By Walid Ramzi
Algerian authorities say that as armed clashes continue unabated in Libya, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) could profit from the upheaval to endanger the stability of the Sahel.
Algeria is worried “about the increasing presence of AQIM in Libya and the noticeable circulation of weapons that can be used by terrorist groups”, Maghreb Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel said at a Tuesday (April 5th) press conference in Tamanrasset.
AQIM “may gain access to heavy and sophisticated weaponry”, he said. “Everyone, not just us, noticed that there is much weaponry being used in Libya.”
“If this situation continues, it will further worsen the conditions in the Sahel region,” he said.
Messahel reiterated Algeria’s seven-point position on the situation in Libya, which includes a call for an immediate ceasefire, negotiations between the warring parties and a roadmap from the African Union. He also called for “establishing a mechanism for control and verification of the respect of ceasefire”.
Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia emphasised Tuesday that security at the Algeria-Libya border was at risk because of the “complete pull-out of Libyan border guards and army personnel from the border areas with Algeria up to the border with Niger”.
“The security forces have earlier taken out an armed terrorist who was trying to enter Algeria,” Ould Kablia said. The terrorist groups used the man “to test the vigilance of Algerian army”, he said.
He then added: “We are not intervening in Libya’s domestic affairs. Our position in this issue is consistent, but when our interests are threatened, we have to move to defend them.”
Ould Kablia visited the border area of Ain Fazam, where he inspected security centres and urged citizens of the border regions to contribute to the security and protection of the country.
“We are depending on them in protecting the southern regions and in co-operating with the army because they know better than anyone else about what’s taking place there,” the minister said of local residents.
Experts believe that Algeria would shoulder the greatest share of the security burden if conditions in Libya continued to deteriorate.
“Continued violence in Libya, which lacks constitutional institutions and is mainly depending on the tribal view of society, may lead to the appearance of hotbeds of tension that may extend to other countries,” said Mhand Barkouk, director of Echaab Centre for Strategic Studies. He added, “These conditions aggravate the terrorist threats to the region’s countries because of the spread of weapons.”
In an interview with Algerian television, Barkouk said that the dangers threatening the region are the “activation of silent cells that are operating for the interest of terrorist groups and intensification of terrorist operations that target region’s countries”.
“This is in addition to the spread of organised crime, expansion of scope of smuggling of weapons and drugs and human trafficking by smuggling Africans out of the Libyan coast towards Europe,” he added.