While this account is not entirely inaccurate, it leaves out so many important details as to be essentially false. Above all, it omits the role of the Algerian regime in counterterrorism, which has been effective at defeating the jihad even though its methods would make most Westerners shudder. The lead agency in the fight against the Algerian mujahidin has been the country’s military intelligence service, the feared DRS. With a reputation for ruthlessness and efficiency second to none in the Arab world, the DRS is arguably the world’s most effective intelligence service when it comes to fighting Al Qaeda; it is also probably the most cold-blooded. The DRS can be considered the backbone of the military-led junta. General Mohamed Mediene has headed the DRS since 1990, making him the longest-serving intelligence boss in world history—and few doubt that he is the most powerful man in the country.
Trained by the KGB and schooled in the hard fight for independence, Algerian spies have used tactics against homegrown extremists reminiscent of a sinister B-grade movie. Several high-ranking DRS officers have explained what they did to defeat the mujahidin, including violating human rights on an industrial scale, but hardly anyone outside France seems to have noticed.
Simply put, GIA was the creation of the DRS; using proven Soviet methods of penetration and provocation, the agency assembled it to discredit the extremists. Much of GIA’s leadership consisted of DRS agents, who drove the group into the dead end of mass murder, a ruthless tactic that thoroughly discredited GIA Islamists among nearly all Algerians. Most of its major operations were the handiwork of the DRS, including the 1995 wave of bombings in France. Some of the most notorious massacres of civilians were perpetrated by military special units masquerading as mujahidin, or by GIA squads under DRS control. Having driven GIA into the ground by the late 1990s, DRS has continued to infiltrate and influence Islamist groups in the country. To what extent the local Al Qaeda affiliate is secretly controlled by the military—as GIA and GSPC were—is an open question, but its recent record suggests that DRS influence over any Algerian extremist group is considerable.
U.S. Intel Failure?
These realities, understood by Algerians, are little known in the West, particularly in the United States. While French senior officials have hinted they have been wise to DRS games for many years, a similar understanding seems altogether lacking in the Pentagon or the U.S. intelligence community, which have partnered with Algeria in the fight against Al Qaeda since the 1990s. Whether they really are ignorant or simply do not want to know the sordid details is an open and important question.
To be fair to those inside the Beltway, outside “terrorism experts” are just as credulous about Algeria’s “official story,” and an entire subindustry has arisen in recent years that seeks to explain Algeria and its violent homegrown jihad without any reference to basic realities inside the country.