By Walid Ramzi
Algerian security forces are struggling to cope with arms smuggling gangs that have stepped up their operations along the southern border, prompting the Algerian army to intensify its presence across some rugged border crossings currently exploited by smugglers.
Forces from the People’s National Army in the border area adjacent to Libya recently succeeded in confiscating 32 weapons and 14,000 rounds of ammunition in one operation near Karat Alain, south of Djanet in the province of Illizi. The September 12th operation was part of a search along the desert border frequently used by smugglers and terrorists seeking to transfer weapons.
ANP troops arrested three members of the gang, including a Libyan national, while another smuggler was wounded by gunshots.
This operation was prompted when Algerian security forces noted the movement of a number of SUVs coming from the south of Libya, which they then ambushed. An assessment of the weapons revealed that they were smuggled from the stockpiles of the Libyan army and intended to be handed over in the Tazrouk district of Tamanrasset to smuggling gangs and drug dealers.
The Algerian army has stepped up patrols in the south recently. Its units are now equipped with powerful and sophisticated monitoring devices, allowing them to cover wider regions. This capability allows the army, as in this operation, to monitor a region extending about 260 kilometres from Djanet.
In recent months, Algerian security forces have succeeded in thwarting several operations intended to smuggle weapons, including the smuggling of Katyusha rockets, machine guns and different types of ammunition. Security forces discovered weapons caches along the border in places used by smugglers to hide contraband in order to avoid falling prey to security patrols.
Security forces stationed in Tamanrasset and Illizi, bordering Libya, Niger and Mali, have seized 104 weapons in the last ten months alone.
Fifty per cent of the seized weapons were hunting rifles, and the rest included heavy arms that terrorists tried to get from the stockpiles of the former Libyan regime. Some also originated with arms dealers who took advantage of the Libyan revolution to smuggle large quantities of weapons into neighbouring countries.
Intelligence services, in investigations carried out during the last month, uncovered a plan by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for a large operation of smuggling weapons obtained from Libya to be transferred to the Algerian desert, passing through the desert of Mali and Niger. The operation was supposed to pass the guns through smugglers who would then bury the weapons in marked locations in the desert for later use by terrorists against security the Algerian government in the south.
Authorities in Algeria are also forming special units to comb desert pathways that terrorists and smugglers have used to hide weapons smuggled from Libya. A number of unmanned Algerian planes and jets equipped with thermal detection and night observation devices have been deployed along the border with Mali and Niger, as well as the eastern border with Libya.
Security forces are considering establishing surveillance systems and electronic alarms along the borders with countries that have a troubled security situation. This deployment is intended to reduce the security threats along borders with Libya and also with northern Mali, under control of jihadist groups. The defence and interior ministries formed a working group at the end of 2011 to study the project.