Country Report on Terrorism 2012 - Chapter 2 - Algeria

Overview: Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) remained a significant security threat to Algeria in 2012. AQIM operated primarily in the mountainous areas east of Algiers and in the expansive desert regions near Algeria's southern border. The deteriorating security situation in neighboring northern Mali, the proliferation of weapons smuggled out of Libya, and the emergence of the Mali-based Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which targeted Algeria on several occasions, all contributed to the terrorist threat to Algeria. Within Algeria, AQIM remained the most active terrorist threat. The group’s Algeria-based contingent remains dedicated to the overthrow of the Algerian government. AQIM continued its historical targeting practices, largely attacking Algerian security forces. It frequently attacked local government targets and westerners in the Sahel, but as of year’s end, had not conducted an attack outside the region. Over the past year, Algerian security forces further isolated AQIM in the north and decreased the number of successful terrorist attacks, sustaining pressure on the group’s Algeria-based leadership and capturing a number of key terrorists.

Algeria has a long history of fighting terrorism, and continued its aggressive campaign against AQIM. In recent years, Algeria’s sustained military, security, and policing efforts undercut AQIM’s capabilities in northern Algeria, and largely limited the group’s operations to more rural areas. This contrasted with AQIM’s Sahel-based battalions, which historically served as support nodes for Algeria-based AQIM, but have increasingly taken advantage of chaos and rebellion to expand their areas of control and assert autonomy of action. Algerian officials frequently cited links between AQIM and narco-traffickers in the Sahel, and view terrorism as fundamentally linked to the criminal enterprises that fund the terrorist groups.

2012 Terrorist Incidents: Despite Algeria’s counterterrorism efforts, AQIM continued to execute suicide attacks, attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and ambushes in areas outside Algiers. In total, Algeria’s National Gendarmerie reported at least 175 terrorist acts in 2012. The majority of these attacks occurred in the northern Kabylie region.

As in years past, Algeria experienced a spike in terrorist incidents during Ramadan. In 2012, however, AQIM’s yearly Ramadan offensive was significantly reduced, and was publically described as the least violent Ramadan in the past decade.

• On March 3, a vehicle-borne IED was used to attack the military base in the southern city of Tamanrasset. Twenty-three people were injured in the attack. The Mali-based group MUJAO claimed responsibility for that attack.

• On June 27, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated at the gate of the Gendarmerie headquarters in the town of Ouargla, located approximately 50 miles northwest of Hassi Messaoud, situated within Algeria’s oilfield area. The attack was significant due to its proximity to oil operations and because it took place in a military exclusion zone. The device detonated at the gate of the base, killing the occupant of the vehicle and one Gendarme.

Although much lower profile than the kidnappings of westerners by AQIM in neighboring Mali, kidnappings of Algerian citizens continued to occur within the country’s borders. In October, the Algerian National Gendarmerie noted that 15 kidnappings had occurred in the northern Kabylie region throughout the year.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Algerian security forces, primarily gendarmerie under the Ministry of National Defense, continued to conduct periodic sweep operations in the Kabylie region southeast of the capital to capture groups of AQIM fighters. Algerian law enforcement has been effective in protecting diplomatic missions and strengthening security assets when necessary. Regionally, Algeria has participated in discussions on the creation of the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law.

Algerian security forces made a number of key arrests in 2012. In August, Algerian press reported that three members of AQIM were arrested in Ghardaya at a security checkpoint. These individuals included Necib Tayeb (alias Abu Ishaq Essoufi), reportedly the head of AQIM’s Legal Committee, and a member of AQIM’s “council of notables.” Local press reported that the three were traveling to neighboring northern Mali to meet with AQIM leaders. In December, press reported that Mohamed Abu Salah, the second in command to AQIM head Abdelmalek Droukdel, was arrested by Algeria near the town of Bouira. Abu Salah was reportedly in charge of AQIM communication and propaganda efforts, and his arrest would represent a significant set-back for AQIM. In total, press reported that Algerian gendarmes arrested over 300 individuals on terrorist charges, although it is difficult to confirm the accuracy of this number.

The Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program provided a strong framework for improving the capabilities of Algerian institutions that fight terrorism and crime. In 2012, Algerian law-enforcement personnel participated in a variety of ATA courses designed to enhance investigative capacity, strengthen border security, and build response capacity to critical incidents. The majority of these courses combined students from different ministries in an effort to promote inter-ministerial cooperation and coordination in law enforcement.

