Algeria (1992 – first combat deaths)

Tasneem Jamal Africa

Updated: June 2015

The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The Government of Algeria, with the support of Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and in cooperation with the United States, United Kingdom and France, against terrorism, in this case al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its various branches.

What (started the conflict): The government is working to control the use of force and engage in counterterrorism efforts against AQIM. In January 2013 AQIM members took over the Ain Amenas gas plant; many foreign hostages were captured and at least 67 people were killed. AQIM members also continued bombing campaigns, arms trafficking and kidnapping, although many networks have been dismantled by security forces in recent years. Algerians protest against high unemployment and lack of security. In 2014 protest group Barakat (“enough”) opposed President Bouteflika’s re-election for a fourth term.

When (has fighting occurred): The conflict began in response to electoral law changes and political clashes in 1992 and quickly escalated into a violent insurgency. Following the 1999 elections (won by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika) and a Civil Concord initiative, AQIM (previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat [GSPC]) led a terrorist campaign. Medium-intensity conflict continued until 2009, when levels of fighting began to decrease as counterterrorism efforts increased. Bouteflika lifted the state of emergency in 2011. He was elected for his fourth term as president in April 2014.

Where (has the conflict taken place): Most of the violence has occurred near the Tunisian border, in the capital of Algiers and in the northeast. However, there is substantial concern over conflict spillover from Mali to the south and Libya to the southeast. The Sons of the Islamic Sahara Movement for Justice, a splinter group of the Movement for Monotheism and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), operates mostly from southeastern Algeria, northern Niger and western Libya. Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Masked Men and Signed in Blood battalions were responsible for the January attack on the Ain Amenas gas facility in Tigantourine near the Libyan border. Much of the current social unrest is in Tamanrasset in the far south, and in Ghardaia and Algiers.

Summary

2015 Low-intensity violence continued between the military and armed groups. There was also communal violence between Malikites and Mozabites. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika vowed to finish his current term despite health problems. Nevertheless, uncertainty about whether Bouteflika was still running the country further destabilized Algeria. In December the President agreed to draft constitutional changes. The opposition proposed a democratic transition to a new government and opposed the constitutional reforms.  

2014 President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was re-elected. French citizen Hervé Gourdel was kidnapped and beheaded by Jund al-Khilafah, a breakaway faction of the Algerian AQIM that pledged allegiance to insurgent group Islamic State in September. In retaliation, Jund Al-Khilafah leader Gouri Abdelmalek was hunted down; he was reported dead by the end of December. Authorities continued to curtail free speech and the rights of citizens to freedom of association, assembly and peaceful protest; there were mass arrests of political activists. Following attacks by armed militants on the border between Algeria and Tunisia, the two countries increased security cooperation and joint military operations.  There were at least 90 reported deaths this year due to conflict; the actual number was likely higher.

2013 The leading event of 2013 was the attack and foreign hostage situation at the Ain Amenas gas plant in January, led by members of the AQIM Masked Men and Signed in Blood battalions. Local and international media coverage was extensive. Between 67 and 81 people were killed, including local and foreign hostages and militants. Algerian forces conducted numerous security operations, killing and arresting many AQIM members and breaking up trafficking and kidnapping operations. Thousands of Algerian troops were also deployed to the borders with Mali, Tunisia and Libya to prevent conflict spillover. Communal and tribal clashes between Chaâmbis (Arabs) and Mozabites (Berbers) persisted, leaving at least 15 dead and more than 100 injured, including 40 policemen. Security forces continued to clamp down on youth protests, unemployment demonstrations, unions and political gatherings, gaining attention from human rights groups. Concerns over President Bouteflika’s deteriorating health led to political uncertainty about the upcoming April 2014 elections. According to the International Crisis Group, armed conflict resulted in at least 191 fatalities and more than 100 injuries in 2013. In December, the Algerian government announced that 220 terrorists had been killed since January 2013, so the ICG count might be low.

2012 The Algerian government deployed military and police units in a range of security operations, successfully killing or capturing many high-ranking AQIM leaders. But insecurity in neighbouring Mali solidified AQIM’s regional presence. Spring legislative elections produced an unexpected outcome, as surprisingly high voter turnout translated into a decline in popular support for Islamist political factions. Although initially cautious, Algeria supported foreign intervention into neighbouring Mali. Algeria later signed a four-year strategic partnership with France relating to defence and security collaboration.

2011 In January, protests, apparently sparked by rising food prices and high unemployment, drew thousands in Algiers, but the crowds were outnumbered by 30,000 police. Although protesters did not appear to be demanding regime change, in the wake of regime-toppling movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the government of President Bouteflika quickly offered concessions, including the lifting of a 19-year state of emergency, sweeping media changes that allowed private radio and television stations to exist for the first time since 1962, raises for civil servants and subsidies on essential foodstuffs. In 2011, AQIM increased attacks in North Africa, particularly Algeria. North African states led by Algeria began talks to create a joint force with as many as 75,000 troops to fight AQIM across the Sahara.

2010 The Algerian government, in partnership with Mali, Niger and Mauritania, established a joint military headquarters in the city of Tamanrasset to coordinate anti-al-Qaeda operations. The countries pledged to increase the number of fighting forces from 25,000 to 75,000 by 2012. While levels of fighting had decreased, on December 9, 2010, Algeria launched a large military offensive against AQIM. The government and religious leaders continued to urge militants to join the peace and national reconciliation effort proposed in 2005.

2009 Although Algeria saw a relatively peaceful presidential election in April, with a landslide victory for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, opposition groups questioned the election’s fairness and legitimacy. AQIM militants continued to attack from their stronghold in the northeast, while Algerian security forces waged an ongoing counteroffensive. Attacks by insurgents were seen as a sign of their decline in power in the area, but reports that returning Algerian fighters from Iraq were joining the AQIM ranks raised concerns among security officials.

2008 AQIM launched attacks against the government throughout 2008, with conflict peaking in August. Car and human bombs were used nationwide, supposedly targeting military, police, foreign and government units, but resulting in increasing civilian casualties. In August 2008, a series of AQIM attacks over two days killed approximately 80, in the most violent week for Algerians in almost a year.

2007 Conflict intensified as the renamed al-Qaeda in the Islamist Maghreb (AQIM) (formerly the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat or GSPC) conducted a suicide-bombing campaign throughout much of the year. Civilian casualties resulted when car and human bombs were detonated in public places. In December 2007, at least 10 United Nations employees were killed when bombs exploded outside their Algiers office building. While President Bouteflika continued to call for reconciliation, raids on insurgent camps were carried out in an attempt to end the violence.

2006 An estimated 800 rebels continued to fight government forces, with the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) considered the only important rebel organization remaining. Concerns about civilian casualties peaked in May when the bodies of 18 children and three women were found in a cave. There were further allegations of government torture. A six-month amnesty for government forces and rebel groups began in March, with approximately 300 rebels surrendering by the September deadline.

2005 Sporadic, low-intensity fighting between the Algerian army and GSPC rebels continued in eastern and western Algeria. The government pardoned nearly 7,000 prisoners following the approval of the government’s reconciliation charter in an October national referendum.

2004 Fighting continued at a significantly lower intensity, with only a few major clashes between GSPC rebels and government armed forces. Action against the GSPC continued to be connected to the U.S.-led war on terror because of links between the GSPC and al-Qaeda.

2003 Islamist rebel groups, notably the GSPC and the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), continued to engage Algerian security forces in their attempt to establish an Islamic state. Although most fighting was between government and rebel forces, both sides were accused of targeting civilians. Still, conflict deaths declined from 2002.

2002 The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the GSPC continued to fight state security forces and all groups targeted civilians. According to independent media reports, armed conflict claimed an average of 150 lives a month.

2001 The level of violence dropped from 2000 after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered an amnesty. Two Islamic guerilla groups, the GIA and the GSPC, rejected the amnesty and vowed to continue fighting.

2000 Following a government amnesty deadline in January, President Bouteflika sent forces to track down the remaining guerrilla strongholds. Most Islamic Salvation Army guerrillas reportedly surrendered after their leader, Madani Mezrag, agreed to dissolve his force. GIA refused to take up the amnesty offer and there were reports that many Islamic militants remained at large. Although the level of violence had decreased since the massacres of 1997, by the end of the summer, the level of violence was reportedly on the rise. According to Amnesty International, more than 2,500 people, mostly civilians, died in 2000.

1999 Clashes between government forces and rebel groups, the killings of civilians and disappearances continued in 1999. Nevertheless, the level of violence, most attributed to GIA rebels, declined during the year.

1998 Government-rebel clashes, village massacres and other attacks on civilians by extremist rebel groups and a plague of “disappearances” attributed to government security forces made 1998 another year of heavy bloodshed.

1997 Almost daily urban bombings, village massacres and disappearances marked 1997 as a year of carnage. Most of the violence against civilians was attributed to extremist guerrillas, but there was growing suspicion of involvement by government forces.

 

Type of Conflict
State control
Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of Algeria: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was re-elected for a fourth term in 2014 with 81.53 per cent of the vote, despite concerns about his deteriorating health and ability to lead. Government security forces (military and police) and government-armed and –trained militias continued to engage rebels. In 2010 Interior Minister Ould Kabila announced plans to arm rural civilians to help fight al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.

Supported by:

2. Mali, Mauritania and Niger: Following a March 2010 conference, Algeria partnered with regional neighbours Mali, Mauritania and Niger to form the Comité d’état-major opérationnel conjoint (CEMOC) (or the Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region), a joint counterterrorism committee headquartered in Tamanrasset, Algeria. The joint command headquarters, which opened April 21, 2010, was created to combat “trans-Sahara terrorism” by coordinating anti-terrorist operations in the Sahara desert. CEMOC headquarters was attacked by a car bomb planted by MUJWA in March 2012. This attack underscored the need for better intelligence-sharing and security coordination in the Sahel/Sahara region. In September 2011, UK delegates met with North African leaders at the Algiers conference on counterterrorism and organized crime in the Sahel, to discuss counterterrorism strategies and ways to assist CEMOC members. In March 2013, the head of the U.S. Africa Command (Africom) attended a CEMOC presentation and expressed support for regional counterterrorism operations.

3. The United States: Algeria is considered one of the United States’ most important allies in the fight against terrorism in the Maghreb region. In June 2005, the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative was launched, with U.S. soldiers training Algerian troops (and other countries in the region). Ties between Algeria and the U.S. government strengthened in 2007 when the number of suicide bombings increased and demand grew for more military action against “terrorists.” In 2013, Algeria continued to participate in the multilateral Global Counterterrorism Forum created by the United States. In December 2013, 30 police trainees participated in a five-day training workshop run by American experts and Algerian forces received a DNA index system (CODIS) from the FBI.

