- The Maghreb has been shaken by several Islamist terrorist attacks yesterday and today, which killed at least 28 people. Analysts fear that terrorism may be on the rise in the Maghreb region at large while the world has concentrated too much on securing Western targets against Islamists in Europe and the US.
Authorities in Morocco are on alert for new suicide attacks by Islamist terrorists after three extremists blew themselves up in Casablanca yesterday as they were hunted down by police forces. One police inspector was killed and five persons were wounded in the blasts.
The terrorists had been hunted down in a large police operation that was seeking to arrest tens of extremists connected to a bombing in an Internet cafe on 11 March. Police spokesmen said that ten suspected highly dangerous terrorists were still on the run, noting that authorities therefore were on high alert for possible new attacks. Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa today underlined the "need to be vigilant."
In neighbouring Algeria, terrorists today stroke even harder. In two bomb attacks in the capital, Algiers, at least 24 persons were killed and 222 wounded, according to the state news agency APS. One bomb went off outside the Prime Minister's office and the other at the police station of Bab Ezzouar in eastern Algiers, both causing heavy damage to buildings. At least one was reported to have been a car bomb.
An old, Islamist extremist group, which now claims being the North Africa branch of al Qaeda, today took responsibility for the blasts through a video tape sent to the Arab broadcaster 'Al-Jazeera'. The statement also mentioned a third bomb targeting Interpol offices in Algiers, which however failed to go off.
Analysts now fear that the Maghreb region may stand before a new wave of terrorism and political destabilisation caused by Islamist extremists. This would represent a dangerous new trend, as Morocco has been politically stable for decades and Algeria has been able to find back to stability after years of Islamist and government terror. Both countries also finally are starting to experience rapid economic growth and successful investments in tourism.
This potential trend strongly contrasts developments in neighbouring Europe, where governments have resorted to almost hysterical measures to halt Islamists terrorism. A European police (Europol) report released yesterday revealed that 498 terrorist attacks were registered in the European Union (EU) last year. Out of them, only one, in Germany, was related to Islamist extremism. But over half of the 700 detained suspected terrorists were Islamists.
There are therefore concerns in Europe that the vast efforts to fight Islamist terrorism are being spent in the wrong place. While billions of euros go to exaggerated security and surveillance efforts within the EU, authorities in North Africa are left alone fighting a potential rising tide of extremist groups in their fragile societies.
In poverty-ridden Morocco, social tensions are high and the small traditional elite ruling the country is vastly unpopular and seen as corrupt. But the Kingdom has little recent history of militant Islamism, which until recently had been confined to Egypt and the Middle East.
One of the country's leading media, the 'Economiste', noted that Morocco was probably suffering of a spillover from trends in those regions. "Satellite television exposes the poorest in our towns to what is happening on the other side of the planet and to events in the Middle East and this can lead to some copying tragic examples," the newspaper noted.
In Algeria, the conflict between the government and Islamists is more deep-rooted. In the 1990s, after the Islamists were hindered from taking on power after winning an election, years of insurgency is believed to have killed around 200,000 people.
By now, almost all Islamist groups however are cooperating with the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and have laid down their weapons. Only the assumedly small group claiming to represent al Qaeda is still threatening peace. The terrorist group until now has been defied to the Algerian desert, crossing the borders with Mali and Niger and posing no serious threat to urban regions.
But there are now signs that the terrorists are getting a stronger foothold in the populated north of Algeria, where they have been able to implement several small attacks during the last year. Without popular support, however, their impact on society and the economy is still very limited.
Algerians at large are now dreaming of a brighter future without armed conflict and terrorism. A new oil boom is fuelling the economy and for the first time in decades providing hope of economic development for the unemployed masses of the country. Nobody wants this dream shattered. But everyone fears the terrorists may just achieve this if not stopped before turning into a bigger cancer.
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