Abul Fadl al-Esnawi
Algeria had to upgrade the counterterrorism strategies it pursued since the 1993 civil war, especially after the changes the 2011 events caused in the structure of ruling regimes in the North and West African regions.
Algeria had to reformulate its intelligence agency to create more channels of communication and cooperation with internal security agencies as well as the intelligence agencies of other states. All this aimed to make the national security establishment more capable of dealing with the amount of terrorism information it received since the emergence of the terrorist Daesh organization (also ISIS and ISIL).
Unrest in neighboring Libya, the porous nature of borders with other states, including Mali and Niger, and some of the countries of the Sahel and Sahara turning into passageways to organized crime gangs also effected change in the way the Algerian security establishment operated.
Algerian authorities had to involve the intelligence agency more in counterterrorism operations. They also redeployed the army in the light of changes in security strategies. The Algerian government revised its counterterrorism policies that were implemented in cooperation with other friendly states.
This paper aims to throw light on Algeria’s counterterrorism intelligence strategy in effect since 2011. Algeria’s strategy in this regard is viewed by a number of Western countries as a model that needs to be emulated by other countries. Algeria is also located in close proximity to a number of volatile areas, including Libya. The ability of Algerian intelligence agencies to prevent rampant terrorism in neighboring states from seeping out of them and into Algerian cities is also worthy of study.
The question this study will raise is about the limits of the role the Algerian intelligence agency plays in the fight against terrorism. It will also raise the following questions: Did the changes Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika introduce to the Algerian intelligence agency in 2016 bear any fruit? Has counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation between Algeria and other Arab and Western states succeeded in keeping terrorism away from Algeria?
Level of work and limits of coordination
Algeria’s counterterrorism strategy is based on a multifaceted intelligence and security cooperation. There are two layers for anti-terrorism action, namely work done by the Algerian security establishment, mainly done by the army and police, and work done at the regional level through the exchange of information with neighbors, Tunisia; Libya; Mali, and Niger.
On Libya, Algeria cooperates with Egypt, Tunisia and the Libyan government (1).
Algeria also has counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation with Europe and the US. There is Algerian-American dialogue on security and counterterrorism. There is also Algerian-European dialogue on the same issues.
By introducing changes to the structure of the Algerian intelligence agency, Bouteflika, observers say, aimed to increase its activity in cracking down on terrorist groups posing danger to Algeria’s security. These groups include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Mourabitoun, Jund al-Khilafa or Caliphate Soldiers, Oqba Ibn Nafie Brigade, Daesh and those returning from Syria and Iraq (2).
The Algerian intelligence agency was divided into three sections, namely the Home Security Directorate, General Directorate for Documentation and External Security, and the General Directorate for Technical Investigation. The three divisions, which work under the umbrella of the Algerian Intelligence Agency, have a direct contact with the office of the Algerian president (3).
Cooperation between the intelligence agency, on one hand, and police and the army, on the other, proved effective in securing Algeria’s borders. Security agencies have succeeded in killing a large number of terrorists since the beginning of 2016. They also seized huge amounts of arms, ammunitions and explosives that were used by terrorist groups (4). The Algerian government supplied security forces with modern tracking equipment. It also created a new counterterrorism force within the army.
The Algerian security establishment succeeded in infiltrating al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (5). This infiltration resulted in the partial collapse of the organization. Abdurrahman Ould Mohamed al-Hussein, a member of al-Qaeda’s Consultative Council, known as Yunis al-Muritani, conceded that the Algerian intelligence was the toughest challenge faced by his organization since it was founded (6).
Algeria’s security agencies also monitored social media sites and the accounts of suspected terrorists. They also followed the activities of secret recruitment networks to prevent foreigners from entering Algeria or using its border to move on to other countries (7).
To make this work easy, the Algerian government enacted article no. 13 of law no. 4009 on communication technology crimes. In October 2015, a decree was issued for the creation of a national anti-electronic crime agency. The agency aims to crack down on electronic and terrorist crimes and cooperate with other state agencies in this regard (8).
Regional tier (intelligence cooperation)
The Algerian intelligence pursues different, yet integrated, regional strategies in its fight against terrorism. It considers Tunisia a cornerstone of its anti-terrorism strategy in the Arab Maghreb. Algiers and Tunis cooperate at the intelligence level in the fight against terrorism. Algeria also exchanges intelligence information with countries in the Sahel region. This is particularly true after Algeria decided to support the nomadic Arab Bedouin militias that live in northern Mali and integrate them into the African force that was formed in this area in 2011 (9). Algeria, according to media reports, also cooperates with Egypt and Tunisia in the fight against terrorism in North Africa, especially against Daesh (10).
