In the period of between 1 and 7 June, there were 66 critical incidents in Algeria, resulting in four deaths, eight wounded, and 253 arrests. The arrests focused mostly on undocumented migrants, drug traffickers, Islamic insurgents and terrorism supporters.
¨ This week, human and social-related incidents accounted for 36.36% of the total incident pool, followed by criminality with 21.21% and security and defense with 19.7%.
¨ On the terror front, two terrorist attacks occurred this week. The first one took place in Larbaa, Blida province, where a gendarmerie post was attacked by armed insurgents, leaving four officers wounded. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which prompted the authorities to launch a vast counter-insurgency operation in the province.
¨ In Tebessa, three insurgents, whose affiliation remains unknown, placed a bomb in Negrine, near the Tunisian border, targeting an army convoy. Two soldiers were killed and four others were injured when the bomb went off. As a result, sweeping operations have spread in a dozen provinces.
¨ The co-founder of the dissolved Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), Ali Belhadj, has led a protest in Bachdjerrah, Algiers province, after the morning prayer to criticize the “government’s assault on civil rights”. Hundreds of mosque-goers followed Belhadj, and shouted FIS slogans that were reminiscent of the pre-civil war era, causing concern among the civil society and the authorities. FIS was a major player in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s, having been the political branch of the armed GIA group.
¨ Said Bouteflika, brother and main advisor of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was seen at a protest in central Algiers organized against the TV channel Ennahar TV. Said Bouteflika, who seemed to be showing support for the victim of a “hidden camera prank gone awry”, was jeered by the other protesters, who urged him to leave. The President’s brother is very rarely seen in public, and his presence at the protest raised many questions.
¨ Algeria offered to welcome the Syrian refugees stranded at a buffer zone located between the Algerian and Moroccan borders, but the Moroccan authorities refused to hand the refugees over. In an effort to prevent a diplomatic row, the Foreign Ministry in Algiers cancelled the arrangements, despite the efforts of the UNHCR to solve the issue.
¨ On the human rights front, three men who recently converted to Christianity were arrested in el-Bayadh for proselytism and are accused of “undermining Islam.” In Ain Defla, three other men were apprehended for eating in public during fasting hours.
The protest led by former FIS leader Ali Belhadj is expected to trigger a lot of concern among the population and the government as to the role of political Islam in Algeria. The FIS protest was fairly similar to those organized before the civil war, which led the country into chaos. Belhadj, who used to be under constant police surveillance, is now free and adamant about “defending civil rights” and criticizing the government. However, it is believed that the authorities, especially the intelligence services, will not tolerate other public displays of hostility. The neighborhood where the protest took place, Bachdjerrah, used to be a breeding ground for terrorism in the 1990s, which explains Belhadj’s popularity in the area. Should another protest occur, we expect to see the police intervene and arrest the former FIS co-founder.
Said Bouteflika’s participation in the anti-Ennahar TV protest was seen as a strategy to voice the opinion of the Bouteflika family, after years of silence. The president being sick and unable to move, Said, who is rarely seen in public, is believed to have mixed with the crowd to prove that there is still someone in charge at the Presidency. Nevertheless, this effort is not expected to bear fruit, as Said Bouteflika popularity is extremely low.
Fears that Ramadan would be a catalyst for terrorism have materialized. In less than a week, two attacks conducted in Blida and Tebessa have left two troops dead and six others wounded. While the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the first attack, it is still unknown who carried out the one in Tebessa. Both assaults were directed at members of the security forces, which indicates that civilians are not being targeted so far. However, expatriates should still avoid high-risk areas.
The emergency of a pro-Islamic State group in Blida has surprised observers. In fact, while IS supporters and recruiters were known to operate in the province, no pro-IS groups were known to be active in the area. Hence, it is believed that the group that attacked the gendarmerie checkpoint in Larbaa used to be loyal to al-Qaeda, and recently shifted its allegiance. Large-scale sweeping operations will continue in Blida, as well as Bouira, Tizi Ouzou, Boumerdes, Bejaia, Jijel, Skikda, Sidi Bel-Abbes, Constantine, Annaba, Tebessa and El Tarf.
In Tebessa, the security forces are actively looking for the militants who killed two soldiers in Negrine, near the Tunisian border. The Tunisian authorities are reportedly giving support to the Algerian military by conducting combing operations on their side of the border.
Economy & Social
The acute water shortages in a number of provinces will trigger a wave of protest in the next week, especially in Djelfa, Tebessa, Oran, Mila, Tiaret, Relizane, Setif, Bouira, Bordj Bou Arreridj and Tipasa. Local residents voiced their powerlessness in the face of this situation, especially during Ramadan. A heat wave is expected to hit the said provinces in the days to come, which will further exacerbate the crisis.
The education sector is likely to be paralyzed again due to protests by workers affiliated with autonomous unions during the Baccalaureate exams, which will start on 11 June.