Attack against army barracks reflects jihadists efforts to maintain credibility, but capabilities will remain limited
A group of militants attacked a barracks in the Bisi district of the north-eastern Skikda Province on 30 July, killing at least seven soldiers and wounding fifteen others. The Ministry of Defence said that four militants were killed during the assault, and that the attackers’ weaponry had been confiscated. No group has made any claim of responsibility at this time.
Following an attack on an army convoy on 8 July in Ghardimaou in Tunisia, approximately 10 km from the Algerian border, by the al-Qaeda aligned Okba bin Nafaa Brigade, Algerian security forces have increased counter-terror operations in the North-East. These will have principally targeted al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQM), likely over fears over its presence in Tunisia, and the potential for al-Qaeda-linked militants there to step up efforts to smuggle fighters into Algeria. The 30 July attack will therefore most likely have been carried out by AQM in retaliation for this increased pressure from the security forces, rather than by Islamic State, which has a more limited presence in this area.
AQM’s attack will also reflect a desire to show it remains active in Algeria in order to maintain a degree of credibility and relevance there. However, years of effective government counter-terrorist operations have significantly degraded the group’s capabilities. The group continues to prioritise developing a presence in neighbouring countries, particularly Mali and Libya, as well as Tunisia, where the security forces are much less effective. Despite the recent attacks, it is therefore highly unlikely that AQM will be able to further step up its attacks in Algeria.
That said, periodic AQM attacks against security forces will continue over the coming year, although these will remain confined to the North-East, well away from Algiers and other major urban centres. Indeed, jihadist intent to conduct retaliatory strikes is particularly likely to rise as anti-jihadist operations increase ahead of the planned 2019 elections, but the group’s limited capabilities mean any violence will remain sporadic and unsophisticated.