Algeria: Extremism and Terrorism

On February 1, 2023, media sources reported that the Algeria-backed Polisario Front worked with Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite militant group, to organize and conduct a large-scale money laundering and terrorism financing network based in Spain. The Polisario Front is a group that seeks full independence in the Western Sahara area and has been backed by Algeria since 1975. According to Spain’s Guardia Civil and terrorism experts, the key facilitator is Ahmed Aderrahman, a hawala broker who has close ties to the Polisario Front and the al-Qard al-Hasan, which is the financial arm of Hezbollah. Hawala is an informal method of transferring money through brokers. Abderrahman reportedly specializes in illegal money transfers from Europe to West Africa and has several European bank accounts his clients can utilize for money transfers. The alliance between the Polisario Front and Hezbollah raises alarms as terrorism experts believe Iran is expanding its influence into West Africa. (Sources: North Africa Post, i24 News)

Algeria’s support for the Polisario Front has resulted in regional tension. On November 1, 2021, a bomb detonated on a road between Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara, striking a truck and killing three Algerian nationals. According to the Algerian presidency, Moroccan occupation forces in the Western Sahara carried out the attack. Animosity between Morocco and Algeria has persisted since 1975 when Algeria gave its full support to the Polisario Front. Given that Morocco controls over 80 percent of the Western Sahara, relations between Algeria and Morocco have been particularly fragile, especially after the Polisario Front declared a three-decade ceasefire “null and void” in November 2020. Algeria later cut diplomatic ties with Morocco on August 24, 2021, citing Moroccan support for separatists in Algeria and dispute over the Western Sahara region. On November 5, 2021, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra addressed the United Nations claiming that a November bombing was an “act of state terror” from Morocco. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Middle East Institute, Bloomberg

On June 4, 2020, French troops killed Algerian national, and top al-Qaeda leader, Adbelmalek Droukdel, in Talhandak, Mali, near the Algerian border. Droukdel, nom de guerre Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, was the emir of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Droukdel facilitated al-Qaeda’s expansion throughout the Sahel by financing, planning, and carrying out terrorist attacks. The United States provided intelligence that helped the French soldiers locate Droukdel. According to sources, Droukdel had been active for decades in Algeria, particularly during the country’s civil war between Islamists and the state from 1992-2002. (Sources: The Hill, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Arab News)

On February 9, 2020, it was reported that a suicide bomber attempted to ambush a military barrack in the Bordj Baji Mokhtar region, southern Algeria. The assailant was in an explosive-rigged vehicle and detonated the explosives when he was refused entry into the military compound. The attack killed one soldier. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the first suicide bombing in several years in Algeria. (Sources: Reuters, Asharq Al-Awsat)

Algeria has a long history of combatting domestic violent extremism. Beginning with the outbreak of the Algerian Civil War in 1992, the government has worked to quash militant Islamist groups operating within in its borders, including the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), among others. (Source: University of Virginia)

Since the war began to subside by the late 1990s, the government has nonetheless continued to face the threat posed by “residual” terrorist networks, including the GSPC’s successor, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Since its formation in 2007, al-Qaeda’s North African branch has carried out more than 600 attacks in Algeria, including bombings, ambushes, and raids targeting Algerian nationals, foreigners, and military installations. AQIM offshoots have also been responsible for major terrorist attacks in the country, including the January 2013 attack on a gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria, which left 38 people dead, most of whom were foreigners. (Sources: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Council on Foreign Relations, Reuters)

Since its formation in 2007, AQIM has carried out more than 600 attacks in Algeria.

Since the 1990s, the Algerian government has relied primarily on military operations to thwart these groups, but in recent years has also invested in counter-extremism efforts geared to tackle the groups’ underlying ideologies. The government has banned violent extremist rhetoric in schools, mosques, and the media, while also working to bolster national counter-narrative programs to counteract violent extremist ideologies. In addition, the Algerian government established the National Observatory of the Struggle against Religious Extremism. The body, comprised of officials with backgrounds in media, religion, and education, aims to tackle ISIS’s online radicalization and recruitment tactics. (Sources: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Netherlands Institute of International Relations)

Algeria’s national counterterrorism efforts have been met with noteworthy success, with the U.S. State Department calling Algeria “an important counterterrorism partner” that has mounted “an aggressive campaign to eliminate all terrorist activity within its borders” and “devoted considerable resources” to advancing security. Unlike neighboring Tunisia, which has produced an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 foreign fighters, Algeria has produced an estimated 170. Nonetheless, Algeria continues to face internal threats posed by al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other violent extremist organizations. (Sources: U.S. State Department, Wall Street Journal, Soufan Group)

