Cablegate: After the Latest Algiers Bombings: This Will Be A
DE RUEHAS #1809/01 3541012
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 201012Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY ALGIERS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5028
INFO RUEHBP/AMEMBASSY BAMAKO PRIORITY 0358
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID PRIORITY 8739
RUEHNM/AMEMBASSY NIAMEY PRIORITY 1408
RUEHNK/AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT PRIORITY 6154
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 2473
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT PRIORITY 2084
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS PRIORITY 6941
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA PRIORITY 3188
RUEPGBA/CDR USEUCOM INTEL VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
S E C R E T ALGIERS 001809
EO 12958 DECL: 12/19/2027
TAGS PTER, PINS, ASEC, AG
SUBJECT: AFTER THE LATEST ALGIERS BOMBINGS: THIS WILL BE A
Classified By: Ambassador Robert Ford, reason 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) SUMMARY: The December 11 bombings in Algiers demonstrate that Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) can adapt its tactics to discredit the Algerian government even if it cannot destabilize the state. Its tactics have evolved and it is more frequently targeting foreigners. AQIM seeks to copy tactics used by Al-Qaida in Iraq and we expect in the future to see AQIM resort to operations such as kidnapping, attacks by women suicide bombers and more suicide vests, for example. The Algerian security forces appeared to enjoy some success dampening AQIM operations in October and November, but there is no sign that they can completely secure the capital. Indeed, they are warning in public and private that they cannot. Their public line is, therefore, that the country must soldier on even with the occasional terrorist atrocity. Behind closed doors, however, the December 11 bombings have opened a debate about whether President Bouteflika’s amnesty program is appropriate or not; some in the security services want to cast it aside and use an iron fist. According to the Portuguese ambassador, who joined his prime minister in a meeting with Bouteflika on December 16, the Algerian president appeared shaken and unsure of how to respond to the bombings. His advisors appear glum, and Bouteflika himself has yet to say anything to the nation in the wake of the bombings. Looking forward, we see a terror organization able to adapt and shift tactics and targets facing a government that easily holds military superiority but is not exactly sure what more it can or should do. None of our contacts think the security services will be able to prevent new attacks. They do not know when those attacks might occur or what form they will take. Thus, the security situation could stay roughly as it is now, or it might deteriorate further; we do not expect it to improve. Our contacts all expect more terror attacks, although none knows when or what form they will take. Al-Qaida tactics in Iraq are probably the best guide. The Embassy has already adopted stricter security measures for staff and dependents and is urging the non-official American community in forums like the OSAC to do the same. In the weeks and months ahead, we will have to reevaluate our posture more frequently in response to the greater AQIM threat. END SUMMARY.
AQIM IS AN ADAPTIVE ORGANISM
2. (SBU) AQIM is using a variety of tactics to keep the Algerian government guessing and that are slowly raising concerns among the foreign community and the broader public in Algiers. The following list shows the evolution of AQIM tactics:
-- Summer 2006: ambushes with roadside bombs and gunfire against Algerian army patrols in the mountains east of Algiers;
-- October 2006: first car bombs in years in the Algiers region, hitting two police stations;
-- December 2006: first attack on foreigners in years, using a roadside bomb to hit a U.S.-Algerian company bus in Algiers suburb, killing two (no Amcits);
-- February 2007: multiple, coordinated, powerful car bombs in towns scattered in the mountains outside Algiers;
-- March 2007: another roadside bomb against a bus full of foreigners, this time a Russian company bus west of Algiers;
-- April 2007: suicide van and truck bombs simultaneously hit Prime Minister’s offices in downtown Algiers and destroy a police station east of the city center near the airport; there were two suicide vehicles against the police station in a tactic very similar to that seen in Iraq;
-- July 2007: suicide truck bomb hits Algerian army base at Lakhdaria, east of Algiers, killing dozens of soldiers;
-- September 2007: another suicide truck bomb, this one driven by a 15 year old, hits Algerian coast guard base at Dellys, east of Algiers, again killing dozens; -- September 2007: first suicide vest attack, this one directly targeting President Bouteflika in Batna, 200 miles east of Algiers;
-- September 2007: drive-by suicide car bomb attack on a French/Italian company convoy in the mountains east of Algiers
-- September 2007: suspected planning of a kidnapping of two French nationals working at the Algiers airport leads to the sudden departure of the two men;
-- December 2007: roadside bomb attack again targets a Russian company bus west of Algiers;
-- December 2007: simultaneous suicide truck bombs destroy UN offices and damage Supreme Court building in central Algiers; one of the truck drivers was 64 years old, something heretofore unseen here.
