The Algerian army has arrested more than 50 foreign smugglers not far from the borders with Niger as the North African state tightens controls on its frontiers to halt Islamist militant attacks, a defence ministry statement said on Tuesday.
Smuggling has increased in the Sahara region in part because Algeria has closed its borders with unstable neighbouring countries including Libya, Mali and to a lesser extent Tunisia.
The captured smugglers were from sub-Saharan nationalities mostly from Chad and Niger, but also Sudan, the statement said. Vehicles and satellite phones were also seized.
Algeria’s army fears armed groups, especially Islamist militants, may try to cross over its borders to strike against its oil and gas facilities in the desert as they did a few years ago in an attack on Algeria’s Amenas gas plant.