The government’s effort to quash violent extremist groups in Algeria by and large reflects national sentiment. According to a poll released by the Doha Institute in December 2015, approximately 70 percent of the Algerian public is staunchly opposed to ISIS. Nonetheless, a small but notable sector of the Algerian public retains a “positive” or “very positive” perception of ISIS, according to the Doha poll. (Source: Arab Opinion Index 2015)

Since February 22, 2019, Algerians have been protesting for drastic changes to their government, which is heavily influenced by the army and is dominated by corrupt officials and oligarchs. Protestors originally took to the streets to demand the resignation of then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika—who despite having suffered a paralyzing stroke in 2013, remained in power due to military, business, and political elites who sought to protect their positions. Bouteflika resigned in April 2019 due to ongoing unrest, and a presidential election was held on December 13, 2019. The election was marred with controversy, as many former Bouteflika officials chose to run, but ultimately, the victor was former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Despite Tebboune’s claims that he will take a heavier hand against corruption, the leaderless protest movement—known as Hirak—has yet to subside and is still active as of May 2020. (Sources: Vox, Reuters, NPR, Al Jazeera)

Algeria’s “Black Decade” and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA)

In late 1991, when the Islamist political party Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to defeat the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) in parliamentary elections, the Algerian military canceled the election, seized control of the government, and initiated a crackdown on Islamic groups and politicians. Supporters of the FIS took up arms to form an insurgent group, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS). Shortly after, a more hardline AIS splinter group called the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) emerged and began to gain popularity. Unlike the AIS, the GIA sought to perpetrate attacks against not only government representatives, but Algerian civilians in its pursuit of a state ruled under sharia (Islamic law). (Sources: Jihad: The Trial of Political Islam, Council on Foreign Relations)

Throughout the 1990s, Algeria’s “Black Decade,” the Algerian government fought against GIA and a number of smaller jihadist faction in an armed conflict often referred to as la sale guerre (“the dirty war”). The GIA, infamous for its ruthlessness, massacred thousands of civilians in towns loosely suspected of cooperating with the Algerian government. A GIA leader once stated, “In our war, there is no neutrality. Except for those who are with us, all others are renegades.” (Sources: Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda, Algeria-Watch, Human Rights Watch, Council on Foreign Relations)

In May 1993, the GIA began assassinating journalists, with one spokesperson stating, “those who fight by the pen shall die by the sword.” These attacks drove most international and domestic media into hiding or out of the country by 1995. The GIA also targeted foreigners, particularly nationals of France, which provided support to the Algerian government throughout the war. In August 1992, the GIA bombed the international airport in Algiers, killing nine people. A year later, in August 1993, the GIA issued an ultimatum, stating, “Foreigners, leave the country. We give you one month.” In the months following the ultimatum’s expiration in September 1993, the GIA led an assassination campaign targeting foreigners, killing 23 people by mid-December 1993. By May 1996, the group had killed an estimated 116 people, 39 of whom were French citizens. (Sources: Federation of American Scientists, New York Times, World Terrorism, New York Times)

At the height of the conflict, the GIA was reportedly recruiting upwards of 500 Algerians per week. However, by the late 1990s, the GIA had experienced a drastic decline in popularity due to its policy of indiscriminate violence. In 1998, a GIA splinter group called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) was established. The GSPC formally denounced the GIA’s targeting of civilians and quickly surpassed the GIA in popularity. By 2001, GSPC had an estimated 3,000 followers.  (Sources: Algeria-Watch, Council on Foreign Relations, University of Virginia, World Terrorism)

After Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected president in 1999, the insurgency largely came to an end.  AIS quickly reached a peace agreement with the Algerian government, and the GIA—which was seriously weakened by the death of its leader in 2002—disbanded after a major police crackdown in 2004. By the end of Algeria’s “Black Decade,” an estimated 200,000 civilians had been killed. (Sources: Jamestown Foundation, World Terrorism, University of Virginia, Council on Foreign Relations, NPR)

Jihadist activity has decreased significantly since the end of the “Black Decade.” As one Algerian lawyer observed: “Algerians had their dose of horror, and today they are vaccinated against Islamism.” Accordingly, a number of Islamist groups that currently operate within Algeria have formed alliances with global terrorist networks like al-Qaeda and ISIS and have expanded their membership base in neighboring countries. (Sources: Carnegie Endowment, Al-Monitor, Brookings)

