January 30, 1995 | Car bombing in Algiers

On this day in 1995, the GIA exploded a car bomb on a street bustling with people preparing for a religious holiday, killing at least 38.

Sometimes terrorism arises from poor government decisions. This is not to take responsibility away: it is a way to understand the phenomenon.

THE HISTORY OF military coups is a long one. In many parts of the world it seems military forces choose to intervene whenever they choose, and some choose to do so a lot. I just came across a very interesting article in about the ‘five famous coups’ which makes fascinating reading. How did these five affect their nations? Well, have a look at the piece but spoiler alert, Muammar Qaddhafi is one of the military leaders featured. Enough said!

Those who take part in coups ALWAYS maintain they are doing it for the right reasons. The country is off course. The leaders are corrupt. We are going down a dangerous path. Etc, etc, etc. And of course the coup organisers are the only ones who can fix it. If some people get hurt in the process well, as Joseph Stalin once said (actually the quote predates him by at least a century and a half), “You cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs”.

So how many times have military coups led to BETTER times for the local population? I will leave that to historians to debate. All I know is that some coups lead directly to the creation of terrorist groups, some of which are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Algeria is a good case in point.

On January 11, 1992 the Algerian military staged a coup to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from winning the first multi-party elections after the country’s independence. Long ruled by the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale), in 1989 Algeria witnessed the birth of the FIS, a religious-based party that had been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. It gained in popularity and went on to win the first round of the parliamentary elections in December 1991 with twice as many votes as the ruling FLN. Then the military moved in to cancel the elections.

The decision to thwart the democratic process led to a civil war that lasted until 2002. Estimates vary greatly on the death toll – some go as high as 200,000. One definite outcome of the coup was the creation of a terrorist group: the Groupe Islamique Arme (GIA – Armed Islamic Group). This bunch of violent extremists did massacre civilians and even carried out attacks in France, the perceived backer of the Algerian regime.

1995 Car bombing in Algiers

In 1994, GIA terrorists hijacked a plane in Algiers with the intention of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower. As the plane stopped to refuel in Marseilles it was stormed by French special forces who killed all the hijackers. Some see this plot as a precursor to 9/11.

The atrocities committed by both sides are many. In one of their larger attacks, on this day in 1995 the GIA exploded a car bomb on a street bustling with people preparing for a religious holiday, killing at least 38 people and wounding a further 256. The target was probably police HQ.

Many more incidents were to follow. On both sides. Algeria is still somewhat tied to the 1992 coup: the last ‘president’ of the civil war era – Abdelaziz Bouteflika – resigned last April after 20 years in power.

The coup did not ‘improve’ Algeria: coups seldom do. You would have thought we would have learned that by now.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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