A unified counterterrorism strategy in the Arab Maghreb was formulated in April 2013. The strategy aims to expand cooperation with the countries of the region in the fight against terrorism through the exchange of information. Cooperation in this regard aims to cut off funding to terrorist organizations. Former Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra his country moved ahead with intelligence and security cooperation with the countries of the Arab Maghreb because it believed in the importance of this cooperation (11).
Former Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal signed a security information agreement with Tunisia in 2014. The agreement aimed to intensify cooperation between Algeria and Tunisia in the fight against terrorism in the Jebel ech Chambi region on the border between the two states. This followed the killing of 14 Tunisia army troops in the area (12).
According to Tunisia newspaper in June 2015, Algeria had sent a report to Tunis in which it referred to a plan by Daesh to hijack planes at Tunisian airports. The Tunisian daily Assabah said the plan would be implemented by Daesh elements active in Libya. The newspaper also said that concerned Tunisian agencies had received a copy of the Algerian report (13).
Tunisia benefited a lot from the Algerian operation in the Ferkioua mountains area in the northern province of Bouira in 2015. Fifteen terrorists active in the border area between Algeria and Tunisia were killed in the operation (14). There is also Algeria-Tunisia-Egyptian security coordination to monitor the movement of Daesh elements from Iraq and Syria to Libya (15). There is intelligence cooperation between Algeria, on one hand, and the Sahel countries, on the other. The Algerian army founded an operations room to coordination operations and exchange intelligence with intelligence agencies in the Sahel states. The room was founded after a series of terrorist attacks took place in Mali in 2014 (16).
At the international level, the Algerian intelligence exchanges information and expertise within strategic dialogues with the intelligence agencies of Western states. The Algerian intelligence agency was party to the Algerian-American Strategic Dialogue and the Algeria-European Union Strategic Dialogue. The intelligence agency was also party to the Algerian-French Dialogue.
Algeria cooperates at the intelligence level with a number of European countries, such as France, the Netherlands and Belgium. It coordinates with these countries in fending off the Daesh threat and fighting its elements and cells.
Algerian intelligence shared important information with the intelligence agencies of Western states, which helped these agencies track down terrorist elements in their countries. In 2015, the Algerian intelligence agency submitted to these agencies a list of the names of 180 jihadists involved in the recruitment of youths for the same of Daesh in European states, such as France; Belgium; the Netherlands, and Germany (17).
Algeria also cooperates with the United States, France and the UK in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel and North Africa regions, through the exchange of information and training.
Western intelligence agencies are keep to expand their cooperation with the Algerian intelligence agency thanks to the central role played by this agency in preventing the terrorist threat from crossing the Atlantic into Europe from West Africa. This is one reason why Algeria’s borders with Libya, Mali and Tunisia were an important issue in the Algerian-American Strategic Dialogue in the period between 2012 and 2018 (18).
Interaction between defense and intelligence strategies
The Algerian army took a series of measures together with the information the Algerian intelligence agency collected about terrorist groups. The army took a series of security measures as soon as the Libyan uprising erupted in 2011 and the new wave of terrorist groups emerged in 2014. These measures included the intensification of presence on the border with Libya; Tunisia; Mali and Niger (21).
Coordination between the intelligence agency and the army change the way the army is deployed on the border with neighboring states. This coordination also effected a change of defense and counterterrorism policies.
Full coordination between intelligence and operations
The 2016 reformulation of the Algerian intelligence agency opened the door for full coordination between the intelligence agency and the army command when it came to counterterrorism operations. This strengthened security on Algeria’s borders with other countries. The security establishment also succeeded in staging a number of preventive operations that sabotaged terrorist attacks.
The command of the Algerian army said in January 2016 that the restructure of the intelligence agency had led to “full coherence” between the army and the agency.
This coherence, it added, reflected positively on the fight against terrorism and organized crime. In 2016, the office of the Algerian army’s chief of staff said the security establishment had made unprecedented successes in the fight against terrorism, smuggling, the arms trade, drug trafficking and organized crime in 2015 (24).
Statements in this regard reflect satisfaction inside the military establishment with Bouteflika’s restructure of the intelligence agency.
Algeria believed that the success of its counterterrorism strategy must also include the redeployment of its army on its borders with other countries. The Algerian leadership intensified border control, reacting to the activities of terrorist groups in Libya and in the Sahel and Sahara states (27).
Daesh threatened to stage a war of attrition against the Algerian army. It accused the Algerian ruling elite of being “unbelievers” (28). This was behind decisions by the Algerian leadership to beef up security on the borders and intensify the collection of information about Daesh elements’ concentration points (29).
Information collected by the Algerian intelligence goes to the Central Operations Room of the Algerian army where it contributes to the formulation of counterterrorism policies and plans (30).
The redeployment of the Algerian army along Algeria’s borders with other countries started five years ago. In July 2015, the Algerian Ministry of Defense introduced two new divisions, including one in the southern part of the country and another in the eastern part of Algeria. The creation of these divisions came in response to threats coming from Libya and Tunisia.