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

Algeria’s GSPC insurgent group merged with al-Qaeda in September 2006 and, in January 2007, rebranded itself as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Having inherited membership from GSPC, AQIM was originally comprised overwhelmingly of Algerian members. However, in the years since its 2007 formation, the group has expanded into neighboring countries Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, and Niger, increasingly recruiting locals to execute attacks. As of 2016, Malians are believed to comprise the majority of AQIM fighters. Through establishing a presence in neighboring countries, AQIM has been able to generate significant revenue from transnational criminal operations, including drug and human trafficking. (Sources: Brookings, Al Jazeera, AMDH-FIDH)

AQIM has executed a series of deadly suicide bombings and other attacks in Algeria as part of its strategy to implement sharia in the region. For instance, in July 2007, AQIM carried out a suicide bombing at a military barracks in northern Algeria which claimed the lives of eight soldiers. A few months later, in September 2007, AQIM was responsible for two other suicide bombings in northern Algeria that killed 57 people. AQIM has also executed multiple attacks targeting foreigners in Algeria. In December 2007, two suicide car bombs exploded in the Algerian capital of Algiers near U.N. offices and government buildings. Reports estimated that more than 60 people were killed in the attacks. (Sources: CNN, BBC News, Reuters, Time, New York Times)

Following the onset of mass protests against then-President Abdelasis Bouteflika, AQIM’s al-Andalus media foundation released a clip by AQIM official Abu Obeida Yusuf al-Annabi that praised the protests. Furthermore, al-Annabi encouraged protestors to demand Sharia-based governance. Despite Algeria’s continued counterterrorism efforts to stymie AQIM’s influence, the jihadist group continues to disseminate extremist propaganda in the hopes of resonating with the country’s younger demographics. (Source: Global Security Review)

On June 4, 2020, French troops killed Algerian national, and top al-Qaeda leader, Adbelmalek Droukdel, in Talhandak, Mali, near the Algerian border. Droukdel, nom de guerre Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, was the emir of AQIM. Droukdel facilitated al-Qaeda’s expansion throughout the Sahel by financing, planning, and carrying out terrorist attacks. The United States provided intelligence that helped the French soldiers locate Droukdel. According to sources, Droukdel had been active for decades in Algeria, particularly during the country’s civil war between Islamists and the state from 1992-2002. (Sources: The Hill, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Arab News)

Following the death of AQIM leader Droukdel, AQIM did not immediately appoint a new leader. According to SITE Intelligence Group, on November 21, 2020, AQIM released a video that showed Droukdel’s body while also announcing Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi as the group’s new leader. Al-Anabi was previously the leader of AQIM’s Council of Notables, served on AQIM’s Shura Council, and was also AQIM’s media chief. (Sources: Telangana Today, Press News Agency, International Center for Counter Terrorism)


Al-Mourabitoun (“The Sentinels”) is a violent, jihadist group that seeks to implement sharia throughout West Africa. The group—led by Algerian-born Mokhtar Belmokhtar—was formed out of an August 2013 merger between two AQIM splinter groups: al-Mulathamun Battalion (AMB) and the Malian-based Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). After the merger, the newly formed group announced that the region’s jihadist movement was “stronger than ever” and that it would “rout” France and its allies in the region. In December 2015, al-Mourabitoun announced that it had re-established a partnership with AQIM. (Sources: Australian National Security, U.S. State Department, BBC News, New York Times)

Al-Mourabitoun has inherited many former AMB members, but has also recruited new members in northern and western Africa, including in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger. Months before Belmokhtar formally announced the merger to create al-Mourabitoun, Belmokhtar had orchestrated the deadly January 2013 attack on a gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria, an attack which left 38 civilians dead, most of whom were foreigners, and three of whom were U.S. citizens. (Sources: BBC News, U.S. State Department)

Jund al-Khilafah and ISIS

On September 13, 2014, AQIM commander and former GIA combatant Abdelmalek Gouri (a.k.a. Khaled Abu Suleiman), broke off his Jund al-Khilafah brigade from al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate to swear allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Gouri claimed that AQIM was “deviating from the true path” of violent jihadist Islam. (Sources: BBC News, International Business Times, France24)

Less than two weeks later, Jund al-Khilafah operatives kidnapped 55-year-old French mountaineer Herve Gourdel. In executing the attack, the assailants claimed that they were fulfilling the wishes of ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who called for attacks on Western citizens. As part of the attack, Jund al-Khilafah militants issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the government of France to cease its strikes in Iraq. The militants beheaded Gourdel when the ultimatum expired. (Sources: International Business Times, SITE)

