Security forces in southern Algeria have warned of possible new abductions targeting foreigners or government officials. This warning came immediately following the announcement of the killing of Algerian Vice-Consul Taher Touati in Gao in northern Mali.
Security forces are concerned that terrorist operations, such as the abductions of foreigners and administrative officials, could take place in the far southern provinces and be used as bargaining chips in Algeria. A security source has revealed that the Algerian security agencies and army received an official memo ordering the tightening of surveillance in southern cities and inspection measures on roads, especially in the provinces located in the far south. The memo also urged extreme caution during the movement of official convoys.
New security reports have estimated the presence of at least 146 dangerous terrorists of Algerian origin within the so-called Desert Brigades, which are affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). The Desert Brigades are the main force that helped the Islamist Ansar al-Din Movement lead military operations against the regular forces of the Malian army.
A few days ago, the security apparatus circulated a new security bulletin that included a list of the “most wanted” fugitives in 10 provinces in southern Algeria on suspicion of belonging to MUJAO or the Desert Brigade — also known as the Desert Emirate — which is affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The new list includes the names of 146 wanted persons in the southern provinces on suspicion of belonging to terrorist groups and participating in terrorist operations. The available data indicates that 80 out of the 146 wanted persons — who are all on the run — come from the southern provinces, and most have received sentences ranging from death to life imprisonment on terrorism charges. According to the bulletin, 40 persons who have been wanted since 2002 have been killed or arrested and thus were removed from the list.
According to our sources, most of these terrorists have engaged in secret military operations against the authorities since the 1990s, namely Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Abd-al-Hamid Abu-Zeid, Yahia Jawadi, Toumi al-Nasser and Ihari Abnouq from Tamanrasset, in addition to terrorists who recently joined armed groups like Bashnab Amin and Murad Goumri. Our sources say that the possibility of new terrorist attacks taking place in the south remains likely amid a new escalation by the Salafist-jihadist movements stationed in the Azawad region.
Our sources add that there are over 1,000 militants in northern Mali who are affiliated with Salafist jihadist groups. These militants are affiliated with a number of groups, the most prominent being al-Qaeda’s Desert Battalion, remnants of the Jundallah al-Murabitun group — recently detected in the Tawdni area — the “Masked Battalion,” MUJAO and elements from the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamist movement, who are believed to have participated in the fighting against the Malian army during the start of the insurgency in January 2012. The militants belong to several nationalities, in particular Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Niger and Nigeria. The Algerians, Moroccans and Mauritanians are the easiest for security apparatuses to detect, due to the availability of accurate information regarding their identities.
Terrorist groups in northern Mali are taking advantage of widespread poverty to recruit more militants. They are exploiting children under the age of 18 to fight in order to avoid losing veteran, experienced terrorists. The children are handed machine guns and mostly used for guarding and espionage.
According to security reports, there is unconfirmed information that a number of persons wanted by the Algerian security forces have been killed in operations in northern Mali and as a result of internal fighting. There is no official confirmation regarding the death of these persons, who include terrorists from al-Maniah in the Ghardaia province, Wadi Souf and Biskra. This prompted veteran militants to refrain from directly implementing new terrorist operations in order to avoid more losses of Algerian terrorists.