Countering Terrorist Finance: Algeria works actively to counter terrorist financing. The Government of Algeria maintains – and advocates that others also maintain – a strict “no concessions” policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage and played a leadership role in the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s (GCTF’s) efforts to raise awareness among governments to prevent the payment of ransoms to terrorist organizations. Algeria is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Since October 2011, Algeria has been publicly identified by the FATF as a jurisdiction with strategic anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) deficiencies. To address those deficiencies, it has developed an action plan with the FATF.

As part of its broader efforts to combat terrorist financing and comply with the FATF recommendations, and after a review of its 2005 AML/CFT legislation, Algeria adopted a new law in 2012 on the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing. The 2012 law entered into force on December 14, and requires banks and other financial institutions to improve tracking and record keeping. The law also strengthens the obligations of financial regulators to monitor and ensure that banks and financial institutions cooperate with law enforcement authorities on investigations and prosecutions. Finally, the law authorizes judges to freeze or seize funds belonging to terrorist organizations. This legislation addresses prior concerns that Algeria had no specific legislation to freeze terrorist assets, although Algeria maintained that its ratification of international terrorist financing conventions gave it the authority to do so. Algeria worked throughout 2012 to improve its Financial Intelligence Unit’s analytical and resource capacity, strengthen its authority, and increase its resources.

Algeria has a cash-based economy and a vast informal sector that poses challenges to monitoring and regulating money and value transfer services. Although the Algerian government, particularly the Central Bank, has mechanisms in place to control and collect data on wire transfers – and although Algeria requires the collection of wire transfer data – it is unclear whether legal requirements were consistently enforced. The Algerian government monitors NGO activities and financing. A 2012 law on associations included new provisions to limit foreign funding to local NGOs. The Central Bank is responsible for disseminating information about UN lists of designated terrorists or terrorist entities to financial institutions.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Regional and International Cooperation: Algeria is a founding member of the GCTF and co-chairs the group’s Sahel Working Group, in which capacity it championed the development of the Algiers Memorandum on Good Practices on Preventing and Denying the Benefits of Kidnapping for Ransom by Terrorists.

Regional counterterrorism cooperation remained challenging, particularly in the wake of the conflicts in neighboring northern Mali and Libya. Algeria is actively combating AQIM within its borders, but its long-standing policy of non-intervention has limited its involvement in neighboring northern Mali, where several AQIM battalions collaborated with the tribal and violent Islamist extremists that seized the northern half of Mali in spring 2012. Algeria has dramatically increased border security and reportedly sent thousands of additional security forces to reinforce the border and reduce weapons smuggling. Nonetheless, the long, porous borders remain a persistent security challenge.

In September 2010, Algeria in collaboration with southern neighbors Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, formed the Comite d’ État-Major Opérationnel Conjoint (CEMOC). While the role of the CEMOC military command center (based in the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset) in regional security has been limited, conferences among the CEMOC Joint Chiefs of Staff have resulted in additional coordination with regard to border security strategies.

Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Algeria's 2006 Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation offered amnesty to former terrorists who laid down their weapons and disavowed violence. Perpetrators of particularly egregious acts, such as rape and bombings, were excluded from this amnesty. The program was controversial but succeeded in demobilizing a number of former militants.

Beginning in 2010, the Algerian government expanded its efforts at countering violent extremism by enlisting religious scholars and former terrorists to speak on its Radio Quran radio station, attempting to dissuade terrorists still fighting the government. The Algerian government appoints, trains, and pays the salaries of imams. The penal code outlines strict punishments, including fines and prison sentences, for anyone other than a government-designated imam who preaches in a mosque. The Algerian government monitors mosques for possible security-related offenses and prohibits the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours. The government has the authority to pre-screen and approve sermons before they are delivered during Friday prayers, but more often it provides preapproved sermon topics prior to Friday prayers. In practice, each province and county employed religious officials to review sermon content.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs' educational commission is responsible for establishing policies for hiring teachers at Quranic schools and ensuring that all imams are well-qualified and follow governmental guidelines aimed at stemming violent extremism. Algerian imams have organized talks with Islamist militants and others susceptible to violent extremist ideologies, to challenge fatwas used to justify violence. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has implemented new policies aimed at creating alternative and constructive activities for disadvantaged youth, including expanding English-language programs, sports, and access to technical facilities at the thousands of Youth Centers they manage around the country. The government also continued to collaborate with the Muslim Scouts to manage programs on civic engagement, volunteerism, and leadership throughout the country.