In November 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi formally recognized Jund al-Khilafah as its affiliate in Algeria, referring to the group as Wilayat al-Jazair. The strength of ISIS’s Algerian outfit, however, has since appeared to wane. Reports from October 2014 estimate that the group amounted to only 30 fighters. In December 2014, Algerian troops killed Gouri during a military operation in the town of Sidi Daoud, approximately 50 miles outside of Algiers. On October 21, 2015, Wilayat al-Jazair released an audio statement attempting to reassure its supporters that ISIS’s presence in Algeria was secure. During the same statement, however, an ISIS militant urged fighters not to risk their lives unnecessarily, appearing to indicate the underlying vulnerability of ISIS’s Algerian province. In October 2016, Algerian soldiers carried out counterterrorism operations killing senior ISIS-affiliated jihadists in the Skikda region, east of Algiers. (Sources: Jeune Afrique, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, BBC News, Reuters, Jamestown Foundation, Newsweek)

Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) and Rachad

Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) is based in Paris and seeks to split the ethnic Berber region of Kabylie from the rest of Algeria. According to the Algerian government, the group seeks separatist aims and holds anti-Arab sentiment. According to MAK’s website, MAK is not a political party, but “an organization that transcends all political divides,” with its only objective towards realizing the Kabyle people’s right to build a democratic, social, and secular state through self-determination. Nonetheless, media sources reported in 2017 that Algerian authorities have repeatedly blocked sites associated with MAK, and have prohibited the group from carrying out meetings in public spaces. (Sources: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization)

Rachad was founded in 2007 in London by five Algerian activists opposed to the current government. The group seeks to establish democracy, the rule of law, and good governance through peaceful means and the inclusion of the entire Algerian population in the country’s political process. However, the Algerian government accuses the group of terrorism due to their alleged support and links to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an old Algerian Islamist political party whose main goal was to establish an Islamic state in Algeria. FIS, which was a main actor in the Algerian civil war in the 1990s, was banned in 1992. However, according to media sources, Rachad does not espouse a single ideology, but rather prioritizes striving for a more transparent and accountable Algerian government. (Source: Morocco World News)

On May 19, 2021, Algeria’s High Council for National Security labelled MAK and the Rachad movement, as terrorist organizations. According to Algerian authorities, in April of 2021, MAK allegedly sought to plan attacks during the anti-government protests in the streets of Algiers. The protests, which have occurred on and off for three years across the country, brought together thousands of protestors who call for the end of the oppressive regime. If found guilty of membership to either group, members will be convicted for joining an organization that “damages the interests of the [Algerian] country.” (Source: Africa News)

On December 27, 2021, U.N. experts and special rapporteurs accused the Algerian government of “politically instrumentalizing terrorism” to repress and prohibit public freedoms. According to the special rapporteurs, Algeria’s anti-terrorism laws adopted between 2020 and 2021 actively repressed opponents of the government—such as labeling dissidents from the MAK and the Rachad movement, as terrorists—and peaceful activists belonging to the Hirak movement. On June 8, 2021, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune advanced an ordinance that amended the penal code to brand citizens or organizations who try to access power or change the system of government in “unconstitutional ways” as terrorists. (Sources: North Africa Post, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

Foreign Fighters

According to the New York-based Soufan Group, in May 2015, official estimates placed the number of Algerians fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at 170. By contrast, an estimated 6,000-7,000 fighters had traveled to Iraq and Syria from neighboring Tunisia. The contrast between Algeria and its neighbors has led Algerian Interior Ministry representative Mohamed Talbi to claim that Algeria is the “least affected” by international terrorist recruitment compared to its neighbors. Talbi has credited Algeria’s success to smooth information-sharing between national counterterrorism parties, as well as government-led efforts to thwart terrorist recruitment online and in mosques. (Sources: Soufan Group, Algeria Press Service)

January 2013 In Amenas Gun and Hostage Crisis

On the morning of January 16, 2013, approximately 30 heavily armed gunmen stormed the entrance of the Tigantourine natural gas plant near In Amenas, Algeria. Before breaching the plant’s premises, the terrorists first attacked two buses ferrying employees to a nearby airport, killing four foreigners and one Algerian. (Source: Guardian)

A total of 38 people were killed in the attacks, 37 of whom were foreign nationals.

