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Algerian leader ‘retires’ all-powerful intelligence chief

AFP | A front-page picture of rarely-seen General Mohamed Mediene, who was head of Algeria's intelligence services for 25 years

Algeria’s shadowy and powerful intelligence supremo has been “retired” by the country’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a move that confirms the head of state's domination over the country’s armed forces.


Dubbed “kingmaker” because of his 25-year tenure as head of the DRS intelligence services, General Mohamed Mediene saw five presidents and a dozen prime ministers come and go. He was also known as “Rad Dzayer”, which means “God of Algeria”.

Bouteflika replaced Mediene with his deputy "in line with the constitution" using his prerogatives as president and defence minister, the presidency said in a statement, adding that the general had been “retired”.

Mediene had never appeared in public. On Sunday, his picture was published for the first time by a local newspaper, En-Nahar, showing him in a suit and tie and wearing sunglasses.

Known as “General Toufik”, Mediene was the last serving general from among a line of top officers behind a crackdown against the radical Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) after it swept to victory in elections in the early 1990s.

The army stepped in to annul the vote, sparking an Islamist insurrection and a brutal civil war that lasted nearly a decade and killed 200,000 people.

During that time Mediene, as head of DRS, became one of the most powerful men in the oil-rich North African state.

His successor General Bachir, an engineer by training, was one of his key deputies during the civil war. He served as a security adviser to Bouteflika from September 2014.

The announcement of Mediene's replacement came a day after Bouteflika's chief of staff confirmed the arrest last month of Algeria's former counter-terrorism chief, Abdelkader Ait-Ouarabi, a close ally of Mediene and better known as General Hassan.

The daily Al-Watan revealed the arrest of General Hassan at the end of August, saying he was detained at his home and taken to Blida military prison, south of Algiers.

Power struggle with the DRS

General Hassan's arrest came several weeks after the sacking of three security chiefs including two considered close to Mediene -- the head of counter-intelligence and the chief of presidential security.

Experts have said the arrest and sackings are part of a behind-the-scenes power struggle between Bouteflika and the powerful DRS.

Analysts say the balance has tilted in favour of the tight circle around Bouteflika and his army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah, at the expense of a rival faction centred on Mediene.

"The battle is coming to an end and President Bouteflika has defeated the shadowy power,” Political science professor Rachid Tlemcani told AFP in reference to the DRS.

Echoing many, he described the intelligence service as "a state within a state".

The DRS had already lost many of its powers over the last 18 months, including the right to carry out judicial probes into graft. Some of its responsibilities have been transferred to the army.

These developments come as Algeria faces a raft of challenges.

More than two decades after the civil war, the army continues to be at the forefront of a campaign against jihadists.

Armed Islamist groups are still active in the country, where in 2013 a four-day siege by Islamists of In Amenas gas plant left 38 hostages dead, all but one of them foreigners.

Algeria also faces a financial crisis, compounded by weaker oil prices. The central bank said last week that foreign reserves had fallen 11.1 percent in the first six months of 2015.

The 78-year-old Bouteflika, who has ruled Algeria since 1999, has the power to sack any security official or force him into retirement.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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