Experts: Algerian Terror Group's Tactics Carry Risk A suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into a line of Algerians waiting to apply to a police academy, killing more than 40 people in the most deadly terrorist attack in Algeria in about a decade. The attack appears to be the work of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, which has been carrying out attacks in Algeria recently on virtually a weekly basis.

Experts: Algerian Terror Group's Tactics Carry Risk

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Today in Algeria, there were more deadly bombings. As many as 12 people were killed. That's after a suicide bomber yesterday drove a car packed with explosives into a crowd of young people outside a police academy. More than 40 died. The bombings are thought to be the work of a radical Islamist group. It is one of the most active of the various al-Qaida offshoots.

But as NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, analysts say its violent tactics could backfire.

TOM GJELTEN: The group now calling itself al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, until two years ago, was a more obscure radical Islamist group, one of several in North Africa - that is to say the Maghreb. Since aligning with the broader al-Qaida Network, the group has become much more active. It's also been hitting more soft targets.

The suicide bomber yesterday drove his car into people lining up to join the police training program. Lianne Kennedy Boudali of the RAND Corporation says that would make it a military operation in the AQIM view.

Ms. LIANNE KENNEDY BOUDALI (Rand Corporation; Expert on North American Terrorism): They would not consider anyone who is applying for a job at the security services to be a civilian. They would consider them someone who is acceptable to target because they are working with the government that AQIM is seeking to overthrow.

GJELTEN: AQIM has also gone after foreign targets in Algeria. In December, the group took credit for an attack on a United Nations facility, and one of the bombings today reportedly targeted employees of a Canadian construction firm. But it's Algerians who are dying. The U.N. bombing last December was criticized even within radical Jihadi circles.

The attacks this week are the bloodiest in Algeria since the civil war there in the 1990s. Lianne Kennedy Boudali, an expert on North African terrorism, says the AQIM tactics carry a political risk.

Ms. BUDALI: Algeria experienced such horrific violence during the civil war that it's upsetting, I think, to Algerians to see this kind of action and also disturbing to some within the Jihadist community to feel it's essentially undermining their cause by giving the movement a bad name.

GJELTEN: So what's gained by these attacks? Maybe they will deter Algerians from signing up for police duty. Just as importantly, they are a demonstration of strength. Until fairly recently, the Algerian government had been credited with gaining ground in its long-running battle with Islamist insurgents.

Reid Sawyer, director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, says AQIM leaders recognize their violent attacks may cause them some political support.

Major RED SAWYER (Executive Director, Combating Terrorism Center; West Point): But to remain relevant, to remain a terrorist group and not an (unintelligible) political movement, they need to be seen in conducting these types of attacks to continue to attract dollars and interest in their cause.

GJELTEN: A senior U.S. intelligence official says the AQIM leadership has been somewhat more careful in its targeting than the group known as al-Qaida in Iraq. That group suffered political setbacks among Iraqis after repeatedly going after civilians. But as for AQIM, the intelligence official says, quote, "their stock is up."

Some European governments have worried that a new al-Qaida operation in Algeria, a former French colony, would lead to more terrorist attacks in Europe that has not happened, not yet anyway. But Reid Sawyer of West Point's Combating Terrorism Center says AQIM does seem to be developing a supply network in Europe in support of operations back home. He cites a raid in France last December.

Maj. SAWYER: The police took down a cell that had computers, electronics, night vision goggles, approximately $30,000 in cash. And they believe that they were sending this equipment back to Algeria. So, there certainly is a risk to Europe and especially a risk to France. But right now, the importance of Europe to AQIM is this logistical network and what it is serving for the group.

GJELTEN: Terrorist groups constantly face strategic challenges. Intelligence officials say AQIM has to weigh the benefits that more terrorist attacks may bring in terms of attention and resources against what these attacks cost the group politically among the Algerian people.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.