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If Plague struck North Africa

January 20, 2009
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An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday.

The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.

Al-Qaeda bungles arms experiment,” The Washington Times, 19 January, 2009.

Bubonic Plague is spread by bites from infected rat fleas. Symptoms include painful boils in the groin, neck and armpits. In Pneumonic Plague, airborn bacteria spread like flu. Without medication it can be deadly.

The new epidemic began in the cave hideouts of AQLIM in Tizi Ouzou province, 150km east of the capital Algiers, the Sun reports.

The group, led by wanted terror figure Abdelmalek Droudkal, was forced to turn its shelters in the Yakouren forest into mass graves and flee.

The group now fears the highly-infectious disease could have spread to other al-Qaeda training camps or Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, the paper said.

A source said: “The emirs (leaders) fear surviving terrorists will surrender to escape a horrible death.”

AQLIM bombed the UN headquarters in Algiers in 2007, killing 41.

Black Death ‘kills al-Qaeda operatives in Algeria’,” Telegraph, 19 January, 2009.

An Algerian I spoke with this morning said, rather aggressively, that he thought the security services probably planted plague in the camp or in some way manipulated the situation in the camp so that it had this result. At this point, these conspiracy theories are not my main interest. Those can be mated out later.

I’d like to engage in a thought experiment, though. Let’s suppose that AQIM, in Tizi Ouzou, densely populated and heavily urban, was able to harness the plague for militant purposes. They either released plague into a local military base or barracks, infecting and killing most of those in the immediate vicinity. How would the Algerian state and military respond, and how would the regional government, plus France respond? That’s part one.

Now for part two. Let’s say that AQIM not only used plague on a military target, but also released it into the dense environs of Tizi Ouzou, Bejaia or Algiers. If they were also able to spread it into Tunisia, through their eastern contacts, the thought experiment becomes more deadly, more interesting. What kind of response from the Tunisian and Moroccan governments, could be expected? What capacity do the states in the Maghreb have to deal with an epidemic like this? How devastating would it be at the human, economic and political levels?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Tidinit permalink
    January 20, 2009 17:31

    Thank you Kal for this new space and the other one too. Mesmerized by this news that is printed by the Sun-UK and then by the Washington Times-US. If this story was printed by Jeune Afrique or El Moujahid, I would smile, shake my head in disbelief and continue reading the next story. but this is from the Sun and the Washington Times.

    Something is very fishy with this story and I think someone is trying to get something accross. When I read one of the paragraphs about the story in the Washington Times about the British authorities arresting 7 alleged terrorists over ricin, I recalled reading back quickly an article (18 pages when cut and pasted in word) from the Guardian-UK in april 2005. Someone trying to bring back that “ricin” story that did not fly then.

    While watching Obama speech, I would like to refer you to the link below on that ricin story entitled “the ricin ring that never was”. I know some people saying that Algeria-Watch is into this conspiracy theory stuff. But the Guardian too? What a coincidence with Bush leaving and Obama coming.

    http://www.algeria-watch.org/en/ricin_ring.htm
    The ricin ring that never was

  2. mkvf permalink
    January 21, 2009 00:28

    There’s some detailed comment on the origins of this story on a blog focussing on the Sun:

    http://the-sun-lies.blogspot.com/2009/01/propaganda-or-just-convenient-dead.html

    Par for the course for British journalism, sadly.

  3. Tidinit permalink
    January 21, 2009 01:59

    Thanks mkvf. This looks like some lie or propaganda for some reason that only the “security source” quoted by the Sun or the Washington Times knows about it. I read both the story in the blog focusing on the Sun and the series of articles of the Guardian in 2005. The bubonic plague and ricin stories seem to be coming from the same source, probably from the one that fabricated the whole story about Kamel Bourgass. Let’s see what will come out of this the coming days in view of the habit of newspapers cutting and pasting stories without checking.

    Why it is so easy to pick-up urgent communcation between Al-Qaida bazars in Algeria and Afghanistan to scare th rest of us while they are unable to localize these terrorists hidden in a well know space? When you pick-up a communication, you can easily know from where it is originating from geographically with an error of 1-2 centimeters. Hope Obama can give us an answer some day.

  4. January 21, 2009 16:59

    Aside from the article being false, the question is more important. What is the capacity of the Maghreb countries to deal with a major disease outbreak and to coordinate a response to it?

  5. January 24, 2009 21:42

    What is the capacity of the Maghreb countries to deal with a major disease outbreak and to coordinate a response to it?

    Well, I’m sure Morocco and Algeria could arrange for closing their borders…

  6. Tidinit permalink
    February 4, 2009 02:28

    Kal,

    The capacity is zero. Read few months ago a report from FAO on the preparedness of African countries to check on major diseases and it is negative. No institution working on this and those institutions that have been created fw years ago are casheless: countries dont pay their dues et the institutions resort to funding appeals (FAO do that for them and charge some 10-15% of the money collected) when a major disease strikes.

    Although this Al Qaida story of plague made it to the press, no country made a statement on it. If such news is known, we expect at least a reaction from the health authorities and there was none. Zilch. It is like “it happened in lgeria and wait until it reaches us and we will then call the world community for $$ to move”.

    I recall a wealthy country in our region competing with Burkina Faso for $100,000 grant from a institution to deal with the “criquet” outburst (I orgot the term in English for criquets or jrad) few years ago. People knew that the $100,000 grant would be swallowed by corrupt hands immediately as the state will give them the needed resources as it was then awash with oil money. Preparedness on this is zero. Alle has said it right.

    N.B: a newspaper yesterday selling this plage story as it was true. The newspaper is likely using it to make people fear AQMI that does not exist to boost the need to keep the junta in Nouakchott. They could do nothing with Tourine, the junta. Neither with Lemgheity and El Ghallawiya (GSPC or AQMI attacs). What they can do with anything else on that front? My question is genuine.

  7. February 5, 2009 01:44

    “I recall a wealthy country in our region competing with Burkina Faso for $100,000 grant from a institution to deal with the “criquet” outburst (I orgot the term in English for criquets or jrad) few years ago.”

    The word you are looking for is “locusts” (also “France”😉 )

  8. Tidinit permalink
    February 12, 2009 15:27

    Thanks Kal. It is a true story. Been away and back. Getting problen finding the Maghreb Politics Review. Good if you can add a button near the top of the Moor Next Door.

    Things are hot and hotter in neighboring Mauritania. Watch out ! Cheers.

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