Bombing suggests Al Qaeda remains a threat in Algeria

Counterterrorism efforts by the Algerian government and the US are failing to stem terrorism in the region.

A bomb blast injured 25 people on Sunday in the Algerian town of Tizi Ouzou, which is the latest attack in a string of bombings attributed to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an extremist group that has plagued the country in recent months.

The explosion took place near a police station in Tizi Ouzou, which is the largest city in the eastern Berber-speaking province of Kabylie. Four of the wounded were policemen, reports Agence France-Presse.

It is unclear whether the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber or a car bomb, but the damage to the site was considerable, according to Reuters.

The explosion dug a big crater in the road beside the police station and damaged nearby buildings. Private news websites described the blast as having been caused by a suicide bomber. There was no immediate confirmation of that.

Algerian police and local officials believe the attack was the work of the North African branch of Al Qaeda, reports Agence France-Presse. The group calling itself AQIM has been responsible for a string of attacks in recent weeks.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but police have been on heightened alert following several recent attacks by the north African branch of Al-Qaeda.
Last month, a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up and injured 13 Algerian soldiers in an attack in Lakhdaria, also east of Algiers.
In June, a French engineer and his Algerian driver were killed in a bomb attack in the same area that was also claimed by the group.

The group's deadliest attack, however, was the December 2007 bombing of a UN compound in Algiers that killed 41 people, including 17 UN staff members, reports the Al Arabiya News Channel.

AQIM is an outgrowth of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an Islamist militia organization that was an active player in the Algerian civil war that claimed over 150,000 lives during the 1990s. The Associated Press reports that Tizi Ouzou has been the site of frequent fighting between government security forces and "extremists" ever since.

In 2006, the group changed its name to reflect a new partnership with Al Qaeda. In a July 2007 interview with The New York Times, the only one given to a Western news organization, the group's leader Abdelmalek Droukdel explained his rationale for the alliance.

God ordered us to be united, to be allied, to cooperate and fight against the idolaters in straight lines. The same way they fight us in military allies and economic and political mass-groupings. Why shouldn't we join our brothers while almost all these nations got united against the Muslims and separated them...
Yes, we see that it's our duty to join Al Qaeda so that we can have our fight under one flag and one leadership in order to get ready for the confrontation.

The group's reach extends beyond Algeria as well. In April, US officials said they feared that Al Qaeda may be expanding across Africa, reported The New York Times.

Just as the Qaeda leadership has been able to reconstitute itself in Pakistan's ungoverned tribal areas, Al Qaeda's North Africa offshoot is now running small training camps for militants from Morocco, Tunisia and as far away as Nigeria, according to the State Department and Mr. Droukdal. The State Department in April categorized the tribal areas and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as the two top hot spots in its annual report on global terrorism.

In January, AQIM launched an attack on the Israeli embassy in the Mauritanian capital of Noukchott which wounded three people, reports Al Jazeera. A string of bombings in Morocco in 2003 was also linked to the group.

According to Reuters, the United States is also attempting to curtail the group's activities.

In Washington, on July 17, the U.S. Treasury moved to freeze assets of four Algerians it said were leaders of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, naming them as Salah Gasmi, Yahia Djouadi, Ahmed Deghdegh, and Abid Hammadou. The move bans Americans from doing business with them and seeks to freeze any assets they might have under U.S. jurisdiction.

The Reuters report adds that the Algerian government has also been making efforts to confront the local wing of Al Qaeda. Four militants were killed in July, one during the Lakhdaria suicide bombing that injured 13 soldiers. In spite of that incident, the number of people to be killed in political violence in Algeria declined from 27 people in June to nine last month.

Just 10 days before the most recent bombing, the Algerian government announced a goal of securing Tizi Ouzou by 2009, reports France 24. Despite these efforts, pundits say that Sunday's attack shows that the government has so far been unable to defeat AQIM.

Sunday's bombing in Tizi Ouzou underlines Algeria's inability to effectively stamp out terrorism. Algerian security services have improved their counterterrorism tactics since the 1990s but formation of the group Al Qaeda in the Maghreb in 2006 has reinvigorated terrorism across the country despite increased police raids and the stricter control of chemicals used in bomb making.
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