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Strategic shift in North Africa militancy

In Algeria, suicide bombings blamed on Al Qaeda resemble insurgent tactics in Iraq.

By Liam StackCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / August 21, 2008

Rich Clabaugh–STAFF



A string of suicide bombings in Algeria this week has intensified concerns that the country's Islamist militancy is rising, guided by insurgents who have been trained in Iraq and are now waging their fight in North Africa.

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On Tuesday and Wednesday, car bombs rocked towns near Algiers, the capital, killing at least 54 security forces and police recruits. While Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the home-grown group that recently allied itself with Al Qaeda, has not claimed responsibility, the bombings carried all the markings of the group, which has been responsible for some 200 deaths over the past 18 months.

This strike, unlike most, targeted security forces in the type of attack more common in Iraq than in North Africa. AQIM "wants to give young people the idea that this will be your destiny if you join their enemies, the police and security forces," says Diaa Rashwan, an expert on terrorism and political Islam at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

"We are facing an extraordinary situation in Algeria, and there have been at least five attacks in the last two months aimed at police and security forces," says Mr. Rashwan.

Tuesday's bombing in Issers, 40 miles east of Algiers, killed at least 43 people outside a police academy. State media reported that most of the victims were young men and their families who were waiting to sign up for the entrance exam.

Rashwan says that Algeria hadn't ever seen that type of attack before.

On Wednesday, twin car bombings shook Bouira, 60 miles south east of Algiers. The first injured four soldiers outside a local military headquarters, according to state media, and, less than a minute later, the second bomb exploded outside a hotel in the city's downtown, killing 11 and injuring 27.

Reuters reported that the attacks targeted a military commander inside an Army barracks as well as Canadians working for a water project. Taken together, the two days of attacks made for the deadliest week in nearly a year for Algeria, recalling the violence of its 1990s fight with Islamist rebels.

David Hartwell, Middle East editor for Jane's Country Risk, told Reuters that there was a concern that car bombings were being carried out by militants who had trained with insurgents fighting US occupation in Iraq.