Algeria blames groups it links to Morocco, Israel for wildfires

Algiers to review relations with Morocco after accusing it and group with ‘Zionist links’ for the deadly forest fires.

Algeria blames its recent deadly fires on two groups it recently designated as “terrorist” organisations, adding that one of them was backed by Morocco and Israel.

The Algerian president’s office on Wednesday said police had arrested 22 people for starting the blazes, adding that the ultimate responsibility lay with the Islamist Rashad group and MAK, an autonomy movement for the mostly Amazigh-speaking Kabylie region.

Algeria designated both groups as terrorist organisations this year.

The presidency said MAK “gets support and help from foreign parties, particularly Morocco and the Zionist entity”, referring to Israel.

“The incessant hostile acts carried out by Morocco against Algeria have necessitated the review of relations between the two countries,” the statement said.

It said there would also be an “intensification of security controls on the western borders” with Morocco. It did not clarify what the review would entail.

Neither the Moroccan nor the Israeli foreign ministries were immediately available to comment on the accusation.

Rocky relations

Algeria and Morocco, its most populous neighbour, have had bad relations for decades, with Algiers backing the armed Polisario movement that seeks independence for Western Sahara, a territory Rabat sees as its own.

Algeria does not recognise Israel, referring to it in official statements only as the Zionist entity. Israel said this month it and Morocco would soon establish full diplomatic ties.

Forest fires have ripped across North Africa this month but have been fiercest in Algeria, causing damage and casualties in several provinces especially in Tizi Ouzou in the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers.

“Security services will continue efforts to arrest the rest of those involved … and all those belonging to the two terrorist organisations,” the presidency said after a meeting of the high security council.

Some of the suspects have confessed to being members of the MAK, according to confessions broadcast on Algerian television.

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

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in a July speech called for better ties with Algeria and the opening of their long-closed borders.

Rabat offered to send help to combat the fires but Algeria made no public response.