International Experts: Al-Qaida Facing Crisis in North Africa

International experts on al-Qaida say the terrorist movement is facing a crisis in North Africa, where it once hoped to build a regional network. They say only about 500 Islamist fighters remain in al-Qaida's North African base of Algeria, down from more than 10,000  in the country in the mid-1990s.
French historian Jean-Pierre Filiu says since the 1990s al-Qaida has been trying to use Algeria as a base to set up a North African network. But he says al-Qaida  failed to achieve its goal because Algerian Islamists were more focused on fighting Algeria's military rulers, who canceled 1992 elections that an Islamist party was poised to win.

Filiu, a professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, says the insurgents numbered more 10,000 in the mid-1990s. Most of them were defeated or surrendered to the government during the war.

Some Algerian Islamists however formed a splinter group that swore allegiance to al-Qaida in 2007 and began suicide bombings against foreigners and locals. Now, Filiu says only about 500 fighters remain in action, calling themselves al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb - a reference to North Africa.

He says they tried to recruit followers to fight the U.S.-led war in Iraq. But the French professor told a forum in Washington Wednesday al-Qaida's recent setbacks in Iraq robbed the Algerian militants of a recruiting tool.

 "What the Iraqi invasion gave them, and the integration into al-Qaida gave them, was a new impetus, a new dynamic - obviously, the dynamic now is broken," he said.

Filiu says al-Qaida was able to carry out only one major suicide attack in Algeria in 2008 - a car bombing that killed 43 people at a police academy in the country's north. But he says it failed to stage more big attacks because it has alienated Algerians.

"In the Islamic Maghreb like everywhere, al-Qaida is at war with Muslims - we should never get tired of repeating it - most of al-Qaida's victims are Muslims, and the people who stand on the front lines against al-Qaida are Muslims," said Filiu.

Another speaker at the forum was University of Virginia professor William Quandt. He says al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb remains essentially an Algerian group driven by domestic interests.

"I am not sure what the al-Qaida brand does for them - maybe they get a little bit of money, maybe they get a little bit of training somewhere for some of their people. But by and large, I see this as just one further faction of what originally was a fairly broad Islamist opposition front, and this is the tail-end of it that remains, with a new name," he said.

Quandt, a former member of the U.S. National Security Council, says Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has marginalized Islamist militants through a combination of repression and amnesty.

Mr. Bouteflika vowed to keep seeking national reconciliation after being elected this month to a third term as president, a post he has held since 1999. Quandt says Mr. Bouteflika's refusal to allow former Islamist rebels to run for office could lead to growing frustration with the government.

"I do worry about what happens when people feel the system is very closed to them. Some small numbers of those may turn out to be the next wave of recruits for whatever the new organization will call itself," he said.

 Quandt says Algeria's dependence on the revenue of its oil exports means a prolonged economic downturn could leave the government vulnerable to unrest.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin
This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs