Does the Islamic State group have plans for Algeria?

Does the Islamic State group have plans for Algeria?
Analysis: Its local affiliate has been of minor concern to the Algerian authorities, but there are signs IS may be about to mount more of a challenge.
3 min read
04 June, 2015
Algerian troops have been preparing for possible IS activity [Getty]

There are indications, thirteen years after the end of the Algerian civil war, that the Islamic State group is looking to deploy its fighters there after its expansion into Libya and elsewhere in North Africa.

IS already has local franchises in Algeria, the best known of which is Jund al-Khilafa, which has clashed with security forces on several occasions.

According to the independent Algerian newspaper El-Khabar, an IS member was arrested at Algiers airport in late May after returning from Syria. A month earlier, Tunisian nationals suspected of having links with IS were arrested at Annaba airport before they could board a flight to Istanbul, reportedly en route to join IS in Syria.

     Jund al-Khalifa has never managed anything on the scale of AQIM... But some believe it now poses more of a threat.

Jund al-Khalifa

On 19 May, Algerian forces carried out a major operation, ambushing and killing 21 suspected members of Jund al-Khalifa as they met in woods near Algiers, reportedly to plan a major attack on the capital. The group's commander was killed in the raid, according to El-Khabar.

Jund al-Khalifa started out as a splinter faction of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), announcing itself in April 2014 with an ambush of an army convoy, killing 11 soldiers. In September 2014, it switched allegiance to IS and shortly afterwards kidnapped and murdered a French tourist.

Jund al-Khalifa has never managed anything on the scale of AQIM's spectacular assault on a gas facility near In Amenas in January 2013. But with the IS presence in Libya, where it is almost fully in control of Sirte, and its daring attacks across the border in Tunisia, and with scores of North African jihadists reportedly returning from Syria and Iraq, some sources believe it may well now pose more of a threat in Algeria.

The Algerian authorities seem not to be taking any chances.

In March, a threat made by Jund al-Khilafa prompted the Algerian government to evacuate scores of Turkish construction workers from a road project east of the capital. On 31 May, Algeria's Deputy Defence Minister, army Chief-of-Staff General Ahmed Gaid Saleh warned that Algiers had to be prepared for all threats at a seminar on defence strategy.

In effect, this should be read in the context of reports coming from Algeria which indicate the authorities are on maximum alert against IS and other jihadist groups in the country.

     The authorities are on maximum alert against IS and other jihadist groups in the country.

Joint plans with Tunisia

quoted a "well-placed security source" as saying that the country was stepping up security cooperation and intelligence sharing with Tunisia - the two countries have exchanged lists of terrorist suspects and enhanced security at airports on both sides of the border.

The source goes on to say that Algeria has warned Tunisia of a possible attack by IS on the anniversary of its founding in mid-June, at the start of Ramadan.

The two countries are also reportedly drawing up contingency plans in case the Libyan peace talks fail, especially with regard to securing the two countries' borders with Libya.

In November 2014, HuffPost Algérie reported that Interpol had relayed a list of 1,500 suspected IS fighters who may travel to or through Algeria, some on stolen passports.

There are renewed concerns about this, according to Algerian press reports. El-Khabar, citing its security sources, reported that jihadists from IS and AQIM, after receiving training on combat and explosives, could use such fake passports to travel to North Africa disguised as tourists.

The Algerian security services reckon these jihadists' targets could include France, as well as Algeria and Tunisia.