US, Algeria vow to work together to fight terrorism

US Secretary of State John Kerry in Algiers at the start of a North African tour expected to be dominated by the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.. PHOTO | AFP. 

The United States and Algeria Thursday pledged to work together to battle terrorism, as US Secretary of State John Kerry paid his first visit to the north African nation.

"Algeria which has paid a heavy toll to terrorism, will never bow in front of this scourge," Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said at the opening of strategic talks between the two countries.

"Terrorism knows no boundaries, has no creed, no religion and targets all nations," he added.

Jihadist violence has plagued the vast Sahel-Sahara region since the 2011 overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, prompting a French-led military intervention in Algeria's southern neighbour Mali in January last year after Al-Qaeda-linked groups seized control of the country's north.

But Islamist militants have also struck in Niger, Tunisia and Algeria, where they overran a desert gas plant last year triggering a bloody four-day siege that left about 40 hostages dead.

Mr Lamamra said his country was committed to working with all its partners "to stand in the way of this peril, and to eradicate this scourge".

One of Algeria's major concerns was the situation in the Sahel where "terrorism, human-trafficking, drug-trafficking and all kinds of criminal activities have woven their webs," he said.

Self-determination

This threatened "the stability and very existence of the peoples and states of the area."

Mr Kerry arrived amid tight security late Wednesday on his first visit to Algeria since becoming secretary of state in February 2013.

"This is a time when peace and self-determination are facing more complex threats than ever before," Mr Kerry admitted.

He said one of the ways to fight terrorism was to help create jobs, establish better education systems, and ensure stability in people's lives.

"Those who offer the violence that comes with terrorism, don't offer jobs, they don't offer education, they don't offer health care, they don't have a programme to pull a country together."

Such terror groups are in direct "confrontation with modernity," he warned.

The United States, Kerry said, wanted to partner with Algeria to build a more robust, defence relationship and help secure and strengthen borders in the region.

Algeria's independent press has questioned the timing of Kerry's visit, which comes as campaigning is in full swing for an April 17 presidential election in which ailing incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika is controversially seeking a fourth term.

The El Watan newspaper voiced concern that Mr Bouteflika's campaign team would portray the visit as a US "endorsement" of the 77-year-old's re-election bid.

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