By Nazim Fethi
When terrorists struck New York ten years ago, the blow was felt across the world. For Algerians, the attacks resurrected the painfully familiar memories of the Black Decade.
“Algeria understands perhaps better than others the pain of the families of the September 11th victims,” President Abdelaziz Bouteflika told his then-counterpart, George W. Bush.
But the tragedy turned into an opportunity for a tighter counter-terror co-operation.
“For these reasons, Algeria supports the initiative of launching an international action against terrorism,” Bouteflika said.
The country will “obviously honour its international commitments and responsibilities in the fight against terrorism, for it knows the necessity and importance of them through the fight that it has fought alone throughout a decade of tragedy, in the face of indifference from some and ingratitude from others”, the Algerian president added.
“Despite the cruelty of the enemy we have to put down, the fight must, as far as possible, spare the lives of the public and the innocent: it must be the war of the civilised world against ‘barbarity’,” Bouteflika said.
“We have spent years warning people and recommending that the transnational terrorist threat be handled within a joint framework and, as necessary, by international bodies,” Major General Mohamed Touati told El Watan in September 2001.
He hoped that the tragic events would lead Western countries to “reflect, imagine and appreciate the terrible suffering endured by others before them, as a result of terrorism”.
Since then, the two countries have not ceased to work together through information-sharing, training and bilateral visits. Recently, Algeria and the United States launched a new “contact group” for counter-terror collaboration.
“This mechanism will give a new qualitative momentum in order to strengthen the strategic partnership between the United States of America and Algeria… and to integrate all dimensions, whether it is political, diplomatic, security, legal, financial, operational or that of technical assistance,” Algerian presidential advisor Kamel Rezzag Bara said in March.
This week, Algeria hosted a global summit on Sahel security to address ways to prevent al-Qaeda from taking advantage of regional unrest.
“Algeria has the experience, skills and unquestionable legitimacy to talk about the fight against terrorism,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Deputy Diplomatic Advisor André Parant at the September 7th-8th event.
Al-Qaeda’s slain leader, Osama bin Laden, became interested in Algeria’s armed movements in the 1990s, the period of the rise of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). The latter rejected bin Laden’s call to join the terror network.
In 1998, GIA dissident Hassan Hattab created the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). His successor, Abdelmalek Droukdel, five years ago pledged allegiance to bin Laden and announced a merger of GSPC and al-Qaeda.
While some experts argue that terrorism has been defeated in Algeria, others insist that the threat is as acute as ever.
“There are still small cells who continue to be a menace throughout the country,” said retired army colonel Ahmed Adhimi, who teaches at the University of Algiers. “Their capacity for causing trouble isn’t particularly serious, and these cells will certainly die out over the coming years.”
Expert Arslan Chikhaoui warned that the terrorist movement created by bin Laden would “pursue its strategy of re-centring on Libya, with regional outreach across the Maghreb-Sahel-Somalia as part of the process of internal restructuring on which it embarked following its rise to power”.
“The international community must remain more attentive than ever to the threat of Jihadist activities in Libya,” added Chikhaoui, who serves as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Terrorism.