4. United Kingdom, France, Canada: Following the Ain Amenas gas plant attack in January 2013, UK Prime Minister Cameron visited Algeria to establish a new security partnership; he is the first British Prime Minister to visit since Algeria gained independence in 1962. At the beginning of 2013, France, which governed both Algeria and Mali before independence, began a military intervention in Mali, fighting against AQIM. As a result, many rebels fled into Algeria. Substantial efforts were made to secure the borders. In 2013, Canada committed more than $1.2 million to border security and counterterrorism initiatives in Algeria and the Sahel region.

Versus

5. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, GSPC): In January 2007, the GSPC announced that it was changing its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and would continue involvement in an international “holy war” as part of the al-Qaeda network. Its aim is to overthrow the Algerian government and implement an Islamic state. In statements posted on the Internet in September 2009, AQIM declared that it would not end its attacks until Algeria was free from French and U.S. influence and the “apostate” Algerian government had been removed. Although a number of factions have split from AQIM, it remains the largest rebel group in northern Africa, carrying out kidnappings and bombing campaigns. In 2010, AQIM became more closely associated with the international drug trade, providing armed security for drug smugglers in the Sahara. Both kidnapping for ransom and drug smuggling provide operational funds.

(i) Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) / Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA)

MOJWA split from AQIM in mid-2011 to spread jihad across a broader region of West Africa, but has been active mainly in southern Algeria and northern Mali. The region was flooded with illegal weapons and ammunition from Libya in the aftermath of the 2011 civil war that left Libyan border unsecured. Formally sanctioned in 2012 by the UN Security Council for al-Qaeda affiliations, MOJWA employs suicide bombings, kidnappings of foreign nationals, and conventional fighting tactics in low-intensity conflict with government security forces.

In August 2013, MOJWA merged with Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Masked Men Battalion under the new name El-Mourabitoun, although some media outlets still refer to them as the Masked Men.

(ii) The Sons of the Islamic Sahara Movement for Justice

In May 2013, The Sons of the Islamic Sahara Movement for Justice split from MOJWA. This group operates in northern Niger, western Libya and southeastern Algeria.

(iii) Signed in Blood Battalion

In October 2012, Belmokhtar formed the Signed in Blood battalion. The Masked Men and Signed in Blood Battalions conducted attacks on the Ain Amenas gas plant in January 2013 and in Niger in May 2013. Most of these AQIM splinter groups seem to prefer to use Mauritanian media to communicate their messages.

6. Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate): Previously a faction of AQIM, Jund al-Khilafah announced its formal separation and independent establishment on September 13, 2014, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). That month it captured French citizen Hervé Gourdel and called upon France to cease airstrikes against IS. Shortly after, the group beheaded Gourdel. In late December, Algerian security forces reported that they had killed the group’s leader, Gouri Abdelmalek.

And

7. Mozabite Community: The Mozabite community is concentrated in seven cities in the Mzab Valley. According to the Joshua Project, there are 174,000 Mozabites in Algeria (Joshua Project). They adhere to the Ibadi version of Islam and do not consider worshipers of Sunni and Shia Islam to be true Muslims (Joshua Project). Mozabites feel threatened by recent waves of migration by Malikite Arabs into Mozabite cities. In particular, Mozabites consider Malikite Arabs unwanted competitors for land and other economic opportunities (AL Monitor).

8. Malikite Community: The Joshua Project estimates that there are over 26 million Algerian Arabs; most are Malikite, a branch of Sunni Islam (Joshua Project). Malikites complain that wealthier Mozabites try to keep them on the periphery of society. The two groups compete for economic resources in the Mzab Valley (World Politics Review).

Status of the Fighting

2015 Skirmishes persisted between the Algerian military and militant groups. In January Algeria agreed to cooperate militarily with neighbouring Niger to combat the threat posed by armed groups in the Sahel region. In July clashes between gangs of Mozabite and Malikite youth killed at least 22 people in the Mzab Valley. The army was deployed to defuse the situation (International Crisis Group). The same month, at least 11 Algerian soldiers were killed in a suspected Islamist ambush in Ain Defla.

2014 Algeria increased security cooperation and joint military operations with Tunisia after several attacks by armed militants on the Algeria-Tunisia border. Security forces conducted military operations in areas surrounding Tizi Ouzou, Tébessa, and Bouira, killing more than a dozen insurgents in March. In April the police forcefully dispersed protests in the capital in advance of elections. In September, an Algerian faction of AQIM formed independent group Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. It then captured and beheaded a French citizen in Algeria; the online video of this event garnered massive international attention. The army claimed to have killed five militants in October in retaliation. Three police officers were killed that month in Zemmoura, Relizane province. In December, Algerian security forces reported that they had killed Gouri Abdelmalek, leader of Jund al-Khilafah. Security along Algeria’s borders was then increased.

2013 The level of fighting in Algeria increased slightly from the previous two years. Algerian forces continued to crack down on militant groups, arresting many and killing nearly 100 militants, while at least a dozen government fighters were killed during clashes. AQIM bombing campaigns left four dead and 10 injured. Several high-ranking AQIM members were killed by Chadian, French and Algerian forces during the year, including Belmokhtar’s second-in-command, Hacene Ould Khalill (aka Jouleibib). In April, May and September thousands of Algerian troops were mobilized to respond to major spillovers from the Malian conflict and prevent infiltration of armed Islamist groups from Tunisia and Libya. Communal and tribal clashes between Chaâmbis (Arabs) and Mozabites (Berbers), primarily in August and December, left at least 15 dead and over 100 injured, including 40 policemen.

On January 16, militants, including at least one Canadian, led a four-day siege on the Ain Amenas gas facility in Tigantourine near the Libyan border. While almost 700 Algerian plant workers and 100 foreigners escaped, at least 41 hostages were taken, including U.S., European, Filipino, Malaysian, and Japanese citizens. The attackers reportedly demanded the release of over 100 AQIM members detained in Algeria, the halt of “aggression against our brothers in Mali,” food, water and vehicles. In the rescue operation by Algerian Special Forces, at least 37 foreign hostages and 29 militants died. Three militants were captured.  In a video released days later, Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed that 40 members of his Islamist Masked Men battalion had been involved. In July, U.S. prosecutors charged Belmokhtar with hostage-taking and kidnapping, and offered a $5-million reward for information leading to his arrest.

2012 The Algerian government deployed military and police units in a number of security operations against AQIM-aligned rebels. Government security forces killed or captured many AQIM leaders, including second-in-command Salah Gasmi; the head of AQIM’s military committee, Makhfi Rabah; and the chairman of its judicial committee, Nacib Tayeb. Increasing instability and lawlessness in neighbouring Mali appeared to fuel the operations of rebel groups in the region. Seven Algerian diplomats were kidnapped in northern Mali by MOJWA. Increased cooperation was reported between extremist organizations and rebel movements, with AQIM suspected of funding, training and arming groups such as the Boko Haram in Nigeria. In response the Algerian government deployed new border guard units along its southernmost borders.

2011 Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) increased attacks in north Africa, particularly Algeria, in 2011. In April, one weekend attack killed 23 Algerian soldiers. Two roadside bombs claimed the lives of nine soldiers, while another 14 were killed when AQIM raided the Azazga military camp. In July and August, AQIM launched 23 attacks. In August, citing Algeria’s support for Libya’s Gadhafi regime, AQIM launched two suicide attacks at Algeria’s most secure and largest barracks, Cherchell, killing 18 soldiers. In October, three aid workers were abducted from Rabuni refugee camp in western Algeria; AQIM was believed responsible, although the group rarely targets such camps. In October, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader since the death of Osama bin Laden, called on Algerians to rise up and topple their government, as Egyptians and Tunisians had recently done. His appeal had little obvious impact.

2010 AQIM shifted a large portion of its activities to the Sahara, while the general level of fighting reportedly dropped. The Algerian government, in partnership with Mali, Niger and Mauritania, created a joint military headquarters in the city of Tamanrasset to coordinate anti-al-Qaeda operations. The countries pledged to triple troop numbers from 25,000 to 75,000 by 2012. On December 9, 2010, Algeria launched one of its largest military offensives in recent years against AQIM, involving several thousand soldiers in the region near Sidi Ali Bounab and the southwest town of Tizi-Ouzou. Between 12 and 50 Islamist militants were reportedly killed. Bombings and kidnappings continued, prompting Algiers, at July’s African Union summit, to campaign for a legal ban on the payment of ransom to rebel groups and the release of imprisoned rebels in exchange for the release of hostages.

2009 A weakened AQIM struggled to maintain its stronghold in the Boumerdes region of Algeria. It launched fewer ambushes, an indication to some that AQIM is being worn down by Algerian security forces.

2008 Conflict continued to grow more intense; August saw the most violence. The regions of Kabylie, where AQIM is thought to have its base, and the “deadly rectangle,” which demarks a hilly coastal area east of Algiers to Bouira, Tizi-Ouzou, and Boumerdes, saw the most action. AQIM claimed that the heightened violence in August was in response to government crackdown on AQIM forces. While fighting occurred mainly between the government and AQIM, civilians and foreigners were caught up in the violence.

2007 The conflict intensified as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb began a new war against the Algerian government. Numerous suicide bombings killed hundreds, including soldiers, government officials, civilians and foreigners. Government troops launched raids into insurgent zones, which led to increased levels of fighting.

2006 Low-intensity conflict continued, with sporadic ambushes from both sides. While the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) continued to harm and kill civilians, it focused mainly on government security forces, beginning in July. The estimated number of anti-government rebels was raised to 800.

2005 Low-intensity conflict continued, marked by sporadic clashes between government forces and the 300- to 500-strong GSPC in western and eastern Algeria. Although both sides reportedly attacked civilians, most incidents involved the GSPC.

2004 Conflict intensity declined significantly, with fewer than 600 rebels, all members of the GSPC’s militant wing, believed to be active.

2003 Violence continued unabated as the main rebel groups inflicted damage on security forces with ambushes and other guerrilla tactics. Government security forces were criticized for alleged human rights violations.

2002 The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) continued to attack both military and civilian populations. Fighting was particularly intense around the time of the May parliamentary elections. At the same time, the government increased counterinsurgency measures in line with its stronger “anti-terrorism” agenda. The government was also accused of killing civilians.

2001 President Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered amnesty to Islamist guerrillas, some surrendered and disarmed. While the level of violence decreased, attacks against military and civilian targets continued. GIA was most active and was accused of the largest number of attacks and deaths, both military and civilian.

2000 After the January 13 deadline for amnesty (restricted to insurgents not guilty of rape, murder or bombings who handed in their weapons), President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sent forces to attack the remaining guerrilla strongholds. Reports early in the year, had suggested that most guerrillas had surrendered after Islamic Salvation Army leader Madani Mezrag agreed to dissolve his force. However, many militants remained at large and by the end of the summer, violence seemed to be on the rise.

1999 Arrests, killings and disappearances persisted during 1999, although violence declined from the previous year. While the Islamic Salvation Army (associated with the FIS) generally respected a ceasefire it declared in 1997, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) continued to target civilians. Unarmed men, women and children were killed in brutal attacks and many teenaged and adult women captured, particularly in rural areas.

1998 The level of fighting increased as the extremist Armed Islamic Group (GIA) committed more massacres and acts of torture in small communities. The government continued retaliatory strikes on Islamic rebel groups, with civilians often experiencing collateral damage. According to reports, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) generally observed the truce it began in October 1997, although there were occasional clashes between the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) and other armed groups.

 

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: It is estimated that the armed conflict in Algeria has killed as many as 200,000 people. The government has also been accused of “disappearing” approximately 7,000 people. Between 500,000 and 1.5-million are believed to have been displaced, although there is no recent figure available.

2015 ACLED reported 138 conflict deaths (ACLED, All Africa Files, ACLED Version 6 (1997-2015) standard file). The UNHCR estimated that 3,541 refugees and 6,259 asylum seekers originated from Algeria (UNHCR). There were no recent figures on internally displaced people.

2014 According to International Crisis Group, there were at least 90 conflict-related deaths and approximately 100 injuries. Actual numbers are likely higher.

Refugees and IDPs: According to the UNHCR, there were 94,144 refugees and 3,894 asylum seekers residing in Algeria, and 3,691 refugees and 4,622 asylum seekers originating from Algeria.

2013 According to the International Crisis Group, there were at least 191 deaths and more than 100 injuries from armed conflict in 2013, up from just under 100 deaths in 2012 and 91 deaths in 2011. Among the dead were 12 soldiers and policemen, at least 123 Islamist militants and approximately 56 civilians. The most violent incident occurred in January, during a raid on the Tigantourine gas complex, which resulted in the deaths of 37 hostages and 29 militants. In December, the Algerian government announced that 220 terrorists had been killed since January 2013.

Refugees: As of mid-2013, there were 3,752 Algerian refugees and 3,231 Algerian asylum seekers, most of whom reside in urban areas in neighbouring countries.

2012 Government security forces reported killing between 40 and 50 militants in 2012. A series of suicide and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks by militants killed between 25 and 30 civilians, wounding an additional 20. An additional 10 soldiers and police were killed by suspected militants in a series of IED attacks, ambushes and suicide bombings. Seven Algerian diplomats were captured by MOJWA-aligned rebels in northern Mali; one was later executed.

2011 The International Crisis Group reports that of the 91 people killed this year, 18 were AQIM militants; soldiers and civilians were also among the dead. In April, AQIM launched its bloodiest attack of the year, killing 23 soldiers.

2010 According to the U.S. State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report, 619 were killed in 2010, down slightly from 2009. Militants killed 65 civilians and 91 security force personnel, while security forces killed an estimated 463 militants. Mainstream media reports had much lower death counts, but noted that at least 50 militants were killed in December as a result of a new military offensive against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

2009 According to media reports, there were at least 230 conflict deaths in 2009, with 80 government personnel killed between August and October. Insurgents killed many in ambushes in their strongholds in northeastern Algeria. The government declared that pressure from the Algerian security forces was effective and AQIM was not poised to seriously threaten the government or regional stability. However, there was concern that experienced fighters returning from the Iraq war could strengthen al-Qaeda’s hold in North Africa. The U.S. Department of State’s Human Rights Report reported 804 combat deaths.

2008 Based on media reports, at least 221 people were killed in 2008, 122 in August. More than 500 were reportedly wounded. Although AQIM said it was committed to protecting civilians, its attacks resulted in many civilian casualties.

2007 Media reported at least 371 deaths – many civilians – and approximately 267 wounded. AQIM’s use of suicide bombers led to an increase in civilian casualties, while government raids against AQIM resulted in more military casualties.

2006 At least 124 people were killed in 2006, including 26 civilians. In October, the Tizi-Ouzou regional assembly president was murdered by unidentified gunmen.

2005 Approximately 488 people were killed in 2005; levels of violence were similar to those of 2004.

2004 According to the Algerian government, 429 people were killed in 2004, a significant decline from 2003. In the year’s most serious incident, more than 60 GSPC rebels and Chadian soldiers were killed.

2003 According to independent media reports, close to 1,000 people died in 2003. A significant number of the dead were government security forces; this might relate to the claim by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) that it only targeted security forces and agents of the state. However, civilians remained targets. The annual death toll had declined steadily over the past several years.

2002 According to independent media reports, there were more than 1,000 combat-related deaths in 2002.

2001 Approximately 1,650 people died in 2001.

2000 More than 2,500 people died in 2000.

1999 There were estimates that as many as 3,000 people, mostly civilians, died as the result of armed conflict in 1999.

1998 Between 7,000 and 10,000 people were killed in the conflict in 1998, marking an increase from the previous year’s already high death toll.

 

Political Developments

2015 The governing FLN-RND coalition and opposition parties continued to debate holding a “national consensus conference.” No conference was held. In March opposition parties called for a democratic transition and rejected calls for constitutional reform (International Crisis Group). On November 1 the President announced that constitutional changes would soon be made public. The following month, President Bouteflika approved draft constitutional revisions.

In July Bouteflika declared that he would finish his term, despite failing health. Some Algerians were not convinced that the President was fit to rule; some speculated that the President’s brother, Saïd Bouteflika, was running the country. These rumours encouraged increased instability (New York Times). On November 7 the “Group of 19,” a loose coalition of war veterans and senior political figures, presented a letter requesting an audience with the President. The request was denied.

2014. In January political parties Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) and Front for Change announced their boycott of the elections. Barakat (“enough”), a new movement opposed to Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s re-election, submitted a complaint to the Constitutional Court and staged protests. Sweeping arrests of political activists were denounced by human rights groups. Bouteflika, in power since 1999, was re-elected in April with 81.53 per cent of the vote, despite being in poor health. His chief opponent, Ali Beneflis, refused to recognize the result, alleging “fraud on a massive scale.” The Algerian Commission supervising the election and African Union observers, however, stated that the vote went “smoothly.” Opposition parties Socialist Forces Front (FFS), Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), the Movement for a Peaceful Society (MSP) and the Workers’ Party (PT) refused to participate in the new government. On May 15 Bouteflika proposed constitutional amendments that included restricting presidential tenures to two terms and looser restrictions on the media. The Algerian government continued to toughen its position on illegal migrants, and began the repatriation of approximately 3,000 migrants from Niger, also arresting at least 50 foreign smugglers near the Niger border. A budget deficit related to the decline of the global oil market cast its shadow at the end of the year.

2013 Following the Ain Amenas attack in January, UK Prime Minister Cameron visited Algeria to establish a new security partnership; Cameron is the first British Prime Minister to visit Algeria since its independence in 1962. A series of clampdowns on unions and preemptive tactics to prevent meetings and protests gained the attention of human rights groups. In mid-February, the Interior Ministry banned the Salafi Free Awakening Front party from holding a founding convention. From March to June, security forces violently dispersed protests and student demonstrations. Nearly all television and radio stations are state-owned and –operated;  non-state media outlets and newspapers are frequently censored.

In April, President Bouteflika suffered a mild heart attack and received extensive treatment in Paris, igniting widespread concerns over his deteriorating health. On November 16, the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party nominated him to run for a fourth term, but as of February 2014, Bouteflika had not yet accepted the nomination. Elections are scheduled for April 2014. Following a six-month deadlock with the FLN, Amar Saadani was elected as the new secretary general on August 29. In September, Bouteflika reshuffled his cabinet, naming new ministers for foreign affairs, the interior and justice. In December, Bouteflika revealed a proposed package of constitutional reforms, which would add the position of vice president, and limit the army’s political role. In January 2014, Algeria announced talks with Malian rebel groups to boost peace efforts.

2012 Ahead of Algeria’s spring legislative elections, a political struggle appeared to emerge between secular, military-backed parties and competing religious blocs. Elections ultimately produced an unexpected outcome, as surprisingly high voter turnout translated into a decline in popular support for Islamist political factions. Although the Arab Spring appeared to enhance the political credibility of religious movements in the region, this was not the case in Algeria. The National Election Monitoring Commission later reported that the election was “compromised,” but did not confirm electoral fraud. Algeria cautiously opted to back foreign intervention into neighbouring Mali and Algeria later signed a four-year strategic partnership with France relating to defence and security collaboration. Abdelmalek Sellal was named the new prime minister; he is considered a long-serving, business-friendly technocrat with no partisan allegiance.

2011 In January, protests, apparently sparked by rising food prices and high unemployment, drew thousands in Algiers, but the crowds were outnumbered by 30,000 police. Though the protesters did not appear to be demanding regime change, in the wake of regime-toppling movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quickly promised concessions. Protests continued for several weeks, but drew diminishing numbers, with crowds in the hundreds. In April, Bouteflika lifted a 19-year state of emergency and in September, sweeping media changes allowed private radio and television stations to exist for the first time since 1962. By the end of the year, the government had given civil servants a 34 per cent salary increase, put subsidies on flour, milk, cooking oil and sugar, and relaxed street regulations in some areas. The combination of government concessions, war-weary citizens and widely deployed police forces appeared to effectively quash large-scale protest in Algeria. In May, amid fears that al-Qaeda was seeking to exploit the political turmoil sweeping the Arab world, north African states led by Algeria entered talks to create a joint task force with as many as 75,000 troops to fight AQIM across the Sahara. In August, Algeria gave refuge to fugitive Muammar Gadhafi’s wife and three children on “humanitarian grounds.”

2010 In early March Algeria hosted a conference in Tamanrasset attended by government ministers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to develop a regional security plan to fight Islamist militants. An agreement between Algeria and the United States on judicial anti-terrorism and crime cooperation was signed on March 7. On April 21, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger announced the launch of the Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre for Algeria to assist in coordinating regional efforts to fight “trans-Sahara terrorism” and transnational crime. In May, AQIM leader Abu El Abbas, surrendered to authorities as part of the government reconciliation initiative. Hassan Hattab, the former emir of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), presented a new initiative, Appeal for Truce, Peace and Reconciliation. Supporting the initiative were former emirs and founders of armed groups, such as Hachemi Sahnouni, the former Khatib of the al-Sunna Mosque at Bab El Oued and founding member of the now disbanded Islamic Salvation Front). The Appeal urged religious authorities to support peace efforts and work to convince militants to join the peace and national reconciliation effort proposed in 2005.

2009 Early in the year, Algeria’s leading opposition group, the secular Rally for Culture and Democracy party, pulled out of April elections, refusing to participate in what it deemed a “national humiliation.” In the elections President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won his third consecutive term, with just over 90 per cent of the vote, according to the BBC. The elections were marked with only one display of violence, when two soldiers were attacked at a polling station. Some opposition groups cited fraud, with many boycotting the elections on principle. The next presidential election in Algeria is scheduled for 2014. AQIM continued to lose legitimacy with the Algerian civilian population, especially among young people, a traditional recruitment pool. Founder of GSPC Hassan Hattab issued a call for AQIM to surrender, calling their violent campaign “un-Islamic.”

