The large number of North American Muslims, mostly Algerians, who have been arrested in recent weeks throughout Europe and America for their alleged connection with al-Qa’ida has focused unprecedented attention on the Algerian ‘civil war’. But the wrong conclusions have been drawn: Algerian Islamic activists have been branded as terrorists bent upon exporting their "terrorist practices", and the government has been shown as a "victim of terrorism". Most of the arrests have reportedly been made on the basis of intelligence, supplied by the French and Algerian governments, that is unreliable, and the conclusions are based on assumptions at variance with the known facts of the confrontation between the Algerian government and FIS.
The Algerian conflict is at present mostly a domestic issue, and the alleged links between al-Qa’ida and Algerian activists are grossly exaggerated. Algerians who seek asylum abroad are usually trying to escape official persecution. There is also the established government practice of infiltrating Islamic groups in order to commit acts of terrorism that can then be blamed on the activists. But recent reports have blamed Islamic groups for the mayhem, although they concede that it was the military establishment that cancelled the elections that FIS was about to win. The resulting unrest has cost more than 20,000 lives.
In an article published on January 19, for instance, the London-based Sunday Telegraph blamed Algerians for the murder of Stephen Oake (the police officer killed in the search of a flat in Manchester) and for alleged plans to commit terrorist attacks in Britain. It took four journalists to write the nonsense that "after a 10 year conflict in Algeria, Islamic extremists have brought their holy war here". They resorted to the sordid device of quoting shadowy intelligence agents. "MI5 officers are convinced that terrorists are planning an audacious terrorist attack on British soil aimed at creating widespread panic."
Time magazine, in an article published in the January 27 issue, also held the Algerians responsible for most of this terrorism. The article quoted Magnus Ranstorp, "terrorist expert" at St. Andrews University: "North Africans, but particularly Algerians, have been the most active component of the al-Qa’ida network in Europe." In Europe and America the allegation alone that a Muslim has connections with al-Qa’ida is enough to tar him. But Ranstorp also said that European intelligence and security services held an unprecedented meeting in Algiers in the spring of 2001 to discuss "what to do about the Algerian dimension". The article conveniently accepted the first part of the quotation as proof of Algerian involvement in terrorism and the second as European governments’ tendency to prefer talk to action.
In fact the meeting of European security and intelligence services in Algiers is an indication of how European governments, particularly the French, work closely with the Algerian authorities to incriminate Islamic activists. Recently the Algerian chief of staff, Muhammad Lamary, boasted publicly that the French and Algerian security forces agree about "how dangerous Islamic groups are", and cooperate closely to defeat them. Lamary’s remarks clearly show how unreliable intelligence reports provided by European and American organisations are–in particular those provided by the French and used to arrest Algerians in Europe and the US. Ransport’s reference to the Algiers meeting reinforces the suspicion that what US and European agencies are offering as evidence of Algerian Islamic activists’ involvement in terrorism is based on Algerian government propaganda.
The competition between US and European countries to sell arms to Algiers, and to invest in the country’s rich oil and gas resources, is enough to explain why those countries are eager to work with the regime of president Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, who now enjoys the full backing of the US government, which is providing arms and is also engaged in sharp competition with Paris for Algeria’s energy resources. American officials are flocking to Algiers, which they had previously avoided as being in France’s sphere of influence, and they admit that they are learning from Algiers’ experiences of "combatting terrorism".
Another reason for western governments’ being eager to make Algerians terrorists is related to immigration and asylum. The US and many European countries have amended their security and immigration laws to detain or deport unwanted immigrants or asylum-seekers. The recent hysteria about "Islamic terrorist-cells" in Europe helps them to claim that these laws must be tightened even further. For instance, Tony Blair, the British prime minister, has announced that rules relating to asylum-seekers will be amended further to deny them the rights supposedly guaranteed by the that the Geneva Convention.
The seeming paradox is that the more assistance these governments give Bouteflika to defeat the ‘Islamic terrorists’, the more asylum-seekers they will have. Their support for Algiers will increase the popular backing for Islamic activists; eventually the secularists now oppressing them will be defeated and will flee, creating a far larger wave of refugees to Europe and America.