EXPECT MORE ATTACK METHOD VARIATION A LA IRAQ
3. (S) The Al-Qaida in Iraq network, which already has ties to jihadi groups in Algeria, has strong influence on AQIM elements. The suicide bomber in July 2007 was nicknamed “Abu Musaab” because he was so enamored with Zarqawi in Iraq. The AQIM videos strongly resemble videos from Iraq in terms of the music, Quranic citations and filming of hits on enemy targets they show. They strongly pitch the alleged American wrongdoings in Iraq and Palestine to recruit men to join AQIM. AQIM is also copying tactics we have seen in Iraq, including use of suicide vehicle bombs and vests. (Comment: Notably, during the 1990s violence in Algeria, there was only one suicide attack. We have now seen nine since April 2007. End Comment.) Water Resources Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, who previously held top jobs in the Interior Ministry, warned Ambassador on December 16 that it would be easy to imagine AQIM resorting to SVBIEDs driven by women or women attacking a target wearing a suicide bomb vest. Security officers at other embassies have pointed to the use of kidnappings in Iraq and worry that AQIM could actively start such a campaign in Algeria. Historically, AQIM has paused between vehicle bomb attacks, although we do not know if that is due to resource constraints or tactical decisions. History suggests we may have a pause lasting as long as months before the next car bomb attack, although it could be much sooner. In any case, our intelligence is incomplete and we may not see the next attack, in whatever form it takes, coming.
IRAQ AND PALESTINE HELP RECRUITMENT
4. (C) A prominent conservative Islamist political leader, Abdallah Djaballah, told the Ambassador on December 17 that the suicide attacks demonstrated the influence of the Iraqi jihadis whose appeal to religious sensitivities finds a ready audience here. In addition, he noted, Islamist extremists released under the government’s amnesty program are hugely frustrated because they can find no jobs and lack any means to support themselves. They are easy to recruit, he claimed. AQIM’s choice to put a video of Ayman Zawahari ranting about Palestine last week is likely to further boost recruitment. The website has had over 35,000 hits in a week. Djaballah warned that many young Algerians react strongly to any suggestion that foreign forces are attacking Islam itself, and Palestine, along with Iraq, is the perfect symbol. Jaghloul Abdelghafar, a counselor at the Presidency working on extremism issues, echoed the point about Algeria suffering because of Palestine and Iraq to the Ambassador December 18. He stated that there is a “hard-core five percent” that will always plague Algeria. Political scientist Lyes Boukraa, who has written two books about the terrorism phenomenon in Algeria, told DCM December 18 that he thought the terror groups have more potential recruits than they need.
ALGERIAN SECURITY FORCES: FRUSTRATED
5. (S) The Algerian government is trying to figure out how best to contain and eliminate the extremist problem.
Algerian military forces conducted major sweeping operations in the troublesome mountains east of Algiers as well as along the eastern border region near Tebessa in November. They also continued to try wrapping up AQIM support networks and, until the December 11 bombings, they appeared to be having some successes. The number of security force casualties reported in the press dropped steadily in October and November 2007 from the spike seen in September 2007 due to the AQIM suicide attack in Dellys. In contrast to 1994-1996, the Algerian army and gendarmerie can deploy to any location in the country and immediately establish control. AQIM in its December 12 communique felt obliged to tell the government very directly that it had not disappeared.
