Correction: Algeria-Terror Turnaround story

Associated Press Modified: November 3, 2012 at 11:31 am •  Published: November 3, 2012
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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — In a story Nov. 2 about Algeria's battle against al-Qaida fighters in the Kabylie region, The Associated Press incorrectly spelled the last name of an analyst for the Eurasia Group. His name is Riccardo Fabiani, not Fabbiani.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Algeria wins Berber help to root out al-Qaida

Algeria wins over long hostile Berbers to root out al-Qaida in last mountain refuge

By AOMAR OUALI and PAUL SCHEMM

Associated Press

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Weary from years of kidnappings, the inhabitants of Algeria's rugged Kabylie mountains are finally turning against the al-Qaida fighters in their midst and helping security forces hunt them down. And that turnaround is giving Algeria its best chance yet to drive the terror network from its last Algerian stronghold.

While defeated in much of the rest of the country, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb remains active in the Kabylie, partly because the Berbers there, the region's original inhabitants before the arrival of the Arabs, have long been deeply hostile to the central government and refused to provide information on militant whereabouts or activity.

The situation began changing after a string of militant attacks over the summer, culminating in a brazen daylight assault against the police station, prompted Algeria to hold an emergency security meeting to devise a new strategy to take on the militants, said a high-ranking official privy to the meeting. A pillar of the counter-terror blueprint: exploiting frustrations over kidnappings to win the Berbers over to the government side, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The strategy appears to have worked in spectacular fashion.

It first bore fruit with the capture early last month of a military commander. Then came the biggest coup: the Oct. 14 slaying of Bekkai Boualem, also known as Khaled El Mig, the head of external relations for AQIM. In the next two weeks, four other suspected militants were ambushed and killed by security forces following tipoffs from the local population.

The successes have some Algerians hoping that the country may finally quash a decades-old Islamist insurgency.

While world powers prepare for a possible military intervention against al-Qaida and its Tuareg allies far to the south in Mali, the militant group's leaders in northern Algeria are confined to rugged mountains that are turning into their prison.

In July, The Associated Press reported how the once feared AQIM, which grew out of an Islamist uprising in the 1990s, has recently been unable to do much more than launch pinprick operations against military checkpoints around its mountain fastness — a far cry from when it terrorized citizens of the capital with car bombs and laid villages to waste.

Now, renewed efforts by security in cooperation with locals may even drive them out of this final mountain hideout.

Local cooperation is key. One of the reasons Al-Qaida was able to find sanctuary in the mountainous Kabylie region was because the Berber population have long been at odds with the government. While they never shared the radical Islamist ideology of al-Qaida, they were deeply suspicious of the army and gendarmes, or national police, which they saw as oppressive representatives of a hated central government.

What may have finally tipped the balance for the local population in recent months was the steady campaign of kidnappings in the region against prominent businessmen, believed carried out by the militants to fund their operations. Local officials say in the past year more than 70 businessmen were targeted — resulting in businesses fleeing the region. Experts estimate that AQIM across the region has earned tens of millions of dollars in recent years from ransoms.



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