Algeria blames deadly wildfires on ‘terrorists linked to Morocco, Israel,’ pledges to review ties with Rabat

Burnt woodland surrounds a mountain town due to forest fires in the Ait Daoud area of northern Algeria, on August 13, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Algeria says terrorists backed by Morocco and Israel have been behind the deadly wildfires that recently ripped through the North African country, pledging to review ties with Rabat over “incessant hostile acts.”

In a statement on Wednesday, the Algerian presidency said 22 people had been arrested in connection with the devastating forest fires, which started in the northern parts of the country on August 9 and killed at least 90 people, including 33 soldiers, in over a week.

The fires caused damage and casualties in several provinces especially in the Kabylie region, east of the capital, Algiers. The blazes — the fiercest ever to hit Algeria — burned tens of thousands of hectares of forest.

Emergency services on Wednesday declared that all the fires had been extinguished.

The statement, which was issued following a meeting of Algeria’s High Security Council, said the ultimate responsibility for the fires lay with the Rashad opposition group and the self-determination of Kabylie (MAK), which is seeking autonomy in Kabylie.

Algeria has recently designated both groups as terrorist organizations.

The presidency said that MAK “gets support and help from foreign parties, particularly Morocco and the Zionist entity,” referring to Israel, and added that it sought their “total eradication, particularly the MAK.”

“Security services will continue efforts to arrest the rest of those involved...and all those belonging to the two terrorist organizations,” it said.

The Council’s meeting was chaired by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and focused on the assessment of the situation created by the wildfires. Tebboune has said most of the fires were “criminal” in origin.

Meanwhile, Algeria’s DGSN security agency said investigations had shown that “a criminal network, classed as a terrorist organization” were involved in the devastating wildfires, based on the “admission of arrested members.”

According to confessions broadcast on Algerian television, some of the suspects have confessed to being members of the MAK, which is based in the French capital of Paris.

Elsewhere in the statement, the Algerian presidency said, Algiers decided during the security meeting to review its relations with neighboring Morocco.

“The incessant hostile acts perpetrated by Morocco against Algeria, have necessitated the review of relations between the two countries and the intensification of security controls at the western borders,” said the statement, without providing further details.

The latest accusations could fuel diplomatic tensions between the two neighbors.

Relations between Algeria and its most populous neighbor Morocco have been fraught in past decades as Algiers supports the armed Polisario Front that seeks independence for Western Sahara, which is claimed by Rabat as its own territory. The border between the two countries has been closed since 1994.

Last month, Algeria recalled its ambassador to Rabat after a Moroccan diplomat in New York called for the Kabylie people to have a right of self-determination.

Algiers does not recognize and has no formal relations with the regime in Israel.

Morocco and Israel normalized their relations late last year under a US-brokered agreement.

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