Less than 48 hours after the suicide attack which apparently targeted President Bouteflika during his visit to the eastern town of Batna, and in which 19 people were killed, a booby-trapped van was driven into the back entrance of the naval barracks in Dellys, some 80 km east of the capital Algiers. At least 30 people perished in this second attack, most of them Navy personnel.
These attacks have sent shockwaves across the country, and beyond. They have been met with sincere indignation and have awakened old fears but they have also raised questions about the effectiveness of the "national reconciliation" policy initiated and defended by the Algerian president.
Under the headlines "Fears about the return of terror during Ramadan Cautious anticipation in the capital and the security services seal off the roads into the province", the Arabic-language daily El Khabar on 9 September wrote that when speaking to several members of the public in Algiers, its reporter sensed "a great deal of anxiety and frustration and also fears about the repercussions of what had happened in the last few hours; and maybe because of the bloody decade Algerians are used to finding a connection between the language of security escalation and the holy month of Ramadan".
On the same day, the French-language daily L'Expression wrote, under the headline "The black September of the Algerians", that "judging by the recent events, the Algerians are already expecting a significant upsurge of terrorist operations... The blood-thirsty people behind [these attacks] seem to be determined to drive the country back into the c! haos which prevailed in the 1990s."
El Watan, another French-language daily, wrote on 9 September, under the headline "Drop in vigilance or failure of the security services", that "since the attack carried out against the government headquarters, the drop in the vigilance of the security services has been exposed. Today, military camps are attacked, barracks are violated, and above all, the president of the republic himself is targeted by an attack." It added that "the use of suicide bombers tells us about a change of strategy by the terrorist groups, but have the means used to fight terrorist been changed too? ... The phenomenon of suicide attacks is new and requires an adaptation of the techniques used to fight it."
The state-owned Les Horizons, on the same day, wrote, under the headline "Algeria will not waver", that "beyond the various speculations, the fact remains that these crimes are signed by religious fundamentalism with its operating methods. It is it! s followers which resort to suicide bombers... After the pain, lessons must be learnt. Vigilance must always remain in place, and Algeria, which has gone through periods of despair, must know how to hold its head high. It can lose battles but it will win the war in the end."
The French-language daily La Depeche de Kabylie, also on 9 September, wrote that "the local army rabble of Al-Qa'idah is trying diabolically to throw the country into hysteria with the large-scale suicide attacks it had been planning for nearly a year".
Another French-language daily La Nouvelle Republique, on the same day, wrote, under the headline "The big concern", that "suicide attacks constitute a real source of concern for Algerian experts who fear further terrorist acts in the coming days".
In a separate article, the newspaper wrote that "whether a calculation or simply a coincidence, these tragic events took place on the eve of a very symbolic anniversary in the world, namely the 11 September attacks in the USA, and they sound like a challenge to ! the world alliance against terrorism which is led by Washington and which Algiers could only join".
Under the article "Pact with the Devil", La Tribune daily wrote that "the toxic remnants of the ugly beast, who are besieged from all sides, are trying to survive at all costs, at least in the media, by causing the maximum number of casualties among the population and the security forces... From now on, we must all be more vigilant to wage the ultimate battle against these advocates of the scorched earth policy who have borrowed their methods and their venom from the mercenaries of the evil OAS [Organization of the Secret Army set up by French settlers in Algeria in the early 1960s to oppose the country's independence]."
The Jeune Independant daily wrote, under the headline "If you remain a fish, I will drown you", that "in Batna, after the carnage, [Interior Minister] Zerhouni told the terrorists that they had only one choice `turn themselves in or die'. Yesterda! y, there was another carnage, with the same operating method used two months ago in Lakhdaria. In Batna and in Dellys the suicide bombers died of course. Maybe they had decided o die before the idea of their death came to Zerhouni's mind. Also, you might as well tell a fish `we are going to drown you'."
