Group aligned with Al Qaida steps up attacks in Algeria

Monday, February 16, 2004

CAIRO Algeria's leading insurgency group has launched an offensive to disrupt national elections scheduled for April.

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 national.

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 months.

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 million.

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."

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