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Al-Qaeda on the Run in Algeria?

News from North Africa has been almost uniformly bad since the heyday of the Arab Spring. The messy Libya mission, the chaos in northern Mali, and the rise of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as a potent terrorist force have been the biggest stories of the past year, and all suggest that radical Islam is spreading in the region. But reports that the Berber communities in northern Algeria are finally beginning to take an active role the struggle against al-Qaeda suggest that, at least in Algeria, things may be turning around. The New York Times reports:

Weary from years of kidnappings, the inhabitants of Algeria’s rugged Kabylie mountains are finally turning against the fighters of Al Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate in their midst and helping security forces hunt them down. And that turnaround is giving Algeria its best chance yet to drive the terror network from its last Algerian stronghold.

While defeated in much of the rest of the country, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb remains active in the Kabylie, partly because the Berbers there, the region’s original inhabitants before the arrival of Arabs, have long been deeply hostile to the central government and refused to provide information on militant whereabouts or activity.

If the experience of Iraq is any guide, this Berber awakening could be a game-changer. It wasn’t until Sunni leaders finally turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq that it became possible for American forces to restore order and turn the country over to a new  government. Something similar may now be happening in Algeria. The AQIM movement has relied on support from the Berber minority to help its fighters hide from Algerian security forces for years. But now, fed up with kidnappings and other lawlessness, the Berbers seem to be turning against the guerrillas. This could spell the end of one of al-Qaeda’s oldest strongholds.

Unfortunately AQIM may not need its Berber base as much as it used to. As a result of the ill-conceived Libya intervention, Libya and northern Mali are now places where the organization has something of a free hand. For a group being chased out of their old home, the timing couldn’t be better.

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