Algeria, North Africa
Political Leader: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Beginning in April 2007, several high profile attacks were staged throughout Algeria, including the December 11 near-simultaneous bombing of the Constitutional Council and the U.N. headquarters in Algiers. This attack against a Western hard target underlined the substantial shift in strategy by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who claimed responsibility for the attack and touted it as a major success.
Previously, AQIM’s predecessor, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (SGPC), had preferred to target Algerian government interests, and had been more averse to suicide attacks and civilian casualties. Although Algerian government interests remained the primary focus of AQIM, this attack confirmed that foreigners were included as targets.
Two events helped fuel terrorism concerns in Algeria: the September 2006 merger of elements of the SGPC with AQ to form AQIM, and the conclusion of the amnesty period for Algeria's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation in August 2006.
Algerian security services expressed a concern about AQIM using propaganda based on the call to fight in Iraq as a hook to recruit young people, many of whom never made it to Iraq but were redirected towards joining local groups. In previous years, the AQIM propaganda videos originating in Algeria were of amateur quality and poorly produced.
This has changed dramatically. It was evident that AQIM has placed a greater emphasis on improving the quality of the videos, and that these videos and communiqués were orchestrated to attract Algerian youth to the AQIM “cause.” Several videos posted on the Internet, such as the series “Shadows of the Sword” and “Apostate Hell,” showed operations conducted against Algerian military and security targets that included preparations for the attacks and pre-briefings with the commanders that led the attacks.
It was estimated that the Algerian security services killed and arrested upwards of 1,100 terrorists, compared to the estimated combined killed and arrested figure of about 650 for 2006. The counterterrorism successes of the Algerian services, combined with the public's continued rejection of terrorists, have possibly influenced AQIM’s shift in tactics to the use of suicide bombers.
Despite the upsurge of AQIM activity toward the end of the year, overall, the government had greatly improved security from the situation of the late 1990s. The Algerian security services and military remained capable of handling a prolonged effort against internal terrorist threats and were a reliable counterterrorism partner.
Challenges for Christians:
Conversions from Islam to other religions are rare. Shari'a, as interpreted in the country, does not recognize conversion from Islam to any other religion. However, conversion is not illegal under civil law. Due to safety concerns and potential legal and social problems, Muslim converts practice their new faith clandestinely. Christians report that conversions to Christianity take place.
Meanwhile, Algeria recently began a crackdown on Christian missionary activity and conversions from Islam to Christianity. In the last year, courts have sentenced Tiaret resident Rachid Muhammad Essaghir three times—once for blasphemy and twice for evangelism, Compass Direct News reported. The convert from Islam is appealing his cases. No Christian has yet served jail time on religious charges.
The restrictions to religious freedom have coincided with a barrage of antagonistic articles in Arabic newspapers, enflaming tensions between Christians and Muslims. “This is the most pressure Christians have faced in Algeria,” said Farid Bouchama, an Algerian Christian broadcaster living in France. “Before it was discrimination from families or jobs, but this is the first organized pressure from the state.”
Government officials assert that they are simply guarding against religious extremism and that Christians are under the same restrictions that govern Muslim worship. But officials have also made public remarks equating Christian evangelism with terrorism and supporting the popular perception—fueled by the Arabic press—that Algeria's Islamic identity is under threat.
Sources: 24-7 Prayer, Operation World, Wikipedia, Country Reports on Terrorism 2007, International Religious Freedom Report 2007, Open Doors
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