Tripoli, 19 September:
The Algerian military has reportedly killed seven members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in two separate operations on the borders with Libya and Niger.
The operations were reported yesterday, the same day the Libya Herald received reports of Libyans shooting at an Algerian helicopter patrolling Libyan airspace over the western city of Ghadames.
According to the Algerian An-Nahar Al-Jadid newspaper, four members of the Islamist group were killed as they attempted to enter Algeria from Libya in two vehicles.
Seven Kalashnikov rifles were also said to have been found amongst the wreckage, along with boxes of ammunition containing 15,000 rounds.
The Algerian authorities are currently examining the bodies to ascertain the identities of the men, including their names and nationalities.
Another Algerian newspaper, Al-Khabar reported that three further militants were killed in on the Niger-Algeria border, somewhere south of the provincial capital of Tamanrasset.
The operation was said to have been linked to a suicide bombing at a police station in Tamanrasset in early March, which left at least 24 people wounded, including 15 police officers.
Algeria has been battling Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for several years, and the terrorist group is responsible for numerous attacks and kidnappings across North Africa.
AQIM is an outgrowth of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which fought to overthrow the Algerian government in the 1990s and early 2000s.
In recent years, AQIM has been pushed to the more remote peripheries of North Africa, and the movement is said to be heavily involved in illegal smuggling operations in the region.
Separately, an eyewitness in Ghadames informed the Libya Herald this morning that an Algerian helicopter has been conducting patrols over the city, said to be a part of border security operations.
Located on the Libyan border with Algeria and Tunisia, Ghadames is a gateway for smuggled goods, including weapons and narcotics, both to and from Libya’s remote south.
“The helicopter comes over Ghadames for around ten minutes and then heads back to its base, around 15 kilometres west across the border”, said Bilal Aghali, a local resident.
“We think they [the Algerians] are warning us, because they don’t want anyone from Ghadames to go to the border. There are people training with guns there and many people involved in illegal trade.
“This has happened twice now. The helicopter doesn’t shoot anyone. They take pictures and then they’re off”.
Yakoub Dhow, a member of the Ghadames Local Council, complained that the aircraft had entered Libyan airspace without prior permission, and there have been unconfirmed reports that it was fired upon by Libyans in the area.
However, a spokesman at the Ministry of Defence, Adel Barasi, has said that the incursion was legitimate.
“This is part of an operation to secure the border area between Libya and Algeria and comes within a border security agreement between our two countries”, he said.