This Week In North Africa
Reporting from Northern Africa continues to be dominated this week by the aftermath of the gas plant attack in Algeria on 16 January and the French intervention in Mali. French forces have so far succeeded in putting pressure on jihadist forces in northern Mali, resulting in one of the main groups, Ansar Dine, splitting. French forces have succeeded in securing central Mali and are now looking at pushing assets northwards however they still face many hurdles in their objective of recovering Malian territory for the Malian government. Residents of Timbuktu greeted French Forces with joy during the week but were also left devastated by the loss of their library which was torched by fleeing militants. The library contained documents going back to the 13 Century detailing scientific knowledge as well as life in Timbuktu.
Libya has increased security around its oil and gas infrastructure following the militant attack against a gas plant and a subsequent threat alert from the UK and German governments for their nationals in Benghazi to evacuate. Libya is also sending troops to the Algerian border as they try to mitigate against the growing militant threat in the south of the country where militants are taking advantage of a security vacuum following Gaddafi’s downfall.
On 27 January, a security patrol guarding a pipeline in the Algerian desert was attacked by al-Farouq Brigade near Bouira, in the heartland of al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb. Three guards were killed in the attack which took place just over a week after a high profile attack on a Algerian gas plant near the Libyan border in which nearly 40 people were killed. The attack in Bouira is significant, following on the heels of the attack against the gas plant. The militant group believed responsible has a history of launching suicide attacks but has been largely quiet since 2010. It is possible the high profile gas plant attack has inspired others in the area to carryout operations and further attacks, against soft targets in the general area are likely. Further attacks in the region are expected as the French intervention displaces militant groups and they continue to exploit the security vacuum in southern Libya.
Algeria is growing in strategic importance for Europe as they look to increase and secure gas supplies. This together with the displacement of militant groups caused by the French intervention as well as the vacuum in Libya will ensure the area continues to see attention from both opposing sides.