Algeria, which is one of the few countries in the world to pay a high price for terrorism, is taking its initiative to criminalize the payment of ransoms beyond its borders.
This resolution is in response to the need to cut off the sources of financing for the different terrorist groups that foment trouble and terror in the four corners of the world. More than 200,000 people have lost their lives in this North African country since the terrorism here started in 1992. In Africa, this devastating phenomenon is taking hold more and more, especially in the sub-region of the Sahel where it has a solid base. Local populations, at least for many of them, easily give in to the narrowing socioeconomic noose. This is how they are recruited, in exchange for financial compensation, by armed Islamist groups who make them their main base.
Algeria is next-door neighbors with all of this and the local authorities are keeping their eye on the tiniest grain (of sand). It shares several thousands of kilometers with this geographic space run by those loyal to al-Qaeda. It is preoccupied with the ever-narrower connection between terrorism and organized and transnational crime. This translated recently into the desire of international authorities to adopt the Algerian approach that makes this North African nation rise in the ranks of international politics.
Within this context, the advisor to the president of the republic, Kamel Rezzag Bara, was ecstatic this week on the airwaves Algerian radio Channel III about the desire of the UN Security Council to fight against the payment of ransoms in hostage situations. He sees in this a victory that reinforces the steps that had already been taken since Algeria launched its initiative to criminalize the payment of ransoms to terrorist groups four years ago.
For the presidential adviser, paying ransoms symbolizes paving the way “for more and more hostages to be taken and facilitating the financing of terrorists.” No less than 150 million euros (around $192.4 million) have been paid since 2003. The kidnapping operation of European tourists in 2003 orchestrated by Abderaka Al Para (Amari Saifii) was the most spectacular. German, Austrian, Swedish, Swiss and Dutch tourists were kidnapped in the Sahara, followed by talks of a ransom in exchange for their release in the summer of the same year.
The Algerian authorities who want to clamp down on the prohibition of paying ransoms are wearing themselves out trying to convince the international community of the need to coordinate efforts to reduce the space in which [these groups] can operate. Bara, for whom “terrorism continues to be a constant source of trouble,” especially in Africa, feels that jihad in the dangerous doctrinal depths “is in the process of making way for other forms of terrorism, especially drug terrorism.”
“We think that delegitimizing terrorism should be one of the main actions [taken] by the international community,” he said. From this perspective certain countries have paid colossal amounts of money to free their citizens from the hands of their abductors. Even some head terrorists have admitted that which is no longer a secret. The Algerian government does not intend to ease up one iota in its radical position toward terrorism and its different support networks. Additionally, during the enormous hostage-taking that transpired on Jan. 16-19, 2013, by the “Signatories in Blood,” a dissident militant group from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) based at the British oil company and the national Algerian hydrocarbon company, SONATRACH in In Amenas in the Sahara, Algerian security services were quick to intervene. They did not lose any time to prevent the terrorists from carrying out their crime and escaping with hostages to negotiate ransoms in the millions of euros.
Certain foreign governments were not happy with this quick intervention as it privileged beforehand the principle of a negotiated solution. This means the payment of money for their release, an approach that is categorically rejected by the authorities of the country. During this episode, Bara recognized “diverging opinions on the subject because some countries prioritize protecting the lives of hostages, driven most likely by intense pressure by their respective publics. They do not want to be constrained.” Algeria, which wishes to place constraints on the prohibition of paying ransoms to terrorist groups continues its diplomatic battle. This makes it the main target of armed groups who are waiting for their guard to go down ever so slightly in order to strike.
Kaci Racelma is an Algerian journalist with Inter Press Service news agency and Afrik.com, an online magazine. He is based in Algiers and covers the North African region.