The gunmen then stormed the gas plant and adjacent living facilities, seizing hostages in what appeared to be a “frenzied hunt for foreigners.” One witness told reporters that an assailant said, “We have nothing against you Algerians, you can take your things and leave” and that the assailants “wanted expats and that they would find them.” The assailants rounded up foreign hostages, taping their mouths, tying their hands behind their backs with cable ties, and strapping their necks and waists with Semtex bombs. Hostages who sought to flee were reportedly shot. As the attack progressed, an Algerian security guard triggered the plant-wide alarm, shutting down areas of the plant and allowing some employees to hide under beds, desks, or tables, while others stowed away in false ceilings. The attackers then canvassed the facility, seeking additional hostages and killing those who attempted to escape. (Source: Guardian)

The Algerian army launched its counterattack more than 24 hours later, at 2 p.m. on Thursday, January 17. The government deployed helicopters to tail and shell assailants, who had begun to use vehicles to cart off hostages outside of the plant. Many of the hostages were killed during the counterassault, either executed by the terrorists in vehicles or inadvertently killed by the Algerian army. At 8 p.m. on January 17, after four of the assailants’ five vehicles were destroyed, the army advanced into the plant’s core gas facility area, where the last remaining hostages were held and some foreigners remained in hiding. As the army advanced on the assailants in the early hours of January 18, the militants executed their remaining seven hostages. The Algerian army secured the plant on January 18, clearing the central gas facility and killing the remaining militants. (Source: Guardian)

A total of 38 people were killed in the attacks, 37 of whom were foreign nationals. Among the deceased were workers from Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Colombia, the Philippines, Romania, and Malaysia. One Algerian was also killed. (Sources: Reuters, Guardian, Guardian)

December 2007 U.N. and Constitutional Council Bombing

On the morning of December 11, 2007, a suicide bomber detonated a truck near the Constitutional Council and Supreme Court buildings in Algiers. Moments later, a second truck bomb exploded outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices and U.N. headquarters in the country’s capital city, leveling the UNHCR offices. Seventeen U.N. employees were killed in the attacks. Overall death toll estimates range between the government figure of 26 people and the hospital estimate of 76. The majority of those killed died in the first explosion. The GSPC, which had recently rebranded itself as al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the region, claimed responsibility for the attacks. (Sources: CNN, BBC News)

Spring 2003 European Hostage Crisis

Between February and April 2003, GSPC militants kidnaped a total of 32 European tourists traveling in separate groups across the Algerian Sahara. The tourists—from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands—were split into two groups and hidden in the desert as to avoid Algerian government capture. In May 2003, the Algerian army freed one group of hostages following a shootout with the militants. The GSPC later released the second half of the hostages in August in neighboring Mali. Some reports allege that a € 5 million ransom was paid by either the German or Malian government. (Sources: CNN, BBC News)

1995 Paris and Lyon Bombings

From July 1995 to October 1995, GIA operatives carried out eight bombings and attempts in France, six of which took place in Paris and its environs. The slew of attacks—including gas and powder canister bombs filled with nails, one pressure cooker bomb, and one car bomb—were linked to the GIA both through the group’s October 1995 claim of responsibility, as well as through fingerprints discovered on unexploded bombs. The attacks together left eight people dead and more than 200 wounded:

  • July 25, 1995: A gas canister filled with nails explodes aboard a train at Paris’s Saint-Michel station, leaving eight people dead and 150 wounded. GIA claims responsibility. A French court later convicts Algerian GIA operative Boualem Bensaïd for complicity in the attack. (Sources: New York Times, Los Angeles Times)
  • August 16, 1995: Authorities discover a bomb filled with powder explosives and nails on a high-speed train track north of Lyons. Authorities discover the fingerprints of Algerian GIA operative Khaled Kelkal taped to the bomb canister. (Sources: Los Angeles Times, New York Times)
  • August 17, 1995: A gas canister filled with nails explodes in a trash can near Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, leaving 17 people wounded. GIA claims responsibility. (Sources: New York Times, Los Angeles Times)
  • September 3, 1995: A pressure cooker partially explodes in Paris’s Bastille market, leaving four people wounded. GIA claims responsibility. (Sources: New York Times, Los Angeles Times)
  • September 4, 1995: Authorities discover an unexploded bomb in a public restroom in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. (Source: Guardian)
  • September 7, 1995: A car bomb explodes outside a Jewish school in the Lyon suburb of Villeurbane, leaving 14 people wounded, including schoolchildren. It is the first car bomb attack in France since 1982. GIA claims responsibility. (Source: Los Angeles Times)
  • October 6, 1995: A gas canister filled with nails explodes in a trash can near Paris’s Maison-Blanche metro station, leaving 12 people wounded. GIA claims responsibility. A French court later convicts Algerian GIA operative Boualem Bensaïd for planting the bomb. (Sources: New York Times, New York Times, New York Times)
  • October 17, 1995: A bomb explodes aboard a train near Paris’s Musee d’Orsay station, leaving 29 people wounded. GIA claims responsibility. A French court later convicts Algerian GIA operatives Smaïn Ali Belkacem for planting the attack and Boualem Bensaïd for complicity in the attack. (Sources: CNN, New York Times)