The two new divisions work to prevent the infiltration of terrorist elements into Algeria, at a time Algerian police was busy bringing law and order back to the Ghardaia Province (32).
The Algerian daily El Khabar said in July 2015 that the command of the Algerian army had decided to deploy more than 50,000 troops on the border with Libya, after a militant group linked to Daesh had controlled the northern Libyan city of Sirte.
In the period between 2011 and 2017, the Algerian army created dozens of military posts on Algeria’s shared borders with other countries. It also established fortifications on the border with Libya. All these measures aimed to prevent the infiltration of terrorists from neighboring countries into Algeria (35).
Security policies and challenges
Preventive counterterrorism operations
Algerian security agencies executed several preventive operations against Daesh and other terrorist groups inside Algeria. In 2016, these agencies arrested 160 people who tried to promote the Daesh ideology inside Algeria. They intercepted around 30 terrorist cells by monitoring internet sites linked to Daesh (38).
The Algerian police and intelligence also succeeded in disbanding five networks that were active in a number of Algerian provinces. These networks recruited Algerian youth for the sake of Daesh (39). Security agencies also cooperated with the families of terrorists to convince them to turn themselves over to the authorities (40). The Algerian intelligence issued a list of 224 Algerian nationals who had joined Daesh and Nusra Front in Syria and Iraq (41).
In 2018, Algerian security managed to disband a network that was made up of 11 terrorists in the northern city of Tlemcen. This network had strong links to Daesh. It collected money and recruited youths for the sake of the terrorist organization (42).
Direct counterterrorism operations in the past three years achieved astounding results, which reflects the success of the Algerian counterterrorism strategy. In 2014, the Algerian army succeeded in liquidating 73 terrorists and destroying 248 hideouts. It also destroyed 205 4×4 vehicles, 120 trucks and 70 motorcycles (44).
In 2015 and 2016, Algerian security managed to kill 570 terrorists, including the leaders of terrorist groups. It also seized huge amounts of arms and ammunitions near the northern province of Bouira (45).
In 2017, police and army troops killed more than 90 terrorists in cooperation with the intelligence agency. They also seized 272 firearms, 23,542 bullets, 242 4×4 cars, 242 grenades, 121 landmines and 12 primitive guns.
Despite the success of the new Algerian counterterrorism strategy, this strategy faces a number of challenges. These challenges are caused by the width of the operations theatre in Algeria. As a challenge, this means that the eradication of terrorism may take some time in Algeria. It also can put pressure on the Algerian budget. This is true after the rise of Algeria’s defense budget to more than $10 billion in the 2019/2020 budget (48).
The Algerian government needs to build a defense intelligence network in cooperation with other countries to prevent such backlashes. European states and the United States can contribute funds for the creation of this network. These countries have an interest in preventing terrorism from crossing the Atlantic. Algeria can also charge other countries for preventing terrorists from moving into them.
1 – Abdel Nour bin Antar: “Algeria’s Military Doctrine” (http://cutt.us/iIzUk)
2 – Ahmed Aziz: “Terrorism and Reformulation” (http://cutt.us/mRnE3)
3 – Previous reference
4 – Ahmed Herzallah: “Algeria eradicates last Daesh cell” (http://cutt.us/U59pg)
5 – Mohamed bin Ahmed: “Special combat troops to fight terrorist groups” (http://cutt.us/ih3re)
6 – Tuniscope: “Five Algerian recruitment networks busted” (http://cutt.us/pVQui)
7 – Antara Ibn Marzouk and Mohamed al-Car: “Electronic dimension in Algeria’s security policy”
8 – Boudin Zakaria: “Effect of terrorist threats in northern Mali on security in Algeria”
9 – Sabq newspaper: “Algerian intelligence coordinates with Algeria and Tunisia to fight Daesh Libya” (https://sabq.org/yxfgde)
10 – Basta Samira: “Algerian counterterrorism strategy 1999 – 2014”
11- Osman Lahyani: “Algeria-Tunisian security pact against terrorism” (http://cutt.us/iTrgL)
12 – Tunis Gazette: “Algerian intelligence sends report to Tunisia on plans by Daesh to hijack planes” (https://tunigazette.com/45688/%D8%A2%D8%AE%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%B3%D9%84-%D8%AA%D9%82%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7-%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%88%D9%86/)
14 – El Khabar: “Algeria sends message to the outside world” (https://www.elkhabar.com/press/article/80731/)
15 – Sabaq newspaper: Algerian intelligence coordinates with Algeria and Tunisia to fight Daesh Libya” (https://sabq.org/yxfgde)
16 – Previous reference
17 – Murad Mohamed: “Algeria rescues France’s security” (https://www.elkhabar.com/press/article/80280/)
18 – Previous reference
