By the early 1980s, the Islamist movement provided a greater
rallying point for opposition elements than did secular leftists.
Although Islam was identified with the nationalist struggle against
the French, the Algerian government had controlled its practice
since independence through the Ministry of Religious Affairs and
the Superior Islamic Council. The council maintained "official"
mosques and paid the salaries of imams (religious leaders). Beginning
in 1979, however, concurrent with the religious revolution that
toppled the government of Iran, large numbers of young people
began to congregate at mosques that operated beyond the control
of the authorities. At prayer meetings, imams not paid by the
government preached in favor of a more egalitarian society, against
the arrogance of the rich, and for an end to corrupt practices
in government, business, and religion.
In a pattern of escalating violence during the early 1980s, religious
extremists became increasingly active, assaulting women in Western-style
dress, questioning the legitimacy of the "Marxist" Algerian government,
and calling for an Islamic republic that would use the Quran as
its constitution. After a brutal confrontation between Marxist
and Islamist demonstrators at the University of Algiers in November
1982, the authorities rounded up and prosecuted for subversion
students, imams, and intellectuals linked with the Algerian Islamic
Movement headed by Mustapha Bouyali. Bouyali himself remained
at large, forming a guerrilla band that was involved in a number
of clashes with security forces. He was killed in early 1987,
and his group was disbanded.
Serious demonstrations to protest commodity shortages and high
prices broke out in Algiers, Oran, and other cities in October
1988. When the police proved unable to curb the outbreak, troops
supported by armored vehicles assumed responsibility for security.
Large demonstrations were staged by Islamist groups inspired by
the intifada, the uprising of Palestinians against Israeli
rule on the West Bank of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip.
It was estimated that more than 500 people were killed after ill-trained
soldiers used automatic weapons against the demonstrators. More
than 3,500 demonstrators were arrested, but most were released
without charges before year's end. Allegations of arbitrary arrest,
unfair trials, mistreatment, and torture compounded public anger
against the government.
When Benjedid's reforms opened political life to wider public
participation, the FIS emerged in 1989 as the primary instrument
of the Islamic movement. The FIS achieved rapid success in local
elections, especially in the working-class districts of Algiers
and other cities. The FIS leaders, determined to remain a legitimate
political party, did not acknowledge links with Islamist groups
dedicated to violence. The party was banned in March 1992, however,
and thousands of its officials and supporters were arrested under
the state of emergency. After that time, the FIS appeared to have
shifted to a policy of armed response, declaring that the "state
violence" of the authorities justified recourse to "means other
than dialogue." (Yared; NYT8- 20-92; EIU 3/92))
Extremist branches of the Islamist movement engaged openly in
violence against government targets after the cancellation of
the elections. One of the most radical branches, Al Takfir wal
Hijra (Repentance and Holy Flight), originally consisted of about
500 Algerian veterans of service in mujahidin (literally
"holy warriors" or freedom fighters) forces in Afghanistan. Their
acts of urban terrorism often were aimed against police and military
posts in order to gather weapons and to demonstrate the government's
inability to maintain control.
After the government's crackdown against the FIS in 1992, various
other activist Islamist organizations sprang up, with units operating
in groups of two to five, without apparent unified command. These
groups, difficult to distinguish from each other, targeted police
posts, courthouses and other public buildings, and selected public
figures. In some cases, assassination targets were announced in
Officials did not ascribe the June 1992 assassination of the
chairman of the High Council of State, Mohamed Boudiaf, to terrorist
groups, although Islamic activists welcomed the action. The assassin,
a junior officer assigned to presidential security, was described
as "motivated by religious convictions."
The government interned at least 9,000 persons, many of them
elected FIS members of assemblies at the province (wilaya;
pl., wilayat) and commune levels, at camps in the Sahara
during the spring of 1992. Many of the urban terrorists waged
guerrilla warfare from refuges in the mountainous areas adjacent
to large cities. Large-scale gendarmerie actions hunted them down.
Although the government claimed it had neutralized most terrorist
groups, more rigorous measures were imposed in December 1992.
These measures included a major sweep by 30,000 army and police
personnel directed at every entity connected with the FIS, together
with a strict curfew in Algiers and other localities.
After the banning of the FIS in Algeria, many FIS leaders escaped
to France, where they reportedly continued to recruit new fighters
and collect funds and supplies to pursue the armed struggle in
Algeria. The FIS, as a foreign political party, was prohibited
from operating on French soil; however, it was represented by
the Algerian Brotherhood in France set up by Algerian students.
Previously, the Movement for Democracy in Algeria of former President
Ben Bella had used intimidation and violence in seeking the support
of Algerians resident in France, but such intimidation was no
longer considered necessary.
Data as of December 1993