December 1994 Hijacking of Air France Flight 8969

On December 24, 1994, four GIA militants, disguised as security agents, hijacked Paris-bound Air France flight 8969 while it was on the ground in Algiers. The terrorists, armed with explosives and firearms, hoped to detonate their explosives and destroy the airplane while it flew over Paris. After the militants executed three passengers, Algerian authorities allowed the plane to take off. The plane subsequently stopped over in Marseilles, France, ostensibly to refuel. Hours later, elite French special operation forces stormed the aircraft, killing the four assailants and freeing the passengers on board. (Source: Time)


For years, Algeria has struggled with the presence of jihadist groups operating within its borders. In response to domestic Islamist movements, Algeria has maintained a counterterrorism regime that relies on intelligence and military operations in order to dismantle jihadist networks. In recent years, Algeria’s government has worked to bolster its military and intelligence service in order to protect against resurgent terrorist networks, as well as new terrorist threats to Algeria coming from neighboring countries.

As Algeria works to strengthen its domestic counterterrorism apparatus, the country has also worked to prevent the rise of extremism at home, providing social services and family outreach to at-risk youths in the country. The government has also installed a development plan and a comprehensive national reconciliation policy as part of the effort to address homegrown threats of extremism and terrorism. To date, Algeria lacks a comprehensive strategy to counter terrorism, and the balance of power within military and counterterrorism institutions remain unclear. Nonetheless, the country employs a variety of known strategies—ranging from military to religious strategies—in order to dismantle and suppress terrorist movements within its borders. Additionally, Algeria has opened safe routes along its southern border to encourage Algerian militants who joined terrorist groups to lay down their arms in exchange for fair trials. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Netherlands Institute of International Relations, U.S. State Department, Xinhua)

Military and Security Agencies

Algeria’s approach to terrorism is to a great extent informed by its history with violent insurgent groups dating back to the 1990s. After the assassination of Algerian President Boudiaf in 1992, the government formed its military intelligence service, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS). The DRS worked to infiltrate Algeria’s Islamist insurgency networks and, with the help of the Directorate-General for National Security (DGSN), crush groups militarily. At this time, Algeria employed a near-exclusively military approach to terrorism that centered on the slogan, “making fear change[s] sides.” (Source: Netherlands Institute of International Relations)

After dismantling the major insurgent groups of the 1990s, the Algerian government has continued to fend off AQIM using primarily this method. According to a report by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Algerian security forces have occasionally spread misinformation regarding the status of major AQIM leaders, ostensibly to lure other operatives out of Algerian cities and into hiding in the mountains. Once operatives are lured into the mountains, the government has launched targeted military operations in the country’s hinterlands in order to dismantle existing leadership and undermine the network. This strategy is reportedly intended to “keep AQIM occupied with its own survival instead of allowing it time to plan new attacks.” (Source: Netherlands Institute of International Relations)

Due to increased instability in northern Africa following the Arab Spring, Algeria has increasingly focused military attention on the country’s borders, and worked to fortify its border security program. The government has expanded its military activity, including by adding new observer posts and deploying troops along the borders with Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, and Morocco. (Source: U.S. State Department)

Algeria has also added reinforced protection for its energy facilities, created new military observer posts, and worked cooperatively with neighboring governments, including Tunisia, in an effort to streamline information sharing regarding international smuggling operations and transnational terrorist activity. Algeria has repeatedly noted the connection between terrorism and extremism with organized crime and narco-trafficking in the region. (Source: U.S. State Department)

Legislative Efforts

Algeria’s Penal Code authorizes the government to suppress a broad range of movements that it categorizes as terrorist. According to Algerian law (amended in 1992), terrorism is synonymous with “subversive activities” and is regarded as “any offence targeting state security, territorial integrity or the stability or normal functioning of institutions… [by] spreading panic or creating a climate of insecurity… [and by] impeding the activities of public authorities.” The Algerian Penal Code was again amended in 1995 to prohibit the “justification, encouragement, and financing” of terrorist (i.e. “subversive”) activities. (Source: Netherlands Institute of International Relations)

After sending AQIM into retreat in the late 2000s, Algeria has experienced a resurgent Islamist threat starting in the early 2010s. To this end, Algeria began restructuring its military and security agencies in September 2013. In June 2014, Algeria expanded the powers vested in its security agencies, authorizing the DRS—Algeria’s intelligence service—to take on roles previously reserved for the judicial police. The change was legalized due to a presidential decree, which also authorized the creation of a new security unit, the Judicial Investigation Service. The new security unit falls under the jurisdiction of both the DRS and the general prosecutor for the court of appeal’s criminal division. (Source: U.S. State Department)

