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Saturday, October 18, 2008

AQIM Remains Desperat for Kidnappings to be Profitable

(Said Jameh , Magharebia) 2008-10-17

Algerian security forces have caused disruption in al-Qaeda's support networks and, cornered by persistent search operations, terrorists have found it hard to lure new recruits. For a desperate AQIM, ransoms have replaced extortion and banditry as a way to finance terror.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is suffering from financial problems and a severe shortage of personnel, Algerian security forces have observed in recent weeks.

  • Terrorists have been forced to resort to abducting civilians and demanding ransoms as a new way to generate money.
  • In late 2005, when two civilians were held for ransom in the wilaya of Tizi Ouzou, no one could have known that a kidnapping wave across Algeria was about to begin, Le Quotidien d'Oran noted on October 12th.
  • "Today, not a week passes without a case of kidnapping reported in the region," the paper added.
  • On average, Algeria registered one kidnapping for ransom each day last year, Interior Minister Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni told the Senate in May. "In total, 375 cases of kidnapping were registered in 2007…115 having a relationship with terrorism," he said.

Terrorists routinely extorted money from landowners, but with the improvement of security conditions people refused to give in to blackmail. Criminals and terrorists then turned to another method to obtain much-needed funds: kidnapping.

  • Magharebia interviewed security expert Mouloud Merchedi about this growing phenomenon and what it means for al-Qaeda.
  • "Money and weapons were, and still are, the decisive factor in determining who wins the leadership of these organisations, which are controlled by no rules other than power," he said, citing how al-Qaeda terrorists holding two Austrian tourists since February 22nd hope to profit from their acts.
  • "Should the kidnappers manage to receive the ransom they have demanded from Austrian authorities for the release of the two tourists, the money will be used to buy more weapons and to consolidate the ranks of the armed group by luring new recruits."

."...The objective, he said, is for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to "include the whole North African region".

They are betting on a large ransom for the safe return of Wolfgang Ebner and girlfriend Andrea Kloiber to beef up their finances.

According to Merchedi, the terrorist group was decimated by a crackdown imposed on its logistics and support operatives by Algerian security forces, particularly in AQIM's "second district" (Algiers and the capital's surrounding suburbs), considered one of the most prominent strongholds of al-Qaeda.

Ambassadors to Mali Abdelkrim Gheraieb of Algeria, Reinhard Schwarzer of Germany and Michel Reveyrand-de Menthon of France (right) met in Bamako in March 2008. The three countries are working closely with Austria to find a solution to the kidnapping of two

Algerian authorities will not be pleased if Austria accedes to the kidnappers' demands, experts agree. The authorities are convinced that the money will be used to buy weapons, an expectation later confirmed when two trucks loaded with weapons, bound for al-Qaeda strongholds in the Kabylia region, were seized coming across Algeria's southern border with Mali.

Eight months after the tourists' kidnapping, "pressures are mounting on Austrian authorities to accelerate the release of the two hostages", he said.

Meanwhile, the kidnappers have relinquished previous demands for the release of al-Qaeda leaders held in Algerian and Tunisian prisons, including Amari Saifi, a.k.a. Abderrazzak El Para, the mastermind of a large-scale tourist abduction in 2005, and Abdelfetah Abou Bassir, the architect of the bombings against the Government Palace in April 2007.

The armed group's demand for the release of their jailed leaders was mere posturing, since the kidnappers knew full well that neither Algerian nor Tunisian authorities would meet their demands, security expert Ghoumrassa Bouelame told Magharebia.

Observers see the situation as a repeat of El Para's 2005 kidnapping of 32 German, Austrian and Swiss tourists. The German government ultimately paid a ransom estimated at 5 million euros.

Terrorists used that money to buy weapons and ammunition, which they then smuggled across the southern border with Mali to northern Algeria.

The case of the two kidnapped Austrian nationals shows how desperate the Maghreb branch of al-Qaeda has become.

Little has changed since 2006, when its leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, sent an urgent message to Osama bin Laden wherein he complained that the North African group's lack of funds prevented it from attracting new recruits. Operations would decline, he warned, if he did not receive money as soon as possible.

Out of desperation, the terror group began to form bandit teams tasked with robbing farmers, especially in Boumerdès, Tizi Ouzou and the Metija Valley, south of the capital. This was followed by kidnapping operations against wealthy people, contractors and their children.

Algerian media reports new abductions every week.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb uses ransoms to finance attacks, including suicide operations that require more resources.

The money also pays salaries, especially for married terrorists, and lures young men into joining armed groups on promises of improving their families' living standards.

In its October 9th issue, Echorouk reported that the suspicions of security authorities were aroused when many families in Tizi Ouzou and Boumerdès suddenly appeared wealthier.

  • Investigators looking into the source of the new wealth found only one common denominator: each family included a relative who had recently joined the terrorist group.
  • While some Algerian families profit from an association with al-Qaeda, others find themselves forced to purchase the safe return of a loved one.
  • In one such case reported October 9th by El Khabar newspaper, a contractor from Khenchela paid 200 million centimes for the release of his son. Soon after paying the ransom, he was imprisoned for failing to report the kidnapping and thus enabling terrorists to obtain money.

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Indeed, many wealthy individuals have changed their habits to thwart the plans of kidnappers. Others have even opted to surround themselves with bodyguards.

Faced with a spike in recorded kidnappings in recent months, Algerian authorities recently took decisive action to halt this phenomenon or at least mitigate its magnitude.

To keep the families of abductees from paying terrorists' ransom demands, security officers closely monitor all bank accounts belonging to kidnap victims and their relatives, Liberte reported on October 12th.

Authorities may even temporarily block the accounts if they learn of plans to give money to terrorists. Officials hope the plan proves to be a daunting deterrent to terrorist groups and other kidnappers, the newspaper added.

The Rest @ Magharebia

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