Algeria to arm civilians against Islamist militants

image captionA number of Saharan countries are worried about militants from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

The Algerian government has announced it will arm residents of remote areas to help them fight Islamist militants.

Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the decision was made by the defence minister but would be carried out by his ministry.

He said civilians in some areas had asked for weapons "to fight terrorism".

A North African branch of al-Qaeda is active in Algeria and nearby countries, and has carried out a number of attacks and kidnappings recently.

"There are regions in which terrorism reigns where the citizens are asking for weapons to fight terrorism; to those people we will give back weapons," said Mr Kablia.

A similar policy of arming citizens was pursued in the 1990s when Algeria was wracked by a bloody Islamist insurgency in which more than 150,000 people were killed.

The policy was ended under an amnesty arrangement.

'Weapons shopping'

More recently, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has emerged and killed scores of people during 2007 and 2008 in suicide attacks and car bombings, mainly along Algeria's Mediterranean coast.

There have been fewer attacks since then but the group has been active further south in the vast Sahara Desert where Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania meet.

AQIM has claimed to have carried out a number of kidnappings of foreign nationals in the region.

There have been reports that the group is now shopping for weapons with the ransoms paid to release hostages.

The regions in which civilians may be armed were not specified, but the BBC's Chloe Arnold in the capital, Algiers, says the interior minister may be referring to Tuareg tribespeople in the Saharan region.

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