In June 2016, then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika signed new laws to the Algerian Penal Code that expanded punitive measures for crimes related to financing, supporting or acting as foreign fighters, and the use of technology for terrorist recruitment purposes. Algeria has also cracked down on Internet service providers who fail to comply with legal obligations to store information or withhold access to criminal material. (Source: U.S. State Department)

As Algeria continues to combat “residual terrorism” from the 1990s and 2000s as well as the recent threat of terrorism from ISIS and other terrorist organizations, the government remains authorized to confront “subversive activities” without much oversight. The DRS, for example, operates as an arm of the country’s Ministry of Defense, as opposed to working under the country’s Ministry of Interior or Justice, as is the norm in other countries. The ability of the president to announce a national state of emergency—which was in effect for 19 years from 1992 to 2011—has further enabled the government to engage in counterterrorism without much accountability. In 2016, Algeria reduced the use of pretrial detention, but pretrial detention was still being overused, according to the U.S. State Department. (Sources: Netherlands Institute of International Relations, U.S. State Department)

However, as Algeria works to confront the threat of terrorism unhindered, the government has begun to introduce some measures of transparency and restraint into the operations of the DRS. In 2013, Bouteflika curbed the intelligence service’s activities within public institutions, and has replaced the powerful head of the DRS, Mohamed Mediene in September 2015. The extent of these and future oversights on Algeria’s military and intelligence agencies, however, continues to remain dependent on the decisions of Algeria’s president, and his issuing of presidential decrees. Even so, Algeria has worked to marry its military approach to countering terrorism with a religious approach to countering extremism. (Sources: U.S. State Department, Reuters, Reuters)

Religious Counter-Narrative

Algeria has primarily focused on its military and intelligence apparatus in order to thwart domestic terrorism. In the 2000s, however, Algeria began to address terrorism at its earlier phases by confronting religious extremism. To this end, the Algerian government has employed a range of methods in order to undermine recruitment and radicalization to terrorist networks through religious venues.

Imams and their religious institutions—including mosques and schools—are heavily monitored by the government.

First, the government has encouraged imams who have defected or “repented” from terrorist groups to share religious explanations for the illegitimacy of their former terrorist groups. Hassan Hattab—founder and former leader of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)—was urged to speak out against terrorism, as were AQIM leaders Othmane Touati (also known as Abou El-Abbes) and Samir Sai’oud. (Source: Netherlands Institute of International Relations)

The government has also actively promoted more “moderate” imams, and created a national television agency and radio station that promotes government-approved interpretations of Islam. The government has also exerted significant control within public and private mosques throughout the country. All imams in Algeria must be approved, trained, and employed by the country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments. The Algerian Penal Code outlines fines and prison sentences for anyone who preaches at a mosque that has not been approved by the government. Those imams and their religious institutions—including mosques and schools—authorized by the government are heavily monitored by the government. The government has also set up an “anti-suicide bomber” program, and has actively worked to promote non-violent strains of Salafism and Sufism. (Sources: Netherlands Institute of International Relations, U.S. State Department)

Algeria’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments has expanded its scope of authority over the past few decades, working alongside the country’s education system and other state agencies in order to address national issues related to “Islamic culture and religious guidance.” In 2015, Algeria’s Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa worked to address the recent threat of terrorism on the Internet, discredit violent terrorist discourse online by appealing to religious texts, and denounce ISIS’s broad reach on Twitter. Aissa said in June 2015 that his ministry has “no authority to control or combat” the phenomenon of ISIS on Twitter, however, the branch works to “immunize and intellectually secure Algerian society” by publicly “dismantle[ing] the foundation of [ISIS’s] ideology.” The Minister also announced the creation of a new governmental body called the National Observatory of the Struggle against Religious Extremism (“l’Observatoire national de lutte contre l’extrémisme religieux”). The body, still in its proposal stage, is set to be comprised of officials from Algeria’s Ministries of Culture, Communications, of National Education, Higher Education, Vocational Training, Religious Affairs, the Interior, and security agencies, as well as members of mass media, who work together in order to cooperatively confront the threat of ISIS online. In response to the question, “Does [the Ministry of Religious Affairs have] total control over mosques and Koranic schools?” the Minister responded, “Yes, I think we have it.” (Sources: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Speech by the Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Tout sur l’Algérie, U.S. State Department)

Algeria regularly participates in regional counter-extremism efforts. In April 2015, Algeria participated in the 7th meeting of intelligence and security heads in the Sahel-Sahara region, organized by the African Union (AU). As noted by analyst and author Yahia H. Zoubir, Algeria has long been part of the AU, and has served as a “central player” in the AU’s various counterterrorism initiatives. (Source: Nordic Africa Institute)

