Algeria both hunted Islamic militants,neighboring Morocco jailed thousands of suspects. But the deadly new danger is posed by al-Qaida in North Africa.
Back-to-back bombings and suicide attacks in both countries show that neither the iron fist nor outstretched hand has neutralized the threat of Islamic terror in North Africa. Could Europe, just a boat ride across the Mediterranean, be next? France, just days away from presidential elections, feared so.
Neither the Moroccan or Algerian governments talked of an al-Qaida link or inspiration in the attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It would not be in their interest to do so: Morocco wants foreign tourists and investors to keep bringing in jobs and currency; Algeria does not want it publicly recognized that its own homegrown Islamic insurgency is materially or spiritually or both becoming another offshoot of Osama bin Laden's global jihad.
Nor do they want al-Qaida to make an issue of the support that both nations provide to the U.S. war on terror.
But hallmarks of what has become al-Qaida's way of spreading terror seemed evident in both the Algiers and Casablanca bombings, and al-Qaida's wing in North Africa, through Al-Jazeera television, claimed responsibility for the Algeria attacks on Wednesday.
Wednesday was April 11th. Mere coincidence that that now infamous number was chosen again as a date for killing and maiming? Likely not. The list since 9/11 changed the world is growing:
April 11, 2002, suicide bombing of synagogue in Tunisia kills 21, mostly German tourists. Tunisian investigators linked the attack to al-Qaida.
March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid kill 191, wound more than 1,800. Claimed by Muslim militants who said they were acting on al-Qaida's behalf.
March 11, 2007, Moroccan blows himself up in an Internet cafe in Casablanca, after the owner caught him surfing jihadist Web sites. Was he downloading instructions from a handler? Abdelfattah Raydi took that secret to the grave, but his blast led police to what they say was a larger plot to attack police stations and the port in Casablanca, the country's largest city and its commercial capital, as well as tourist sites.
Perhaps the Casablanca plotters had been planning to execute their attacks on Wednesday, too, for a double terror whammy across North Africa? Again, there was no immediate answer: Three blew themselves up when cornered on Tuesday by Moroccan police and police shot and killed another who appeared to be preparing to set off his explosives belt.
So what next?
Algeria and Morocco have chilled relations, mostly because of a dispute over a large swath of desert called the Western Sahara. If a U.N.-backed resolution could be found for that decades-old problem, perhaps the two countries could work together to combat terrorism and poverty fertile ground for Islamic militant recruiters.
As in Europe and elsewhere, North Africans have also been driven into Islamic extremism's arms by the situation in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories, issues that mobilize young Muslims and which extremists use as arguments to legitimize their actions. Just last month, a Morocco court convicted eight militants with alleged ties to al-Qaida who reportedly had volunteered to fight in Iraq.
"Islamists have never stopped gaining ground in the last 5Ѕ years, and those fighting them have lost ground," said Antoine Basbous, director of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab Countries. "What we've seen in the last four months is proof that there is a new force at the gates of Europe."
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969