Another daily, Le Jour d'Algerie, wrote that "if we wonder why Islamist terrorism is persisting to such an extent in Algeria, whose people have after all paid a heavy price to stand in its way, we need to acknowledge that here for it [Islamist terrorism] is like a promised land where, instead of a unanimous opposition, it always finds political support, even among those who say they are condemning its acts."
Several Algerian newspapers went out of their way to defend the policy of national reconciliation put in place by President Bouteflika. Some of them even echoed statements made by the president himself and his interior minister in the aftermath of the Batna attack in which they talked about a foreign conspiracy.
Under the headline "Cowardly act", the French-language economic daily "Le Maghreb", also on 9 September, pointed the finger at "the external manipulations and interventions aimed at destabilizing the country and its republican system".
The Arabic-language daily Al-Ahrar, on the same day, wrote, under the headline "Criminal forces target the symbol of national reconciliation", that "the man's [Bouteflika's] determination, according to people close to him and his advisers, to go further in his project to establish peace and national reconciliation is now worrying the brokers of the Algerian crisis and has pushed them ! to take revenge on him".
In the same vein, the state-run El Moudjahid daily wrote in its editorial headlined "With the weapon of dignity", that "to those who chose to be outlawed from society, who have placed themselves in the service of foreign interests, who chose the weapon of violence against their country and who chose the path of regression, Algeria replies to them with the weapon of dignity". It added: "Algeria will never be intimidated. It will not drop its guard while still believing in the merits of the national reconciliation because violence is not preordained for Algeria."
The Arabic-language daily El Massa, under the headline "The Algerians rally around the national reconciliation policy", on the same day, wrote: "There is absolutely no doubt about it: All the Algerians, from the extreme north to the extreme south, from the extreme east to the extreme west, strongly support the national reconciliation efforts and they know more than ever before th! at this time they do not need to be saved only from violence and terro rism but also from poverty and hardship."
Other newspapers took a different approach and laid some blame for the violence on the policy of national reconciliation for the violence. Thus, the Algerian electronic news daily Tout sur l'Algerie wrote, under the headline "On reconciliation in general", that "what was called pompously `national reconciliation' was erected on the ruins of an absurd war imposed on an Algeria bled white. The victims were ordered to fraternize with those who were their torturer yesterday... In other countries, the murderers especially in Rwanda had to face civilian courts or popular tribunals to expiate their sins and crimes before deserving to be pardoned by the nation. In our country, it was not possible for the families of thousands of the victims of the `dirty war' to grieve because of the `necessary reconciliation'. Spot the difference." L'Expression also wrote "that "indeed the Algerians approved the national reconciliation, but none of them understands why we are all still obstinately urging those who refused to take the outstretched hand of the president of the republic to come to their senses". In its editorial headlined "Too many dead", the French-language daily wrote; "Dead. Still more dead. No fewer than 36 dead in less than 48 hours in two suicide attacks. Too many casualties...The scourge of terrorism is permanent despite the policy of national reconciliation. The policy of the carrot and the stick must end. We should no longer close our eyes to the peril by trying to contain it." Under the headline "Fighting differently", El Watan wrote that "Devised in Algeria, by the current authorities, as the sole and infallible response, national reconciliation eventually came up against the reality: the GSPC [Salafi Group of Call and Combat] groups do not want it and the repentant [terrorists] have used it as a springboard to reoccupy the political scene and recreate the FIS [now-banned Islamic Salvation Front]". The latest attacks are certainly going to revive the debate between those who advocate the total eradication of the armed Islamist groups and the adoption of a tougher stance towards the Islamists bent on setting up a party on the ashes of the now-defunct Islamic Salvation Front and those who insist that the national reconciliation policy can succeed. Politicians and senior army officers have already chosen their camps. The question now remains: Will the people of Algeria continue to give their unwavering backing to this policy if the attacks of the last three days are followed by even deadlier outrages during the month of Ramadan?
Sources: As listed