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Rivalries and reputation may be part of motive

Algerian security forces enjoyed a series of small victories last autumn in their 25-year war against Islamic militants.

world Updated: Jan 20, 2013 23:12 IST

Algerian security forces enjoyed a series of small victories last autumn in their 25-year war against Islamic militants.

A spate of kidnappings and robberies had alienated the usually truculent communities of the Kabylie mountains in the north-east of the country and led to a flow of intelligence pinpointing the whereabouts of senior figures in the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group.

Abdel Malek Droukdel, the group's leader, escaped the dragnet but others did not.

Four months later those same security forces have just fought a fierce battle against more militants who have executed the most spectacular attack in the country since the 1994 hijacking of a French aircraft at Algiers airport.

The group responsible for the hijacking almost 19 years ago, the Groupe Islamique Armé, later fragmented.

The conclusions drawn from the situation in the country are straightforward: the behaviour of the militants is determined by compulsions as varied as those on any actor in the conflict; the fragmentation of a group can often lead to more extreme violence not less; and countering militancy through strategies that play on internal competition can often work better than frontal assaults.