Algeria wins Berber help to root out al-Qaida
Thanks to a combination of ruthless repression as well as amnesty offers, the army gradually pushed the militants, who declared allegiance to al-Qaida in 2006, into the mountains of the Kabylie region — where Algeria’s revolutionaries once fought for independence against their French colonial masters in a bitter 1954-62 struggle.
A branch of the group headed south, however, and in the lawless desert regions on the borders of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger managed to reconstitute itself as a body taking part in smuggling routes and kidnapping foreigners. Far from the Algerian army, they have found success, while the founders of the group languish in their mountain hideout in northern Algeria.
Riccardo Fabbiani, the North Africa analyst for the London-based Eurasia Group, cautioned against pronouncing the end of Al-Qaida in the Kabylie region too quickly, since the government keeps a tight lid on all information regarding the battle against the militants.
‘‘There are no reliable statistics on terrorists in Algeria: no one knows anything about how many new recruits there are every year, how many people abandon terrorism within the framework of the national reconciliation program, how many people are actually killed,’’ he cautioned.
Echoing the opinion of many people in the Kabylie, Fabbiani also noted that to some extent it serves the government’s interests to have a constant low-level threat in an area remote from the capital to remind people of the darker days of the civil war.
‘‘Terrorism plays an important role in the Algerian political system,’’ he noted. ‘‘This is not to say that the government manipulates terrorism — we don’t know that — but for sure a certain level of fear is instrumental to the current political equilibrium.’’
And violence isn’t eradicated yet. On Oct. 18, a group of armed men stopped a bus at a fake checkpoint in the Boumerdes region and checked each passenger’s identity papers until they found two members of the military, whom they dragged out of the bus and shot dead by the side of the road before disappearing back into the bush.
Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco.