CAIRO ø Algeria's leading insurgency group has launched an offensive to disrupt national elections scheduled
The Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call has stepped up attacks against
military and foreign targets over the last week. On Thursday, the Salafists
killed seven Algerian soldiers in an ambush and tried to abduct a French
The Salafists, reported to have up to 4,500 operatives, have been
identified as the main subcontractor of Al Qaida in North Africa. They are
said to have agents throughout the region as well as in Europe. Their base
of operations in Algeria is the central region close to the capital.
In an unprecedented move, the Salafists, overcoming a shortage in
weaponry, have issued a manifesto that
outlines its short- and long-term goals in the insurgency war against the
regime. The group said it seeks to establish an Islamic state in Algeria and
would not agree to any ceasefire with the regime, Middle East Newsline reported.
The manifesto also contains the unprecedented exposure of Salafists. The
publication, which appeared on the Internet, shows Salafist insurgents at a
rite of initiation, at prayer and on patrol with their weapons.
The decision to profile the Salafists reflects the decision of its
new leadership. In August 2003, the Salafists reported that Nabil Sahrawi
was appointed head of the organization. Sahrawi, a former engineering
student who replaced Hassan Hattab, was said to have masterminded the
abduction of 32
Western Europeans in February 2003 and held them for ransom for about six
The Salafists said their increased activity over the last few weeks
reflects a revival by Islamic insurgency groups around the world. The
manifesto cited Islamic attacks in Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, the Palestinian
Authority and the Philippines.
The statement referred to a Dec. 30, 2003 attack in Algiers against
police checkpoints and patrol cars. The statement also urged Islamic groups
around the world to help the Salafists.
In late January, the Algerian military captured a major weapons arsenal
of the Salafist along the southern border with Mali. Algerian security
sources said the stronghold contained 17 rockets, 200 semi-automatic assault
rifles, almost all of them the Soviet-origin AK-47.
The Salafists acknowledged to a shortage of weapons and vehicles in
January 2004. The statement said the group overcame the shortage through the
procurement of weapons by Salafist operatives in southern Algeria.
Earlier, an Algerian military statement said the Salafist weapons were
purchased with the ransom provided by Western Europe states for the release
of their nationals
held in 2003. The ransom was said to have been between $5 million and $10
The regime of President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika has rejected calls to lift
its 12-year-old state of emergency amid the insurgency offensive. The
political opposition and the United States said the state of emergency
should be lifted for the April 8 elections.
"The state of emergency has not reduced individual or political
liberties," Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Zerhouni said. "Its
principal role is to coordinate the different forces involved in fighting
terrorism. Those calling for the lifting of the state of emergency do so
either out of ignorance as to why it's needed, or they want to dismantle
security measures, or for purely electoral purposes."