Algeria does not have a formal counterterrorism strategy; however, this country addresses the threat of terrorism and extremism through military and security strategies, legislative efforts, religious counter-narrative programs, and collaboration with regional and international partners.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Jund al-Khilafah in Algeria (JAK-A, Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria), the ISIS branch in Algeria, are the two major terrorist threats in Algeria. Since its creation in 2007, AQIM has carried out more than 600 attacks in Algeria, including bombings, ambushes, raids, and kidnappings, targeting the military, Algerian nationals, and foreigners. An offshoot of AQIM was also responsible for one of the major terrorist attacks in Algeria in 2013, when a gas plant was sieged and a total of 38 civilians were killed.
Military and Security Strategies
The military, law enforcement agencies, intelligence services and security services work on counterterrorism, counter-intelligence, investigations related to terrorism and extremism, border security, and crisis control. These include different branches of the Joint Staff, the army, 140,00 members of the National Gendarmerie, border guards, and 210,000 national police under the General Directorate of National Security. The Government of Algeria has worked through the Département du Renseignement er de la Sécurité (DRS) to infiltrate insurgency networks and dismantle terror groups with the Directorate General for National Security’s help. Algeria has also increased its military presence along its borders with Tunisia, Libya, Mali, a Mauritania, and Morocco, and has established more military observer posts. Increase security and protection has also been provided for energy facilities.
Algeria’s Penal Code allows the government to suppress activities it considers terrorism. In 1992, Algerian law defined terrorism as a synonym of subversive activities, which are regarded as “any offence targeting state security, territorial integrity or the stability or normal functioning of institutions… [by] spreading panic or creating a climate of insecurity… [and by] impeding the activities of public authorities.” In 1995, the Penal code was amended to prohibit the justification, encouragement, and financing or terrorist activities. On June 19, 2016, Algeria’s President Bouteflika signed a new law that adds articles to the Penal Code and expands liability in the areas of foreign terrorist fighters, terrorism support and financing, the use of information to support and recruit terrorists, and internet service providers’ storage and access to information in terrorism-related cases and investigations. This law was adopted in December 2016, and the government has stated that these penal reforms have reduced the use of pretrial detention in 2016, but overuse of pretrial detention continues being a problem.
Religious Counter-narrative Efforts
The state oversees religious education, including the training of imams to ensure they do not promote violence or intolerance through their teaching and preaching. The Algerian government also appoints and pays the salaries of imams. Anyone who teaches or preaches at a mosque without the government’s consent is subject to fines and prison sentences. The government also prohibits the use of mosques as public meeting spaces outside of regular prayer hours. Algeria follows the Sunni Maliki tradition of Islam, as it says it promotes the values of tolerance, brotherhood, and acceptance of others.
In October 2015, a national taskforce on cybercrime was established. It works with cybercrime units of the police and gendarmerie to prevent online recruitment. The government is also cooperating with the Ministries of Interior, Communications, Education, and Religious Affairs to control websites managed by extremists. The government also promotes radio and television programs where former terrorists who have repented dissuade people from joining violent extremist organizations. Violent Salafism is also countered through Radio Quran where mini lectures are aired to dissuade intolerant or violent discourse.
Collaboration with Regional and International Partners
Algeria is part of the African Union, where it has played a central role in various regional counterterrorism initiatives. Algeria is also a member of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. It is also a founding member of the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law, and has worked with the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime’s Terrorism Prevention branch to promote security cooperation in the region. Algeria has held international workshops on the role of democracy in countering terrorism and on how terrorist use the internet. The Algerian government also claims to have stopped many terrorist plots working with Tunisia on border security.
Is this strategy effective?
Algeria claims that as opposed to its neighbor Tunisia, which had anywhere between 6,000 and 7,000 foreign terrorist fighters fighting with ISIS, only 170 Algerians traveled to Syria and Iraq to be part of the terrorist group. However, since 2007, there have been more than 600 attacks carried out by AQIM alone in Algeria. This means that despite many efforts by the Algerian government to counter terrorism, terrorism is still a major threat in this country. Also, the government lacks a formal strategy that places all efforts under one umbrella. It also seems like although the government has tried to implement social programs to prevent terrorism and radicalization, these programs do not have an exclusive counter violent extremism/counterterrorism focus.