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Terrorism Strikes North Africa

An al-Qaida-linked militant group claimed responsibility last week for two car bombs that exploded in Algeria killing at least 33 people. One of them targeted the prime minister’s office in Algiers and the other targeted a suburban police station. A group calling itself the “al-Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb” posted a statement on the Internet claiming responsibility for the attacks. The word Maghreb refers to the North African region that extends from Mauritania to Libya and includes Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

In Morocco last week, a man blew himself up when police burst into an apartment during an investigation of a March 11th suicide bombing at an Internet café in Casablanca. On Saturday two more suicide bombers detonated explosive belts in Casablanca on a street where the U.S. cultural center is located, killing themselves and wounding a woman nearby. Analysts are divided over whether these acts of terrorism in North Africa signal a new trend.

Pierre Rousselin, foreign editor of Le Figaro, says that, although it is unclear how serious the risk of a new wave of terrorism is, whatever happens in Algeria or Morocco is of concern because of the links between populations in France and North Africa. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Rousselin notes that last week’s car bombings in Algiers represent the first terrorist attacks under the new name of a former Islamic radical terrorist group in Algeria, which has been around for some time. He says he believes, as a lot of other people do, that the new name – al-Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb – indicates that there may be “organizational coordination” among different terrorist groups.

But Algerian journalist Kaci Djerbib, who is based in Washington, says he thinks it is a mistake to focus primarily on links with al-Qaida. He notes that in recent years there have been fewer attacks in Algeria than during the 1990’s civil war between the Algerian government and Islamic extremists in which 100,000 people died. Mr. Djerbib says political analysts believe “we are at the end of a cycle” rather than at the beginning.

Nonetheless, Nadia Bilbassy of Al-Arabiya television says the recent bombings in Algeria and Morocco, which occurred within days of one another, have come as a “surprise” to the Arab world. She says it is “not new” for terrorists to want to “create mayhem and kill as many people as they can, ” but analysis in the Arab press is urging that “we have to look again into the root cause of terrorism” and ask if it is really a rise in Islamic fanaticism or “whether they have legitimate grievances and some kind of political agenda” – or if they are motivated primarily by religious extremism. Nadia Bilbassy calls last weekend’s attacks in Casablanca a “bit amateurish” and she stresses that major terrorist attacks require a long time to plan and lots of money and logistical support to carry out. She says terrorism experts suggest al-Qaida as an organization has become “fragmented” and it now serves primarily as “inspiration to a smaller group of localized terrorists who want to harm the government or to impose their extreme vision of Islam.”

No organized group has taken responsibility for the Casablanca suicide bombings. But U.S. and European counter-terrorism officials say they are concerned about the emergence of the al-Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, which has been recruiting and training terrorists across the region.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.