Algeria also participates in the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF), an international association launched in September 2011 that aims “to reduce the vulnerability of people everywhere to terrorism” by providing a venue for international counterterrorism experts to meet and share counterterrorism strategies and challenges. Algeria has also served as co-chair of the GCTF’s Sahel Region Capacity Building Working Group (SWG). Through the GCTF, Algeria has worked to raise awareness among other governments of the dangers of paying ransoms to terrorist groups. In June 2014, Algeria—alongside regional partners and international organizations—co-founded the International Institute for Justice and Rule of Law (IIJ). In October of that year, Algeria, Canada, and the United States co-sponsored technical workshops in the IIJ that worked to combat the practice of kidnapping for ransom. Algeria is also a part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). (Sources: Global Counterterrorism Forum, U.S. State Department, U.S. State Department)

In July 2015, Algeria launched and hosted the International Conference on the Fight Against Extremism and Radicalization. Endorsed by the United Nations, Algeria’s conference aimed to “identify common challenges in the field of radicalization and the fight against violent extremism.” The conference also hoped to identify points of cooperation within the U.N. system and the GCTF. More than 50 countries and international organizations participated in the conference’s first meeting. (Source: Algeria Press Service)

Moroccan-Algerian Relations

Animosity between Morocco and Algeria has persisted since 1975 when Algeria gave its full support to the Polisario Front—a group that seeks full independence in the Western Sahara area. Algeria provided some support for the Polisario Front when it was founded in 1973 to fight for independence against Spain’s colonial rule, but Algiers backed the group with its full support when Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975. Armed conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front persisted for 16 years until the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) brokered a ceasefire deal in 1991. Despite numerous U.N.-sponsored peace talks, the parties have not been able to reach a political solution and the Polisario Front has continued to pursue a campaign for independence. (Sources: Encyclopedia BritannicaBBC NewsDeutsche WelleHuffPost, Middle East Institute)

On November 14, 2020, the Polisario Front declared war on Morocco, ending the fragile ceasefire that has been in place since 1991. The declaration of war was in response to Morocco launching a military operation in a U.N.-patrolled strip in the Western Sahara a day earlier. Given that Algeria and Morocco support opposite sides of the dispute over the Western Sahara territory, relations between the two countries has been particularly volatile since. (Sources: New York TimesNew York TimesAxios)

Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco on August 24, 2021, citing Moroccan support for separatists in Algeria and dispute over the Western Sahara region. On November 1, 2021, a bomb detonated on a road between Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara, striking a truck and killing three Algerian nationals. According to the Algerian presidency, Moroccan occupation forces in the Western Sahara carried out the attack. On November 5, 2021, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra addressed the United Nations claiming that a November bombing was an “act of state terror” from Morocco. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Middle East Institute, Bloomberg)

Algeria is a self-reported religious country, with nearly 100 percent of its population identifying as Muslim. According to the Doha Institute’s “Arab Opinion Index 2015” report, nearly 70 percent of Algerians carry a decidedly negative perception of ISIS. Five percent of Algeria’s population, however, has a “very positive” perception of ISIS. Out of the 12 countries polled by the Doha Institute, only Mauritania had a higher percentage of its population holding such a favorable view of ISIS (10 percent). (Source: Arab Opinion Index 2015)

Algeria is seemingly split on the origins of ISIS. A slight majority of Algerians (52 percent) believe that ISIS is a product of its own environment, while 41 percent of Algerians believe that ISIS was created by foreign actors. Fifty-nine percent of Algerians believe that ISIS “is a product of religious extremism and fanaticism in Arab societies” while 30 percent believe that ISIS is “a product of the policies of the Arab regimes.” A majority of Algerians (63 percent) preference regime change in Syria. (Source: Arab Opinion Index 2015)

Algeria is also split on the issue of excommunication, although more Algerians have appeared to endorse excommunication than condemn it. According to the Doha Institute’s 2016 report, 41 percent of Algerians polled agree or strongly agree with the belief that no person or group has the right to declare followers of other religions to be infidels, while 49 percent disagree or strongly disagree. (Sources: Arab Opinion Index 2015, Arab Opinion Index 2016)

Algeria has shown suspicion towards the United States and Israel similar to sentiments found in other MENA countries. When asked which country posed the greatest threat to peace in the world, Algerians polled at the end of 2013 named the United States (37 percent) and Israel (22 percent) as the leading threats. In March 2015, Algerians continued to name the United States as the number one threat to international security. (Sources: WIN/Gallup International Survey, Algeria 360)

Related Content

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

View Archive