Islamic State said it was behind Sunday’s attack on an Algerian military barracks near the border with Mali that killed a soldier.
The militant group sent a bomber in a vehicle rigged with explosives, but a sentry stopped him and the blast killed both men, according to a Defence Ministry statement. The group’s Algerian leader is a 47-year-old militant known as Abu Walid el-Sahrawi.
“The martyred brother Omar al-Ansari entered the base and exploded his car against them,” the group said in a statement.
Algeria, in common with other countries in the Sahel and Sahara regions, is increasingly concerned about militant groups taking advantage of escalating conflict in Libya and chaos in Mali to expand their presence.
In Mali, government is ready to talk with jihadist groups in the hope of ending an insurgency that made swathes of the country ungovernable and stoked ethnic violence.
In Libya, chaos in parts since the 2011 revolution created space for Islamic State, which launched a cross-border attack against a Tunisian town in 2016, but is now mostly active in the south.
“We need to focus on Libya and Mali,” a former Algerian counter-terrorism officer told Reuters. “This attack could be preparation for what might come if we don’t contain threats.”
Algiers is discussing how to stem the rising militant threat in the Sahel with Mali and offered humanitarian assistance. It shares more than 1 500km of mostly remote, desert border with Mali and Libya.
Sunday’s attack was the first in Algeria for several years. In 2013, an Islamist militant group linked to al Qaeda attacked the Tiguentourine gas processing facility in southern Algeria killing dozens, including foreigners.
That was the deadliest spasm of militant violence in Algeria since a 1990s civil war between Islamist groups and the state in which more than 200 000 died.
Algeria is wrestling with a major political crisis after mass protests that helped oust a veteran president and continue with demonstrators demanding the ruling elite be fully replaced.