Fear of violence from Algeria

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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY'S arrests in five European countries of more than 80 people suspected of involvement in an international Islamic terrorist network is further proof of the worry that the unceasing and bestial conflict in Algeria will spread north to the European mainland.

Violence has racked Algeria for more than six years, since the government cancelled elections which the Islamists were certain to win. Almost every day brings a new atrocity - yesterday's being a bomb which killed at least seven people in a market in a town 50 miles south-west of Algiers. On Sunday, five policemen were killed in an ambush; two days earlier, 16 people were killed in a market bombing in an Algiers suburb.

And so the litany of barbarities goes on. Since 1992 at least 65,000, perhaps 100,000, people have been slaughtered. But no one knows for sure. Any journalist who peers too closely risks death, while the Algerian government has often seemed accomplice to the killings.

Its ostensible foe is the Armed Islamic Groups (GIA). But the GIA is fragmented and some parts of it have been infiltrated by the authorities. Thus the suspicion that the government, whose supreme duty is ensure the safety of ordinary Algerians, is now in some cases deliberately conniving at their killing, to inflate the threat to itself and justify its repressive and undemocratic policies.

The charge is a terrible one, but how else to explain the army's long failure to suppress the insurgents, and the massacres which have taken place within a stone's throw of military and security barracks, which did nothing to stop the atrocities on their doorsteps.

Making matters yet worse is the split within the regime, between those who seek political accommodation with the Islamists, and those for whom the only goal is the eradication of the fundamentalists.

Thus, with both sides divided, and suspicions of conspiracy and double- dealing rife, small wonder that the feelers put out for a settlement - most visibly by elements of the Islamic Salvation Front, the fundamentalists' political arm - have come to naught. And with deadlock at home, terrorism's shadow is spreading north across the Mediterranean.

For years, MI5 has kept itight tabs on terrorist suspects and British police last March arrested eight Algerians amid speculation they were planning actions to disrupt the World Cup. Even so, Paris claims that Britain and other European countries are too lax. In the United Kingdom, notes France, it is not a criminal offence to conspire to commit acts of terrorism against a foreign government.