19 – Ahmed Aziz: “What does Washington want from Algeria” (https://www.aa.com.tr/ar/%D8%A3%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A9/%D9%81%D9%8A-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%AD%D9%84-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AD%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B0%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B4%D9%86%D8%B7%D9%86-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%84/1090506)
20 – Algerian radio: ” Lamamra: US-Algerian Strategic Dialogue produces positive and promising results” (http://www.radioalgerie.dz/news/ar/article/20150409/36433.html)
21 – El Khabar newspaper: “Algeria takes preventive measures” (https://www.elkhabar.com/press/article/100878/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%B0-%D8%A5%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%88%D8%AA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9/)
22 – Khaleejonline: “Bouteflika dissolves Algerian intelligence agency” (http://alkhaleejonline.net/%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/%D8%B1%D8%B3%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%8B-%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%AA%D9%81%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%82%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%82%D8%B9-%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AD%D9%84-%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D9%8A)
23 – Algeria 24 newspaper: “Chief of Staff’s Office: Changes inside intelligence agency reflect positively on war against terrorism” (http://aljazair24.com/national/26588.html)
24 – Erem News: “Algerian army defends coherence of its troops after intelligence agency’s departure” (https://www.eremnews.com/news/arab-world/418034)
25 – Previous reference
26 – Mohamed bin Ahmed: “Intelligence information behind busting half of drug trafficking gangs” (https://www.elkhabar.com/press/article/98606/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D9%86%D8%B5%D9%81-%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AD%D8%AC%D8%B2-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA/#sthash.zzw8d6sX.dpuf)
27 – Bahaaeddine: “Algerian army sends reinforcement to border with Libya” (https://www.djazairess.com/elbilad/232076)
28 – El Khabar channel: “Daesh threatens Algeria” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuWHBQSwESQ)
29 – Previous reference
30 – Mohamed bin Ahmed: “Algeria’s borders turn into military areas” (http://cutt.us/x2lvq)
31 – Previous reference
32 – Murad Hamed: “New redeployment plan in fourth and seventh zones” (http://cutt.us/Pa0io)
33 – Previous reference
34 – Mohamed Chirack: “Special combat troops to take anti-terrorism fight unto their own hands” (http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:qn2A6fa1TSYJ:https://arabi21.com/story/885347/%25D8%25A5%25D8%25B3%25D9%2586%25D8%25A7%25D8%25AF-%25D9%2585%25D9%2587%25D9%2585%25D8%25A9-%25D9%2585%25D9%2583%25D8%25A7%25D9%2581%25D8%25AD%25D8%25A9-%25D8%25A7%25D9%2584%25D8%25A5%25D8%25B1%25D9%2587%25D8%25A7%25D8%25A8-%25D9%2581%25D9%258A-%25D8%25A7%25D9%2584%25D8%25AC%25D8%25B2%25D8%25A7%25D8%25A6%25D8%25B1-%25D8%25A5%25D9%2584%25D9%2589-%25D8%25A7%25D9%2584%25D9%2582%25D9%2588%25D8%25A7%25D8%25AA-%25D8%25A7%25D9%2584%25D8%25AE%25D8%25A7%25D8%25B5%25D8%25A9&hl=ar&gl=eg&strip=1&vwsrc=0)
35 – Previous reference
36 – Previous reference
37 – Previous reference
38 – Nawara Bashoush: “Daesh fails in recruiting 160 Algerians” (https://www.echoroukonline.com/%D9%87%D9%83%D8%B0%D8%A7-%D9%81%D8%B4%D9%84%D8%AA-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%81-160-%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%A8%D9%88%D9%83%D9%8A-%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AC%D9%86/)
39 – Previous reference
40 – Previous reference
41 – Ismail: “Algerian intelligence in new shape” (http://akhbarousboue.com/s.php?I=377)
42 – RT: Algeria busts 11 Daesh networks” (https://arabic.rt.com/middle_east/926435-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D9%81%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%83-%D8%B4%D8%A8%D9%83%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B6%D9%85-11-%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%B5%D8%B1%D8%A7-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%B5%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D9%80%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4/)
43 – Abdel Salam Sekia: “Algerian army” (http://alwatannews.net/article/768624/Arab/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D9%8A-720-%D8%A3%D9%84%D9%81-%D8%B5%D9%81%D8%AD%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B5%D9%84-%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AC%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86)
44 – Asharq al-Awsat newspaper: “Long confrontations with al-Qaeda’s arms” (http://aljazair1.com/%d9%82%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%8a%d8%b4-%d8%aa%d9%82%d8%b6%d9%8a-%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%89-600-%d8%a5%d9%86%d8%aa%d8%ad%d8%a7%d8%b1%d9%8a/)
Abul Fadl al-Esnawi is a North Africa expert.