Al-Qaida Claims Deadly Bombings in Algeria Suicide bombings Wednesday in Algeria left at least 33 people dead. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for what were the first known suicide bombings in the North African country. The attacks came on the heels of a foiled suicide attack in nearby Morocco.

Al-Qaida Claims Deadly Bombings in Algeria

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for devastating suicide bombings in the Algerian capital on Wednesday. Those strikes on the government palace and the police base killed at least 33 people and wounded hundreds. They were the first known suicide attacks in the country, and are seen as a signal that al-Qaida's influence is deepening in North Africa.

And look at what's been going on with Algeria's neighbors. The day before those attacks in Algiers, four suspected terrorists were killed during a police raid in Morocco. Authorities say they uncovered plans to blow up landmarks and foreign ships.

And earlier this year in Tunisia, at least 14 people were killed when security forces battled Islamic extremists. So is there a pattern? And what does it show?

Those are questions for John Entelis. He directs the Middle East studies program at Fordham University in New York. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. JOHN ENTELIS (Fordham University): Thank you.

BLOCK: And when you look at these attacks in North Africa, do you see a pattern, an escalation?

Mr. ENTELIS: I think so. There's no doubt about it. It's come on slowly but it's too obvious to ignore at this point, given the timing and the kinds of actions that are being undertaken. These are actions that were not typical of what in Algeria, for example, had been taking place during the civil war that began in 1992 and has continued even until today, though at a much lower level of killing.

BLOCK: Now the group in Algeria that claimed responsibility, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb - Maghreb meaning North Africa - is a new name for a group that existed before and it reflects some kind of new partnership. What do you know about that?

Mr. ENTELIS: Well, the previous organization known by the its French acronym, GSPC, which is the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, was an offshoot of another militant organization that had emerged in the 1990s. In the past it was assumed that organizations like the GSPC were essentially local Algeria-based, focusing their attention against the government in power. With this new linkage, it's clear that they're trying to - both for PR purposes, it seems to me, give themselves greater legitimacy than in fact they may have, but also to gain the kinds of resources that they also may lack - in coordinating, in funding their efforts.

So I think it's a mutually beneficial coordination of efforts on the part of declared terrorist movements who are unwilling to accept anything short of establishing a caliphate in this part of the world.

BLOCK: Could it be something as basic as would-be terrorists from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, wherever, would be going to al-Qaida training camps somewhere else?

Mr. ENTELIS: It could be, though camps are established in the Sahara. So I think it's more to use the area as another venue for training. Though it includes individuals from what we know who have been involved in activities in Afghanistan and Iraq, who have come back and then served as instructors for people in the Sahara.

BLOCK: Do these groups in North Africa have popular support?

Mr. ENTELIS: Well, not per se. But the ability of such movements to act as boldly as they have been acting is predicated on a great deal of support for an Islamist orientation within society, not necessarily one that involves such terrorist activities. So there's not direct support, but I think there's indirect support to the extent that people feel discontent and dissatisfied with the kind of governments that they have.

BLOCK: And how do those governments respond to these groups?

Mr. ENTELIS: The policy has been essentially fairly hard-line - imprison as many people as you can catch, make no distinction between non-violent and violent Islamists, reinforce the security apparatus, enhance the militarization of this effort. And I think this ultimately backfires against the government because while people are quite upset when these acts take place, in the intermediate and long term, they go back to the situation that they find themselves in, which is one of deprivation and marginalization, and with very little changing.

So I think the government's actions tend to be counterproductive.

BLOCK: John Entelis, thanks very much.

Mr. ENTELIS: Thank you.

BLOCK: John Entelis directs the Middle East studies program at Fordham University in New York.

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