The attacks in Algiers: a population hostage to clan warfare

by Lahouari Addi, François Gèze, Salima Mellah, Algeria-Watch, 16 December 2007

On the 11th December 2007, Algiers was once more the scene of two deadly attacks - targeting the Constitutional Council and a UN building - killing dozens of people and leaving hundreds injured.

Attributed, yet again, to the Islamists, these attacks will not be subject to any police or judicial inquiry: with the perpetrators of the explosions having being killed, as is common, no investigation worthy of the name will follow. Up until now, in fact, no serious inquiries have been launched into the massacres of Raïs (300 dead), Bentalha (477 dead), Ramka (1000 dead) and others committed in 1997 and 1998.

Ten years on, the great majority of Algerians are convinced that these outrages were the work of Islamists but manipulated by DRS (the Algerian intelligence services) chiefs within the framework of clan power struggles, that at the time saw DRS Chiefs opposing the clan of former President Liamine Zéroual. (1)

In a similar way today, the responsibility for a string of attacks claimed by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI, ex-GSPC) is not taken seriously by sceptical public opinion. Instead it points behind the AQMI to the masterminds inside the Algerian regime - notoriously divided since 2006, by a new clan power struggle, pitting DRS chiefs against forces (including Army chiefs) assembled behind the figure of President Bouteflika.

Surprisingly, several journalists from the Algerian press, though fiercely hostile to the Islamists, have in part been echoing the public's concerns. Indeed, in the days following the attacks a close reading of the press and the cross-checking of a few official statements from the "Bouteflika clan", would provide numerous signs supporting the theory that the attacks were the result of clan power struggles at the head of the regime and that the protagonists wanted it to be public knowledge.

Obviously, signs are not concrete evidence, but they surprisingly corroborate with the view of the bigger picture.

One of the first signs appeared in the daily newspaper El-Watan . In its 12th December 2007 edition, it questions the fierceness of a GIS (2) field officer used in driving away journalists from the scenes of the attacks. The writer interprets this as 'a deliberate will to hide the truth from public opinion'. But what truth would the GIS militaries like to hide?

Another sign is in a sentence thrown out by the Minister of Interior, Noureddine Zerhouni, during a press conference, suggesting that the attacks were related to the issue of extending the presidential mandate to a third term: the Minister was thus pointing his finger at those who opposed Bouteflika's candidature in the 2009 elections, a form of political scheming totally alien to the deadly discourse posted on its websites by AQMI-GSPC.

Refusing to acknowledge the title "Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb", and instead continuing to use the name GSPC (to better highlight, it seemed, the strictly Algerian origin of those responsible for the recent attacks), the Minister of Interior, whilst visiting the sites of the two tragedies, was insistent: on one hand, he stated, "the security services had known for months that the Constitutional Council's headquarters featured amongst the targets of terrorists groups"; whilst on the other hand, that they "have acquired a great ability to infiltrate terrorist organisations, managing to weaken a great number of these groups."

This raises a number of implicit questions (though actually transparent to the "innermost circle of Algiers"): if they are so efficient, why didn't the security services manage to foil such an attack, especially since it was not just any random target?

Did their chiefs let them happen (or further, did they actually mastermind them) to make the point that Bouteflika's politics of reconciliation had failed and that he was therefore not fit to nominate himself as a candidate for a third term?

Yet another sign is the report undertaken, in the heat of the event, by the national radio Chaîne trois (Channel three) , in which citizens interviewed called for . the President's resignation. Given the complete control of public radio and TV exercised by the DRS, this report speaks volumes.

Another blatant 'anomaly' concerns the - highly symbolic - targets of the attacks and their modus operandi. The UN building is located at Hydra, while the Constitutional Council is situated at Ben-Aknoun: both are highly protected neighbourhoods in Algiers. The first is also where the residencies of the highest authorities in the regime are based, and the second shelters many military buildings (including the barracks of the DRS).

Let's not forget that on the 11th April 2007, the government Palace and an important police station, in highly guarded neighbourhoods, were targeted in the same way, leaving 30 people dead and more than 300 wounded.

How can one believe that vehicles packed with nearly one ton of explosives - according to the official version and the one given by AQMI - were able to quietly travel without being intercepted by security forces both omnipresent and vigilant against the slightest suspicious act, unless subject to a planned "slackening" (a sinister scenario, that was widely testified to during the 1997 massacres)?