2008 President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s motion to amend the constitution to permit his running for a third term in April 2009 was passed by an overwhelming majority in parliament. The UN complained about inadequate security in the wake of the the December 2007 attacks on UN buildings. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appointed an independent panel to review security, which the Prime Minister said was “unwelcome.”

2007 President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s attempts at reconciliation continued, making him a target for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. A human bomb attack in September was likely an attempt to assassinate Bouteflika. An increase in suicide bombings by al-Qaeda was viewed as a way to disrupt elections. Multiparty parliamentary elections on May 17 were conducted in a generally transparent manner, and President Bouteflika was reelected.

2006 The Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation was implemented from March until September, giving amnesty to government security forces and prisoners engaged in the civil war, except those involved in collective massacres, rape or bombings in public places. The government reported that 300 rebels surrendered. The GSPC officially joined al-Qaeda in September and planned attacks on French and U.S. bases in Algeria. The government engaged in counterterrorism agreements and talks with the United States, Britain and France.

2005 The Algerian government’s reconciliation charter was approved by a large majority of voters in an October 2005 referendum, although opposition groups claimed voting irregularities. The charter granted partial amnesty to rebels and security forces and set out compensation to families of victims. It also increased the power of the presidency and restricted the role that religious-based groups, many of them tied to former rebels, could play in Algerian politics. The GSPC continued to reject government offers to negotiate peace while the U.S. and Algerian governments increased military cooperation as part of the U.S. war on terror.

2004 The conflict in Algeria remained part of the U.S.-led war on terror because of the GSPC’s alignment with al-Qaeda. Government amnesty talks with members of the GSPC seemed to cause a split within the group. In November, the government announced that it was considering general amnesty for Algerians implicated in murder and violence during the previous 12 years. The President announced that his government would not make a decision on amnesty without cooperation from opposition parties.

2003 The Algerian government found a new ally in its campaign against Islamic rebel groups in the United States, intent on its “war on terror.” It was believed that the release of two FIS leaders after 12 years in prison would boost FIS party support in the 2004 elections.

2002 In April, the leadership of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) was assumed by hardliner Rachid Oukali (alias Rachid Abou Tourab), after Antar Zouabri was killed by security forces. Both the GSPC and the GIA rejected a reconciliation policy proposed by President Bouteflika. At the same time, the widespread support for anti-terrorist measures generated by the events of September 11, 2001 helped to legitimize the government’s intensified military response to Islamic extremists.

2001 Two Islamic guerrilla groups – the GIA and the GSPC – rejected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s amnesty. The GSPC stated that it would limit its attacks on civilian populations.

2000 Although the amnesty offered to insurgents by the Algerian government brought in more than 1,000 guerrillas and led to the dissolution of the Islamic Salvation Army, it failed to end the violence. In a change of policy, President Bouteflika invited four human rights groups to visit the country.

1999 After his election as president of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered a limited amnesty to rebels who had not committed murder, bombings or rape. The amnesty was overwhelmingly approved by a September popular referendum. Bouteflika threatened to clamp down on rebels who did not take advantage of it by January 2000.

1998 Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia resigned in December after being blamed in the press for a decline in Algerian living conditions. Reports indicated that President Liamine Zeroual would be replaced in April 1999 elections with a leader able to offer a moderate civilian stand between the military and the insurgents. There were no direct peace talks in 1998. A UN fact-finding mission led by former Portuguese President Mario Soares visited Algeria for two weeks in July.

 

Background

In 1988 the government responded to public unrest by allowing a multiparty system. The government called for parliamentary elections in June 1991 and planned changes to the electoral system, including restrictions on campaigning in mosques. In response, the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, FIS), a broad coalition of Islamic groups, called a general strike. Elections were postponed and FIS leaders Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj were arrested and jailed.

In the first round of elections in December 1991, the FIS won 188 seats. Then elections were cancelled. In January 1992, the National People’s Assembly was dissolved by presidential decree and President Chadli Bendjedid resigned, apparently pressured by the military. A five-member Higher State Council, chaired by Mohammed Boudiaf, took over. Violent clashes broke out between FIS supporters and security forces. A state of emergency was declared; the FIS was ordered to disband. In June Boudiaf was assassinated by a bodyguard linked to FIS. An insurgency quickly developed, with the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé, GIA) emerging as the main group. The government began to employ local militias in its military battle against the GIA and the Islamic Salvation Army (Armée Islamique du Salut, AIS), the armed wing of the FIS.

In 1994 Liamine Zeroual, a retired army colonel, was appointed chairman of the Higher State Council.

In 1996 a high turnout of voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that consolidated government power by, among other things, banning parties based on religion. The following year, the government made further gains in controversial parliamentary elections. The Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) accepted a ceasefire, disbanding in 2000.

Presidential elections in 1999 were won by Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Bouteflika focused on restoring stability to the country and announced a Civil Concord initiative, approved by popular referendum, by which many political prisoners were pardoned and several thousand members of armed groups were granted exemption from prosecution under a limited amnesty. Levels of insurgent violence fell rapidly. But the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, GSPC), a splinter group of GIA, continued a terrorist campaign against the government.

In January 2007 the GSPC announced that it had changed its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and that it would continue to fight as part of the al-Qaeda terrorist network in an international holy war.

