Nabila Ramdani: A New Chapter in Algeria's Savage History





Nabila Ramdani is a Paris-born freelance journalist and academic of Algerian descent.

Given Algeria's savage history, it is tragic but hardly surprising that the In Amenas hostage standoff would end in a bloodbath. Army helicopter gunships arrived at the isolated gas field in the south-east of the country within a day of al-Qaida rebels launching their operation. There was no apparent attempt at negotiation – witnesses reported both captors and captives being indiscriminately strafed with machine-gun fire.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed "gangster" said to have planned Wednesday's initial attack on the BP-run facility, knows the terror game inside out. He will not flinch at the loss of life, even if those who died include loyal lieutenants. Belmokhtar, 41, is the personification of an Algerian narrative that, in living memory, has involved the most destructive colonial conflict in modern history, and a civil war that claimed at least 250,000 lives.

Belmokhtar trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan while still a teenager. He fought the Russians there, before returning home to pursue jihad against his own country's military. It was the army that nullified an Islamist victory in the 1992 elections, so starting the civil war that has come to define modern Algeria. Its violent legacy is as powerful as ever, making the country a tragically fitting battleground in the war against terror...



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