Algeria: Batna Citizens Help Algerian Army Thwart Terrorist Operation
Algiers — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Tuesday (September 3rd) asked the army to step up efforts to secure the border, four days after authorities thwarted an attempt by a terror cell to infiltrate a district in Batna.
Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah briefed the president Tuesday on prevailing conditions in the country and along the border.
That came after Algerian security forces on Friday killed one terrorist and arrested two more during an operation in Batna. Another terrorist turned himself in after the intervention forces besieged him at a building where he took a family hostage. A fourth terrorist reportedly escaped.
When the militant took the family hostage, armed services cordoned off the area, deployed snipers on rooftops and avoided a direct confrontation with him for fear of the family members’ lives. The terrorist tried to escape before he was surrounded by security forces, prompting him to turn himself in without resistance amid applause by curious citizens who gathered at the scene and expressed their relief over the operation.
The Aurès Mountains in the province are a stronghold for terrorist groups. The province has witnessed several terrorist operations, including an assassination attempt against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika six years ago. A terrorist group active in the region also carried out an operation in 2003 in which more than 45 soldiers were killed.
The new attack was part of al-Qaeda’s attempts to disrupt the security cordon imposed on the border and its main strongholds. Since Ramadan, the province has seen an escalation of movements by terrorist groups who set up fake security checkpoints on some paths and intimidated citizens.
Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said that the Batna operation was “an isolated act” carried out by a terrorist group. On the side-lines of the inauguration of the autumn session of the parliament, Ould Kablia said that the security agencies managed to thwart a terrorist group’s plan to attack the province. He noted that the operation took place based on information provided by citizens from Batna.
Meanwhile, Ould Kablia denied any relation between the terrorists’ attempt to infiltrate Batna province, located in eastern Algeria, and the security events along the Tunisian-Algerian border.
“The Batna operation carries a lot of indications,” military expert Taher Ben Thamer commented. “The first indication is about al-Qaeda’s attempt to move its operations from the mountains to urban areas and cities for several factors, including ease of finding accessible targets, especially security personnel, and also the possibility of hiding among citizens.”
He added, “Some terrorists rented and bought real estate in major cities taking advantage of ransom money and money obtained by extorting citizens. They can use these houses to hide and plan terrorist operations inside cities.”
The military expert said the terrorists’ move from the mountains to the cities was in part due to the success of security forces in the groups’ traditional strongholds.
“Many of the areas where the terrorists are based, whether in desert or Kabylie, are under siege by security forces and it’s impossible for the terrorists to move freely,” Ben Thamer said.
Algeria’s el-Bilad daily reported that security agencies found a message with one of the terrorists purportedly sent by al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) chief Abdalmalek Droukdel, (alias Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud) to emirs. The message reportedly ordered brigade chiefs to step up terrorist operations within urban areas and to focus on recruiting new young members for the armed groups.
Directly after the operation, the security agencies beefed up security measures in some provinces by increasing checkpoints and security barriers, imposing strict controls and launching large-scale combing operations in the mountains.