Terror Group Thought to be Defeated Now on Attack

The twin blasts that caused such devastation in Algeria this week were a grim announcement that an Islamic group once thought to have been defeated is back and is now poised to extend its murderous tactics throughout North Africa and possibly to Europe.

The twin bombings in Algiers that killed at least 31 people -- and possibly up to 60 -- were carried out by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

AQIM emerged in 2006 from the remnants of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an Islamic group best known in the 1990s for its grisly tactic of wiping out entire villages it believed were not sufficiently fervent in their religious beliefs. The group was believed to be virtually eliminated by 2001.

But last year, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, al Qaeda lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri released a videotape announcing that the group had joined forces with Osama bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri praised the "blessed union," declared France an enemy and urged al Qaeda's newest franchise to fight against French and American interests. In January 2007, the group announced that it had changed its name to a Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The resurgent group went on the offensive April 11, detonating two car bombs, one of them close to the prime minister's office in Algiers, which resulted in the death of 33 people and more than 150 wounded. A third bomb exploded at a police station. The attack was a declaration of war by the remodeled al Qaeda affiliate.

Since then, car bombs have been used against police stations across the north and center of the country. On Sept. 6, AQIM targeted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of a crowd waiting for him, killing 22 people and wounding more than a 100.

But this week's hit included the offices and employees of the United Nations, the first time the Algerian terrorists have attacked a non-Algerian target with such ferocity. Many fear that it could be a bloody harbinger of tactics and targets in the future.

Algeria, as the second-largest exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas, has significant reason for concern regarding the prospect of an infusion of al Qaeda style tactics, such as coordinated bombings and assaults against foreign workers. With oil prices soaring and continuous uncertainty in the Persian Gulf, it is in the Algerian government's interests to project an image of security so as not to discourage foreign investment in the country's hydrocarbon sector.

The tactics of AQIM appear to copy the blueprint of insurgent groups in Iraq, where Algerian jihadists have been captured and have provided some of the manpower for suicide attacks there.

The worry now is of the blowback effect with Algerian fighters, who have honed terrorist skills in attacks in Iraq and are now returning to Algeria with the intention of replicating similar atrocities. This is very much the way the previous generation returned hardened from the Afghanistan experience during the Soviet occupation in the mid-1980s.

Sajjan Gohel is the Director for International Security, Asia-Pacific Foundation

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