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Algerian group linked to training camps

ICC NOTE: The danger of these militant groups is that wherever they establish themselves, whether that is in Pakistan , Somalia , or in this case North Africa , they breed hostility towards religious minorities. Pray that North African governments will be diligent in rooting them out.

By Heba Saleh and Andrew England

February 8 2007 Financial Times – An Algerian group that has started to call itself al-Qaeda in the Maghreb has been running training camps for Islamic militants from other North African countries, according to an official with the United States European command.

“They have been doing a lot of training: sort of here today gone tomorrow training in the wadis of northern Mali ,” said the official. “We are not talking about fixed training sites like we had in Afghanistan . These are meetings of trucks and tents for three days to a week, then they disperse.”

The Algerians had trained recruits from Tunisia , Libya , Niger , Mali , Senegal and Morocco , who were then sent back to carry out operations in their home countries, he said.

Until a few weeks ago when it changed its name to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb , the Algerian group was known as the GSPC, a French acronym for the Salafi Group for Predication and Combat.

Thought to operate with a few hundred men mainly in eastern Algeria and parts of the vast Algerian Sahara, it is the only significant militant group still fighting the authorities.

The GSPC was established in the 1990s at the height of the armed insurgency sparked off by the Algerian army’s annulment of elections in 1992 to prevent an Islamist win. Experts say it is now much weakened but still able to strike.

The group carried out a rocket attack against an Algerian army post last month, killing five soldiers. Ten militants were reported killed when the military counter-attacked.

It was also behind an attack in December near Algiers against a bus carrying employees of an affiliate of Halliburton, the US energy giant. The driver was killed and several passengers wounded.

But the US official said the GSPC’s attempt to affiliate itself with al-Qaeda was not necessarily an indication of strength. “The Algerians have been successful at combating the GSPC,” he said, “which is one reason it operates in northern Mali .”

He believes the group “reached out to the larger jihad, probably I would suspect more out of drowning man syndrome – to stay afloat.”

Experts say the GSPC is unlikely to be taking orders from Osama bin Laden. “There is an appropriation of the brand of al-Qaeda, thinking it might benefit them,” said Gavin Proudly of Quest, a London-based business consultancy. The GSPC was not taking instructions from al-Qaeda, “but this is irrelevant, since they know its goals”.

But the US official said the growing co-operation between the North Africa groups was worrying. “It’s that training, that mobility, that cross-border movement that gives us concern.”

Last month, the Tunisian authorities announced that they had pre-empted attacks against foreign embassies by a local group which included a Mauritanian national and five Tunisians who had come across the border from Algeria .