security forces against Maghreb al Qaeda after a failed assassination attempt on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in September.
The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, as the Algerian group was previously known, was founded in 1998 by a rebel faction, according to an earlier analysis by The Washington Post. The group's alliance with Al Qaeda last year had some analysts suggesting that having failed to seize power at home, it now sought to transform itself into a global operation, the Post said.
Since 2003, the group known by its French initials GSPC has emerged as an umbrella for radical Islamic factions in neighboring countries, sponsoring training camps in the Sahara and supplying streams of fighters to wars in Iraq and Chechnya, according to counterterrorism officials and analysts in Europe and North Africa.
The network also has planted deep roots in Europe. In the past year, authorities have broken up cells in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, including one group that allegedly plotted to shoot down an Israeli airliner in Geneva.
... Estimates of the number of active GSPC members, who constitute almost all of the remaining fighters against the Algerian government, run from 500 to 1,200 -- a sharp drop from the 40,000 Islamic extremists who took up arms against the government in the 1990s.
However, the BBC's regional analyst Roger Hardy says it is unclear how far the group really is linked to Osama Bin Laden's organization or whether it is merely inspired by it.