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Correction: Algeria-Terror Turnaround story

Associated Press Modified: November 3, 2012 at 11:31 am •  Published: November 3, 2012

"The kidnappings were interpreted by the people of the Kabylie as an effort by the terrorists to bring the local economy, already suffering from unemployment, to its knees," said the security official.

Mahmoud Bellabes, the president of the regional council for the Kabylie, said that while most inhabitants still view the army and gendarmes with suspicion, there is a growing trust for police, who tend to be drawn from the local population.

"In recent weeks, the terrorists were caught thanks to information given by the citizens to police when they saw unknown people in the area, so there has been small coordination between the police and locals," he said.

Majid Hamiche of the local civilian defense forces confirmed that the latest successes against the militants were due to tipoffs from citizens, though he maintained that people are still reluctant to talk to security forces, after a long legacy of repression by a central government opposed to calls for Berber cultural and political autonomy.

"When you turn someone in, they then ask you lots of questions," he said.

Militants took up arms against the Algerian government after the generals in 1992 canceled a parliamentary election that an Islamist party was poised to win. In the ensuing fighting, an estimated 200,000 died.

Thanks to a combination of ruthless repression as well as amnesty offers, the army gradually pushed the militants, who declared allegiance to al-Qaida in 2006, into the mountains of the Kabylie region — where Algeria's revolutionaries once fought for independence against their French colonial masters in a bitter 1954-62 struggle.

A branch of the group headed south, however, and in the lawless desert regions on the borders of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger managed to reconstitute itself as a body taking part in smuggling routes and kidnapping foreigners. Far from the Algerian army, they have found success, while the founders of the group languish in their mountain hideout in northern Algeria.

Riccardo Fabiani, the North Africa analyst for the London-based Eurasia Group, cautioned against pronouncing the end of Al-Qaida in the Kabylie region too quickly, since the government keeps a tight lid on all information regarding the battle against the militants.

"There are no reliable statistics on terrorists in Algeria: no one knows anything about how many new recruits there are every year, how many people abandon terrorism within the framework of the national reconciliation program, how many people are actually killed," he cautioned.

Echoing the opinion of many people in the Kabylie, Fabiani also noted that to some extent it serves the government's interests to have a constant low-level threat in an area remote from the capital to remind people of the darker days of the civil war.

"Terrorism plays an important role in the Algerian political system," he noted. "This is not to say that the government manipulates terrorism — we don't know that — but for sure a certain level of fear is instrumental to the current political equilibrium."

And violence isn't eradicated yet. On Oct. 18, a group of armed men stopped a bus at a fake checkpoint in the Boumerdes region and checked each passenger's identity papers until they found two members of the military, whom they dragged out of the bus and shot dead by the side of the road before disappearing back into the bush.


Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco.