All three countries have issued security alerts about terrorist risk in the area

UK joins US and Spain in warning against travel to Tindouf


The United Kingdom has become the third country to warn its citizens against travelling to Tindouf due to the presence of potential terrorist threats. London warns that terrorists are "likely to attempt attacks in Algeria, including kidnapping operations". "There is also a risk that individual actors will target foreign nationals," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. 

  1. Links between the Polisario and terrorist groups 
  2. Protests against Polisario leadership 

The UK warning comes on the heels of similar statements by the US and Spain

The alert issued by the State Department and posted on the website of the US Embassy in Algeria urges US citizens residing in or visiting Algeria not to travel to the town of Tindouf or the Sahrawi refugee camps in the area. The reason for this warning is the increased risk of kidnappings in a context of high tensions in the region

US diplomacy is asking US citizens to avoid any travel to the area, at least until mid-March, advising those already present to exercise maximum vigilance and advising them to remain vigilant in places frequented by tourists or Westerners.

US citizens are also urged to make contingency plans for departure and to constantly review their personal security plans. This includes having up-to-date travel documents for possible evacuation, as well as proper identification, i.e. a valid US passport and a valid visa. 

El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de España, José Manuel Albares - AP/ANJUM NAVEED
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares - AP/ANJUM NAVEED

For its part, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a warning on its official website urging Spanish citizens to avoid travelling to the Tindouf camps area in Algerian territory

The warning highlights a "terrorist threat against Spanish citizens in the area of the Sahrawi camps" due to "increased instability in northern Mali and the consequent intensification of the activity of terrorist groups in the region". The alert recommends Spanish citizens to avoid travelling to the camps and to leave the area if they are already there.

Links between the Polisario and terrorist groups 

As Al-Arab points out, several analysts have considered Spain's statement as "a clear signal" about the known link between terrorist groups and the Polisario Front. It also shows that Madrid does not trust the Polisario because of these ties. 

It is also recalled that the Tindouf camps were already attacked by terrorist groups in 2011, which resulted in the kidnapping of 6 foreigners, including two Spaniards. 

Mohamed Al-Tayyar, a researcher in security and strategic studies - quoted by the Arab media - considers that Spain's move "is linked to realistic data on the expansion of extremist movements in the Tindouf camps, the involvement of Polisario members in terrorist cells in the region and the emergence of leaders of organisations such as Daesh, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations active in western African countries and the Sahel, due to the fragile and inhumane situation of the population detained in the camps". 

The Tindouf camps were already attacked by terrorist groups in 2011 - PHOTO/FILE

Al-Tayyar also highlights links between the Polisario and Iranian-backed militias such as Hezbollah, as well as direct threats to Spanish investors who chose to build a luxury hotel in the southern Moroccan city of Dakhla.

While Algeria remains silent on the Spanish Foreign Ministry's warnings, the Polisario considered them "unacceptable", claiming that they "are part of a strategy to further obstruct the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination".  

Protests against Polisario leadership 

The warnings from London, Washington and Madrid come as the Polisario Front and the Algerian authorities prepare to organise the so-called "Sahara marathon" in Tindouf on 28 February.

The warnings also come at a time when the Tindouf camps and the town of the same name are witnessing daily demonstrations and protests against the Polisario leadership and, among other things, the Algerian justice system. 

Since Sunday 11 February, the young people of the Rguibat Souaâd group have been leading a large protest movement marked by acts of violence to express their rejection of the conviction of one of their own by the Algerian court in Tindouf. 

PHOTO/AFP - Brahim Ghali, secretario general del frente Polisario
Brahim Ghali, Secretary General of the Polisario Front - PHOTO/AFP

Ahmed Ould Ben Ali, one of the thousands of young people with no future prospects in the Tindouf camps, was sentenced to five years in prison by the Algerian court on charges of drug trafficking.  

The Algerian court's prison sentence sparked violent protests targeting the Algerian authorities and their Polisario representatives in the Tindouf camps. Protesters burned tyres and blocked a key road. They also attacked Polisario administrative facilities, including the general secretariat and the headquarters of the separatist militia's so-called intelligence service. 

Young people in Tindouf - PHOTO/FILE

On the other hand, Algeria's efforts to perpetuate the conflict over the Sahara by arming and financing the Polisario has caused a new threat, as dozens of young men from the Tindouf camp seek to join drug traffickers or even terrorist groups, as was the case with resident Abu Walid Saharawi, former head of the Daesh branch in the greater Sahara.  

The situation is expected to worsen with the Polisario's ongoing crackdown on dissenting voices, including those calling for compromise and supporting Morocco's autonomy plan.