And how can one believe that a terrorist group reportedly nearing its death-throes (due to the "thrusts" of anti-terrorist repression, according to the leitmotiv of "security information") be able to successfully continue a campaign of attacks, that requires a certain level of human and material resources, as well as an organizational ability, that makes it almost inconceivable coming from a group "in the midst of decay".

Thus those attacks painfully echo the 1997 massacres, eventually forcing General Liamine Zéroual's resignation one year later. Today, it's his successor - or rather the clan who hide behind him - Abdelaziz Bouteflika who appears to be targeted by those who put him in power in 1999 (the clan of General Mohamed 'Tewfik' Médiène, the immutable chief of DRS since 1990) and from whom Bouteflika has tried to distance himself.

Testimony to this can be seen, amongst many other tragedies, by the attack on the 6 September 2007 at Batna: while the President was approximately 20 km from the town, a suicide attack targeted the crowd lining the route that he had to pass, resulting in the deaths of 22 people with more than 100 injured.

The memory of President Mohammed Boudiaf's murder in June 1992, live on TV - that all Algerians know was masterminded by the DRS chiefs - doesn't fade away so easily.

Yet President Bouteflika has generally succeeded in the mission that was assigned to him by his mentors from the DRS: under his auspices Algeria became a state other countries could willingly be associated with (albeit with petrodollars playing a significant role) and in 2005 he introduced legislation known as the "law of peace and reconciliation".

This equated to a total amnesty of crimes in the 1990s (committed by both the security forces and the Islamist armed groups) and to prohibit any debate on the years of blood , on pain of jail sentences.

However, particularly since 2006, relying on the opponents of the 'Clan Tewfik' (including Army chiefs thrust aside by the latter), he tried to enlarge his influence inside important sectors of the Algerian regime.

And benefiting from international circumstances, Bouteflika, thanks to his allies, took several decisions opposing the interests of the DRS chiefs and their civilian allies: the cancellation, in July 2006, of the arrangements for a law on hydrocarbons that would have allowed - in the best interests of the generals linked to the Americans and earning commissions on those transaction - the allocation of concessions to foreign oil companies and selling off ownership of oil and gas reserves; cancellation of major contracts with American firms (including a project worth nearly $3.5 billion with Anadarco) and the liquidation of the Algeria-American semi-public company Brown & Roots Condor; halting the construction of a well-advanced strategic American military base near Tamanrasset; intensification of military cooperation (and major arm deals) with Russia; etc. (3)

Within this context, the choice of targets for the 11th December attacks can be understood as the delivery of two sinister 'messages' to the 'Bouteflika clan', but also to other agents.

To the members of the Constitutional Council: the attack on their headquarters is aimed at deterring them from supporting a revision of the Constitution, allowing a third term for President Bouteflika.

To the international community (whose intelligence services are perfectly aware of the real nature of AQMI-GSPC): the attack against the headquarters of two UN agencies is a means for the DRS chiefs to demonstrate that the clan of Bouteflika is unable to ensure the security of foreigners in Algeria and that they should solely rely on them.

This is what the columnist of the daily newspaper Liberté - renowned as very close to DRS - seemed to confirm, just a day after the attacks : he wrote that, for the GSPC, targeting a UN building was a "way of signaling to foreigners that the Algerian State was unable to protect its hosts".  

It's this political scene, much more so than the wild imaginings of pseudo international experts in terrorism on Al-Qaeda, that gives an explanatory framework to the tragic attacks terrorizing innocent civilians since Spring 2006. (4)

In the meantime, this latent war persists, taking hostage a population crushed by insecurity, poverty, unemployment and malaise. In one word, the hogra .

Notes

1. Salima Mellah, ' Les massacres en Algérie' ( Mass murders in Algeria ), 1992-2004. Dossiers presented at the Tribunal by the Committee Justice for Algeria, May 2004, http://www.algerie-tpp.org/tpp/pdf/dossier_2_massacres.pdf .

2. GIS - Groupe d'Intervention Spécial (a police force related to the Ministry of National Defence)

3. See Hocine Malti, ' Les Américains en Algérie : pétrole, magouilles et terrorisme'  ( American in Algeria : oil, scheming and terrorism ), 13 October 2007, http://www.algeria-watch.org/fr/article/analyse/malti_americains_algerie.htm .

4. See François Gèze and Salima Mellah, ' Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the April 11, 2007 attacks in Algiers' , Algeria-Watch, 21 April 2007, http://www.algeria-watch.org/en/analyses/geze_mellah.htm

 
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