6. (C) The government now is warning the public that it cannot completely contain the terrorist threat. Interior Minister Zerhouni told the press after the December 11 bombings that there was no such thing as perfect security posture since bomb attacks were so easy. Other terror attacks are possible even though the terror groups are weakening, Zerhouni told the press December 12. He also commented that the security forces had relaxed somewhat after their successful security measures for the November 29 local elections, and the suicide bombers had exploited that opening. Head of the Defense Ministry’s External Relations Director General Sefendji told DATT on December 17 that the Algerian military had enjoyed successes in combined air-ground operations against terrorist groups in mountainous areas, but they could not stop suicide attacks in Algiers. National police chief (DGSN director) Ali Tounsi told the press on December 15 that the security services had put in place special measures to protect the Constitutional Council in view of the threat information the GOA had. However, he commented, there was no way to protect against such an “exceptional” attack. Tounsi pledged that the GOA would stand up new, stronger security measures in Algiers in the wake of the December 11 bombings. Pressed by Ambassador for details about the measures on December 18, Tounsi would only say that police reinforcements would surge into the capital in the coming days. He declined to give more details but said he would consider the Ambassador’s strong suggestion that the DGSN brief the key ambassadors about the new security plan. (Comment: Tounsi appeared not entirely on top of the brief and probably couldn’t have provided many details even if he had wanted to. The Interior Ministry is avoiding repeated requests from embassies for information on Interior Ministry plans and operations. End Comment.)
HARD LINE OR SOFT TOUCH ?
7. (S) Water Resources Minister Sellal, who is often rumored to be on a short list to be the next prime minister, told Ambassador December 16 that the GOA ought to strike much harder against the terrorists than it is doing. He was entirely in favor of the iron fist, he stated flatly. However, he noted, current political reality (“la conjuncture politique”) does not allow for such a tough policy. Indeed, Prime Minister Belkhadem had reiterated on December 12 that Bouteflika’s signature national reconciliation program would continue. Ahmed Fattani, publisher of L’Expression newspaper who has good contacts in the security services, told Ambassador December 17 that many in the security forces want to launch a broad campaign of arrests. For this reason, he said, they leaked to him information that some 250 of the Islamist extremists previously released under President Bouteflika’s amnesty program had rejoined the AQIM fight against the government. Fattani claimed that some in the security services said the number was even higher, but L’Expression used the 250 number so as not to anger Bouteflika further.
8. (S) Bouteflika himself has made no public remarks in the wake of the December 11 bombings. The Portuguese ambassador, who accompanied his prime minister in a meeting with Bouteflika on December 16, told the Ambassador on December 18 that Bouteflika appeared very distressed by the Algiers bombings and unsure of what to do. According to the Portuguese, Bouteflika urged Portuguese Prime Minister Socrates to convince European states to help the Algerian security services. Bouteflika reportedly asked for advice on how to secure fixed sites and sought help from the Europeans to tap cell phones whose SIM cards are changed. One of Bouteflika’s aides, Rachid Aissat, who was the Algerian DATT in Damascus and Moscow in the 1960s, earnestly asked the Ambassador on December 16 for help in countering car bombs. The GOA, he conceded, had no good sense of how to respond. (Comment: Many of our contacts interpret Bouteflika’s silence since December 11 to his embarrassment that both suicide bombers were previously known to the security services and had benefited from the provisions of the national reconciliation program. End Comment.)
9. (S) AQIM is very far from being able to bring down the Algerian government but it can certainly make it look weak and foolish. From a narrow security perspective, the December 11 attacks represent not so much the result of diminished Algerian security capabilities as a successful change in AQIM targeting to hit the UN and the Constitutional Council. Security and military contacts have been asking us for a technological fix for the car bomb threat for months. They do not seem to fully appreciate the fact that they are now fight an al-Qaida group, and not just the old Algerian terrorist group GSPC of the late 1990s. AQIM subscribes to international jihadist goals as well as attacking the Algerian government. The more success the GOA has killing the senior terrorist leaders from the GSPC, the more quickly the newer amirs recruited under the al-Qaida banner will rise to the forefront.
10. (S) Looking forward, we can imagine that the security situation could stay roughly as it is now or deteriorate; we do not expect it to improve. None of our contacts think the security services will be able to prevent more terrorist attacks. They do not know when those attacks might occur or what form they will take. AQIZ tactics in Iraq are probably the best guide. Meanwhile, the GOA is slow at best to share information with us. As a result, the Embassy has taken stricter security measures for staff and dependents, and upgraded security of our chancellery and main staff residence. We are telling the non-official community in forums like the OSAC to do the same. In the weeks and months ahead, we will need to reevaluate our posture more frequently in response to the greater AQIM threat. FORD