Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Terror Attacks Hit Capital Of Algeria

30 Dead, Hundreds Injured, Toll Rising

Terror On '11'

At least two three massive car bombs have exploded in Algiers, killing more than 30 people and injuring more than 200.

An anonymous caller to Al Jazeera reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, and within two hours, wire news services were repeating claims that the attacks were the responsibility of the newly formed African branch of Al Qaeda :

One of the blasts, believed to be a suicide bombing, ripped part of the facade off the prime minister's headquarters in the centre of Algiers. A second bomb hit Bab Ezzouar on its eastern outskirts, the official APS news agency said.

The al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the bombings, Al Jazeera television reported.

The claim could not be immediately verified but the group, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), has taken responsibility for a number of deadly attacks on security forces and foreigners in Algeria since January.

On March 3, Islamic extremists killed one Russian and three Algerians in a bomb attack on a bus carrying workers employed by a Russian company.

On March 22, the US State Department issued a specific travel warning for Algiers :
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Algeria to evaluate carefully the risk posed to their personal safety. Sustained small-scale terrorist attacks including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, ambushes, and assassinations occur regularly.
On April 8, 9 Soldiers, 6 Islamists were killed during an ambush :

Some political observers have said Islamic militants could be looking to step up violence against government forces in an effort to disrupt Algeria's legislative elections on May 17.

Algeria has been fighting an insurgency that broke out in 1992 after the army canceled legislative elections, which an Islamic party appeared set to win.

Since then, violence related to the insurgency has left an estimated 200,000 dead — civilians, soldiers and Islamic fighters — according to the government in the North African country. Large-scale violence died down in the late 1990s, but skirmishes have continued in recent months particularly in the east and center of the country.

The previous known attack by insurgents against military forces took place Tuesday, when three soldiers were killed by alleged Islamic militants in the Biskra region southeast of Algiers.

The attacks may appear to have come out of the blue, but they signify a deadly revenge against the Algerian government, after it quietly launched "a sustained military campaign" against the Islamist group in late March, in a concerted effort to cut off an Al Qaeda-linked resurgence of terrorism :
...under the cover of a nearly complete media blackout, the Algerian military began what appears to be a sustained military campaign against the organization. According to the Algerian press, the campaign is taking place in the Kabylie region near the town of Amizour to the east of Algiers...

As of April 2, the National People's Army was continuing its offensive against the group and entering its 10th day of combined military operations involving artillery and helicopter gunships as well as Algerian Special Forces. The strength of the military operations is likely designed to reassert the government's authority, particularly after the group successfully conducted attacks in suburbs of the capital previously believed secure...

Striking at the heart of the Algerian government will be viewed by Al Qaeda as a major achievement, and a shocking example to the government of how the terrorists can get inside heavy security cordons which have been up around key government offices for at least three weeks.

The attacks were clearly aimed at killing the Algerian prime minister, who survived.

In a remarkable coincidence, the News24 site published the following AFP story only a few hours before the first attack :
The US state department renewed on Tuesday its "Worldwide Caution" alerting US citizens to the continuing threat of "terrorist actions and violence" against Americans and US interests overseas.

Current information "suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks against US interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East," it said.

"These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics to include assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings and bombings."

It also referred to "bomb attacks targeting buses carrying foreign workers in March 2007 and December 2006 in Algeria" to illustrate "how terrorists exploit vulnerabilities associated with soft targets".

The terror attacks came less than 24 hours after Algeria's Energy and Mines Minister announced the gas rich country was joining with Iran, Nigeria, Russia and Qatar to look into the formation of a 'gas Opec'. Algeria is the second largest exporter of natural gas in the world :

The group...sought to assuage mounting fears among gas consumers that the creation of a gas cartel was imminent, but it confirmed that the group’s intention was to strengthen cooperation.

“In the long term we are moving towards a gas Opec,”, Chakib Khelil, the Algerian Energy and Mines Minister, said. “It will take a long time.”

The 11th day of the month is proving to be an extremely popular day for high profile, high death toll, terror attacks by Islamists, and insurgents claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda.

September 11, 2001 : Terror attacks on New York City and Washington DC.

April 11, 2002 : Terror attack in Tunisia.

October 11, 2002 : Terror attacks in Bali.

March 11, 2003 : Terror attack on a funeral in Mosul, Iraq

March 11, 2004 : Terror attacks on trains in Madrid.

April 11, 2006 : Terror attack in Karachi, Pakistan

May 11, 2006 : Terror attack in Quetta, Pakistan

July 11, 2006 : Terror attacks on trains in Mumbai, India

April 11, 2007 : Terror attacks in Algiers.

Opinion : Algeria Could Provide Springboard For European Terror

Reuters : Key Facts On Algerian Islamist Terror Group

April 10 - Algerian Government Tries To Head Off Al Qaeda Resurgence