– Algerian government reveals number of kidnappings carried out by terrorists and organized crime rings
– Ransoms paid during 2007 totaled US$19 million, divided between terrorists and gang members
– As both groups continue to raise funds, it is likely that their capabilities and attacks will increase in the near to mid-term
The Algerian Interior Minister, Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni, released a “rare public tally” of kidnappings during a questioning session in Parliament on May 15, 2008. During the event he revealed that in 2007 the total number of government-recorded kidnappings was 375, comprised of 115 terrorism-related and 260 criminal-related abductions. More alarming was the total number of funds raised, mostly by ransom, which equals approximately US$19 million. Divided between terror groups, like the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AOIM) and criminal gang rings, these funds have significantly attributed to rearming, regrouping, and replenishing these groups’ operational capabilities.
Considered a lucrative crime in the politically troubled Kabylie region east of Algiers, civilian kidnapping has become a common method of fundraising practiced mostly by criminal gang rings seeking weapons and drugs since the early-1990s. As a result of the criminals’ success, extremist rebel groups like the former Salifist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), now known as the AOIM, assumed the practice to raise monies for its own political agenda starting in the mid 1990s. Later transforming into a vehicle to fund terrorism, the AOIM carried out a number of tourist abductions, demanding large sums of money to buy their freedom.
• Considered one of the most widely known kidnapping operations, in February 2003 former GSPC members abducted 32 European tourists in the Sahara desert . The operation funded US$5 million worth of weapons, materials, and other supplies.
• More recently, the AOIM kidnapped two Austrian tourists in Tunisia in February 2008 . Through likely monetary negotiations with local criminal gangs, the AOIM has been able to hold the Austrians in the mountainous region of northern Mali at present. The group dropped their first demand of releasing prisoners in exchange for the couple and instead demanded a ransom of 5 million euros (Previous Report).
In March 2008, the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat published a letter from AOIM entitled, “Call for help from the Islamic Maghreb.” In the letter, AOIM acknowledged that it is suffering from a lack of operatives and most importantly that its elements have “an urgent need of cash.” Ultimately, if Austria were to pay the ransom for its two citizens currently held hostage, the AOIM would use the money to replenish itself for future operations.
Due to the number of civilian and tourist abductions the Algerian government plans to expand its police force to 200,000 by 2009 from the 140,000 officers it currently employs to combat crime and terror attacks. However, it is likely that kidnappings will continue to increase in Algeria, leaving criminals and terrorists to demand even higher sums of money.