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Morocco Teams Up With Algeria Against Terror

Reuters, Agence France Presse, Al-Jazeerah, 20 June 2003

RABAT, 20 June 2003—Morocco and Algeria, uneasy North African neighbors, but both battling extremists, have begun to cooperate against terrorism despite frosty relations, a Moroccan minister said on Wednesday. Speaking just a month after Casablanca was hit by suicide bombings blamed on Islamist extremists, Communications Minister and government spokesman Nabil Benabdellah told a Paris news conference that cooperation was under way, but gave no details.

The multiple blasts killed 43 people, including 12 suicide bombers and has shaken this Maghreb kingdom priding itself for its relative stability and big tourism market. Neighboring Algeria has fought fundamentalist rebel groups for more than a decade and the strife has caused more than100 , 000deaths and around $ 20billion in damages.

With Morocco and Algeria equally hit hard, we must. . .act together to eradicate this scourge (of terrorism), Moroccan state news agency MAP quoted Benabdellah as saying.

Relations between Morocco and Algeria have been tense for more than 25 years, mainly due to a territorial dispute over the Western Sahara, claimed by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front independence movement but largely controlled by Morocco.

Western diplomats say the US administration and European governments, particularly France and Spain, are concerned about the security risk rebel groups pose in the region and abroad and are keen to get Morocco and Algeria to work together.

Bilateral contacts have intensified in recent months with their foreign ministers’ paying reciprocal visits. Benabdellah did not rule out a meeting between King Muhammad and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Such a summit would be the first public meeting between the two since1999 , when Bouteflika attended the funeral of the monarch’s father.

Meanwhile, four people were killed in eastern Algeria in the early hours of yesterday by a group of armed extremists, a source from the North African country’s security forces said. The four were killed by armed extremists on a road near the town of El-Ancer in the Jijel region, 360 kilometers east of Algiers, the source said in Algiers. The security forces immediately launched an operation to find the criminals.

Extremists have carried out several attacks in Algeria’s eastern region in recent days, particularly in Kabylie, home to the large Berber minority. Three civilians were killed on Sunday near Setif, 300 kilometers east of Algiers, and on the same day, four policemen were killed in a bomb attack at Tizi N’tletat, near the main city in Kabylie, Tizi Ouzou.

A gendarme—a member of the police force administered by the defense department—was killed on Wednesday and another seriously injured in an ambush on a road near Boumerdes, 50 kilometers east of the Mediterranean coastal capital. The latest attacks bring to more than 100 the number of people who have been killed in Algeria since the start of the month.

The North African country has been wracked by civil war since 1992 , the year elections which an Islamist party was poised to win were cancelled by the army.