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We present a synthesis of the active tectonics of the northern Atlas Mountains, and suggest a kinematic model of transpression and block rotation that illustrates the mechanics of this section of the Africa–Eurasia plate boundary. Neotectonic structures and significant shallow seismicity (with Mw >5.0) indicate that coeval E-W-trending, right-lateral faulting and NE-SW, thrust-related folding result from oblique convergence at the plate boundary, which forms a transpressional system. The strain distribution obtained from fault–fold structures and P axes of focal mechanism solutions, and the geodetic (NUVEL-1 and GPS) convergence show that the shortening and convergence directions are not coaxial. The transpressional strain is partitioned along the strike and the quantitative description of the displacement field yields a compression-to-transcurrence ratio varying from 33% near Gibraltar, to 50% along the Tunisian Atlas. Shortening directions oriented NNE and NNW for the Pliocene and Quaternary, respectively, and the S shape of the Quaternary anticline axes, are in agreement with the 2.24˚/Myr to 3.9˚/Myr modeled clockwise rotation of the small tectonic blocks and with the paleomagnetic data. The convergence between Africa and Eurasia is absorbed along the Atlas Mountains at the upper crustal level, by means of thrusting above decollement systems, which are controlled by subdued transcurrent faults. The Tell Atlas of northwest Algeria, which has experienced numerous large earthquakes with respect to the other regions, is interpreted as a restraining bend that localizes the strain distribution along the plate boundary.
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