President Bouteflika was re-elected in 2009 for a third term, in largely peaceful elections. In 2010, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger established the Comité d’état-major opérationnel conjoint (CEMOC) (also known as the Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre for Algeria or the Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region) to coordinate regional efforts on terrorism and crime. In January 2011 thousands protested in Algiers against rising food prices and high unemployment, but were outnumbered by 30,000 police. Although protestors did not demand regime change, President Bouteflika quickly promised concessions on food subsidies, civil servant salaries and street regulations. In April a 19-year state of emergency was lifted.

In 2013 UK Prime Minister Cameron visited Algeria following the high-profile Ain Amenas gas plant attack; he became the first UK Prime Minister to visit Algeria since independence in 1962. Cameron and Bouteflika agreed on an increased security partnership between their two countries.

In 2014, Barakat, a movement organized to oppose Bouteflika’s running for a fourth term as president, staged a series of protests and filed a complaint at the Constitutional Court. Despite this opposition and his deteriorating health, Bouteflika won with 81.53 per cent of the vote. Security force crackdowns on protesters during the election process were widely criticized by human rights groups.

Since 2011, the government of Algeria has prevented access to UN human rights monitors. The special rapporteurs on torture and on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and the UN Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detention have pending requests for access.

Arms Sources

Between 2008 and 2012 the largest supplier of conventional weapons to Algeria was Russia (93 per cent). Deliveries included 44 Su-30MKA combat aircraft, two Project-636 submarines, an estimated three S-300PMU-2 air defence systems and 185 T-90S main battle tanks. The tanks were valued at approximately $470-million. In 2015 Algeria ordered an additional 14 Su-30MKAs and continued to take delivery of Russian surface-to-air missiles and heavy-duty helicopters (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 361).

Other suppliers included France (three per cent), Ukraine (one per cent), and the UK (two per cent). Conventional weapons from the United States, South Africa, Italy, and China made up less than one per cent of total imports. In 2011 and 2012 Germany supplied two MEKO-A200 frigates and 1,200 Tpz-1 armoured vehicles worth over $400-million. China also supplied three F-22A frigates in 2011 and 2012. In 2014 Algeria received a new amphibious ship from Italy. Algeria also planned to receive three Chinese frigates in 2015 and purchase a new Italian minesweeper.

Algeria’s defence budget rose 28 per cent in 2011, six per cent in 2012, and 8.9 per cent in 2013. Defence spending increased to $9.96-billion in 2013 (compared to $5.67-billion in 2010), partially due to modernization efforts, counterterrorism activities, and the expansion of the Defence Ministry’s responsibility for a growing number of organizations. Algeria’s 2014 defence budget further increased to $12-billion. In 2015 defence spending declined to $10.8-billion (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 487).

It is widely believed that advanced weapons plundered during the collapse of the Gadhafi regime in Libya in 2011 came into AQIM’s possession, including 20,000 shoulder-mounted SA-24 missiles, heavy mortars, heavy artillery and thousands of anti-tank mines. With the end of civil war in Libya, an influx of modern, technologically advanced arms poured across porous borders into the broader Sahel region, where they were acquired by various rebel groups. AQIM has also been linked to transfers of funds, information and explosives bound for Boko Haram in Nigeria.

In June 2013 Algeria voted to adopt the UN Arms Trade Treaty, but as of April 2015 had not signed it.

Economic Factors

In 2004, details emerged about links between the armed rebel groups and local “mafias” involved in illicit economic activities such as smuggling. Increasingly, the rebels provided armed security escorts for drug smugglers in return for cash, which was used to recruit new fighters and finance attacks. European cells of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), based mainly in Italy and Spain, also provided some funds. With the adoption of the name al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, GSPC officially linked themselves to the terrorist network that had been suspected of funding them for several years. The Algerian government has accused Iran and Sudan of funding AQIM; it has been reported that foreign independents also aid with financial support.

As well, fears exist that, as AQIM moves into western and central Africa, it will threaten emerging oil fields, which the United States views as an alternative source to Middle East oil. Oil and gas account for 70 per cent of Algeria’s national income. The production of hydrocarbons had declined since 2007, but the Algerian government hoped for increased production in 2013. Then AQIM attacked the Ain Amenas gas plant in January 2013. The plant, is co-owned by the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, British company BP, and the Norwegian-owned Statoil, accounts for six to seven per cent of Algeria’s gas and condensate reserves and nearly three per cent of oil reserves. The plant partially reopened in late February at a third of capacity. By the end of January 2014, the plant was still only operating at two-thirds capacity, with expectations that it would be fully online within a few weeks.

Algeria experienced social unrest in response to high levels of unemployment, poor housing conditions, and soaring food prices. In 2010 there were many riots and much violence against police. The most significant riot left five dead and 800 injured in December. Analysts and diplomats suggested that “social unrest now rivals militant violence as the biggest threat.” After protests early in 2011, government initiatives included a salary increase of 34 per cent for civil servants; subsidies on flour, milk, cooking oil, and sugar; and a tax waiver for imported cooking oil and sugar. The Algerian government’s policy of granting minor economic concessions to political dissidents appeared to quell any popular uprisings at the national level. Although economic marginalization was blamed for a number of local protests, these events were isolated.

Algeria has depended on oil revenues to fund social programs. Analysts worried that dropping world oil prices would deny Algeria the funds necessary to prevent more widespread social and political upheaval (Reuters)

Drug smuggling continues to draw unemployed, disgruntled young men looking for profits and social recognition.

 

map: CIA Factbook

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