‘End of an era’ as feared Algerian spy chief is removed from office

Mohamed MedièneIn an unprecedented development described by local media as the “end of an era”, the longtime director of Algeria’s main intelligence agency, and one of the country’s most powerful figures, has been removed from office. Until last Sunday, General Mohamed Mediène was described as the world’s longest-serving intelligence chief, having led Algeria’s Department of Intelligence and Security since 1990. Known by its initials, DRS, the organization grew rapidly in size and power during the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s. After an electoral victory by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was quashed in a military-led coup, General Mediène took advantage of the country’s fragile security situation to strengthen the DRS and his own political influence. He became a staunch ally of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and created what some have called “a state within a state”.

The general cultivated an aura of mystique, going to great pains to avoid publicity. His name did not appear in print until 2014, while a photograph of him was published for the first time in an Algerian paper on Sunday. According to The New York Times, Mediène’s many critics claim that he was able to hang on to power for so long by systematically “blackmailing politicians and other public figures” throughout his tenure. But the General’s removal from DRS was announced unexpectedly on Sunday, ostensibly in fulfilment of President Bouteflika’s stated goal of imposing more civilian control of the Algerian military. Mediène’s sudden removal follows the arrest in August of a number of other senior intelligence figures, including General Abdelkader Ait-Ouarabi, who served as DRS’s senior counterterrorism official for two decades under Mediène.

Many believe that the removal of DRS’ senior leadership was sparked by a widening rift between Bouteflika and Mediène. Last year, when Bouteflika announced that he would run for a fourth term, Mediène let it be known that he did not approve of the president’s decision. The ailing leader, who is 78, suffered a severe stroke in 2013, and has avoided public appearances since that time, giving rise to constant rumors about possible successors, or even machinations for coups by members of the armed forces. The Reuters news agency reported on Sunday that General Mediène has been replaced by General Athmane Tartag, who has served as President Bouteflika’s security advisor for several years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 September 2015 | Permalink

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