By Walid Ramzi
Algerian security reports describe 2012 as the calmest year in the last decade. Armed attacks fell to their lowest level since 2002, with the most significant decrease found in the traditional strongholds of terrorism in the east.
Carefully planned security operations succeeded in neutralising top leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Algerian forces also stopped AQIM plots against parliament and the Cherchell Joint Military Academy, as well as plans to abduct foreign nationals during Ramadan.
It was not al-Qaeda, in fact, behind the two main terror attacks of 2012, but rather a splinter group operating out of Mali.
The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of the Algerian National Gendarmerie regional command centre in downtown Ouargla last June. The Tamanrasset suicide attack last March was also the work of the MUJAO.
Algerian counter-terrorism agencies killed 161 militants and arrested 309 in 2012, Tout sur l’Algerie quoted an unnamed military official as saying on December 31st. More than 30 repentant terrorists also took advantage last year of the amnesty offered under the 2005 Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation.
The year saw a total of 65 terror attacks. With most of the danger emanating from Boumerdès, Tizi Ouzou, Bouira and Béjaïa, army forces have focused on the Kabylie region.
“The decline in armed attacks in 2012 is due to the pressure exerted by the security services on the strongholds of armed groups,” the military source said.
Counter-terrorism units have also increased their presence on the border with Libya. The move led to the arrest of 40 of AQIM fighters on the Libyan border.
Officials attribute the drop in armed attacks to pressures imposed by security agencies. Last year witnessed a major shift in counter-terrorism strategy, with a new focus on the leaders of armed groups.
Counter-terrorism units sought to target the “grey matter” of the terrorist organization, starting with the Ghardaia arrest of AQIM’s judicial commission head Necib Tayeb, (aka Abderrahmane Abou Ishak Essoufi).
The most recent blow to al-Qaeda came on December 16th, when security forces arrested the group’s number 2 man, Salah Gasmi (aka Salah Abou Mohamed), in Sharfa, Bouira province.
Other important AQIM figures caught in 2012 include field commander Sidi Mohand Ouramdane (aka El Khechkhache), foreign relations specialist Ahmed Bakai, and dangerous emir Abdelmalek Salami. Special Forces also eliminated Makhfi Rabah, 45, a prominent al-Qaeda leader in Kabylie.
“These operations have greatly confused al-Qaeda because of their accuracy,” security analyst Kamal Hadef told Magharebia.
It was clear to the al-Qaeda hierarchy that “classified information was leaking from within the group”, he said.
“This created an atmosphere of suspicion and doubt within the group,” he added.
According to former military officer Taher Ben Thamer, “Experience acquired over two decades has helped Algerian security forces deal with these groups, especially by targeting their heads and reaching the sources of information.”
Algeria’s war on terror also entered a new stage in 2012 by focusing on intelligence work and using advanced monitoring technologies. Security agencies created a data centre to identify specific targets.
The drop in the number of terrorist operations in recent months is proof that al-Qaeda has been caught off guard by such intelligence achievements, especially in the eastern region of Algeria, Ben Thamer added.
Al-Qaeda’s failure in Kabylie made it shift gears to exploit the unrest in northern Mali, the analyst said.