Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
|Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb|
|تنظيم القاعدة في بلاد المغرب الإسلامي|
|Participant in Insurgency in the Maghreb (2002–present)|
|Leaders||Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud|
|Originated as||Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat|
The Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (Arabic: تنظيم القاعدة في بلاد المغرب الإسلامي Tanẓīm al-Qā‘idah fī Bilād al-Maghrib al-Islāmī) is an Islamist militant organization which aims to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state. To that end, it is currently engaged in an insurgent campaign.
The group has declared its intention to attack European, Spanish, French, and American targets. It has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State, and similarly classed as a terrorist organization by the European Union.
Membership is mostly drawn from the Algerian Kabyle and local Saharan communities ( such as the Tuaregs and Berabiche tribal clans of Mali), as well as Moroccans from city suburbs of the north-African country.
AQIM has focused on kidnap for ransom as a means of raising funds and is estimated to have raised more than $50 million in the last decade.
Two top commanders of AQIM, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, were reported killed by French and Chadian forces in northern Mali on February 25, 2013 and March 2, 2013, respectively.
It was previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Arabic: الجماعة السلفية للدعوة والقتال al-Jamā‘ah as-Salafiyyah lid-Da‘wah wal-Qiṭāl, in French: Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, GSPC, and also known as the Group for Call and Combat). In 2007, the group changed its name to "al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb" (Qaedat al-Jihad ﬁ Bilad al-Maghrib al-Islami), in French: Al-Qaida au Maghreb islamique, AQMI.
The GSPC was founded by Hassan Hattab, a former Armed Islamic Group (GIA) regional commander who broke with the GIA in 1998 in protest over the GIA's slaughter of civilians. After an amnesty in 1999, many former GIA fighters laid down their arms, but a few remained active, including members of the GSPC.
Estimates of the number of GSPC members vary widely, from a few hundred to as many as 4,000. In September 2003, it was reported that Hattab had been deposed as national emir of the GSPC and replaced by Nabil Sahraoui (Sheikh Abou Ibrahim Mustapha), a 39 year-old former GIA commander who was subsequently reported to have pledged GSPC's allegiance to al-Qaeda, a step which Hattab had opposed. Following the death of Sahraoui in June 2004, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud became the leader of the GSPC.Abdelmadjid Dichou is also reported to have headed the group.
A splinter or separate branch of Hattab's group, the Free Salafist Group (GSL), headed by El Para, was linked to the kidnapping of 32 European tourists in Algeria in early 2003. Other sources[who?] illustrate the involvement of the Algerian intelligence services in exaggerating the claims about terrorist threats in the Sahara, and the supposed alliance between this group and Al-Qaeda. Some of the reputation of El Para is also attributed to the Algerian government, as a possible employer, and it has been alleged that certain key events, such as kidnappings, were staged, and that there was a campaign of deception and disinformation originated by the Algerian government and perpetuated by the media.
By March 2005, it was reported that the GSPC "may be prepared to give up the armed struggle in Algeria and accept the government's reconciliation initiative." in March 2005, the group's former leader, Hassan Hattab, called on its members to accept a government amnesty under which they were offered immunity from prosecution in return for laying down their arms. However, in September 2006, the top Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced a "blessed union" between the groups in declaring France an enemy. They said they would work together against French and American interests. In January 2007, the group announced a formal change of name to al-Qaeda.
On 19 January 2009, the UK newspaper The Sun reported that there had been an outbreak of bubonic plague at a GSPC training camp in the Tizi Ouzou province in Algeria. According to The Sun, at least forty GSPC militias died from the disease. The surviving GSPC members from the training camp reportedly fled to other areas of Algeria hoping to escape infection. The Washington Times, in an article based on a senior U.S. intelligence official source, claimed a day later that the incident was not related to bubonic plague, but was an accident involving either a biological or chemical agent.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is one of the region's wealthiest, best-armed militant groups due to the payment of ransom demands from humanitarian organizations and Western governments.Oumar Ould Hamaha said "The source of our financing is the Western countries. They are paying for jihad."
Algerian officials and authorities from neighbouring countries have speculated that the GSPC may be active outside Algeria. These activities may relate to the GSPC's alleged long-standing involvement with smuggling, protection rackets, and money laundering across the borders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Chad, possibly to underpin the group's finances. However, recent developments seem to indicate that a splinter group may have sought refuge in the Tuareg regions of northern Mali and Niger following crackdowns by Algerian government forces in the north and south of the country since 2003. French secret services report that the group has received funding from the country of Qatar.
Some observers, including Jeremy Keenan, have voiced doubts regarding the GSPC's capacity to carry out large-scale attacks, such as the one attributed to it in northeastern Mauritania during the "Flintlock 2005" military exercise. They suspect the involvement of Algeria's Department of Intelligence and Security in an effort to improve Algeria's international standing as a credible partner in the War on Terrorism, and to lure the United States into the region.
Allegations of GSPC links to al-Qaeda predate the September 11, 2001 attacks. As followers of a Qutbist strand of jihadist Salafism, the members of the GSPC are thought to share al-Qaeda's general ideological outlook. After the deposition of Hassan Hattab, various leaders of the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Some observers have argued that the GSPC's connection to al-Qaeda is merely opportunistic, not operational. Claims of GSPC activities in Italy are disputed by other sources, who say that there is no evidence of any engagement in terrorist activities against US, European or Israeli targets: "While the GSPC ... established support networks in Europe and elsewhere, these have been limited to ancillary functions (logistics, fund-raising, propaganda), not acts of terrorism or other violence outside Algeria." Investigations in France and Britain have concluded that young Algerian immigrants sympathetic to the GSPC or al-Qaeda have taken up the name without any real connection to either group.
Similar claims of links between the GSPC and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in Iraq are based on purported letters to Zarqawi by GSPC leader Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud. In a September 2005 interview, Wadoud hailed Zarqawi's actions in Iraq. Like the GSPC's earlier public claims of allegiance to al-Qaeda, they are thought to be opportunistic legitimisation efforts of the GSPC's leaders due to the lack of representation in Algeria's political sphere.
In 2005, after years of absence, the United States showed renewed military interest in the region through involvement in the "Flintlock 2005" exercise, which involved US Special Forces training soldiers from Algeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, and Chad. The United States alleged that the Sahel region had become a training ground for Islamist recruits. However, the two most important pieces of evidence of 'terrorist activity' – the tourist kidnapping of 2003 and the attack on the Mauritanian army base just as "Flintlock" got underway – have subsequently been called into question.
Observers say that the region's governments have much to gain from associating local armed movements and long-established smuggling operations with al-Qaeda and the global "War on Terrorism". In June 2005, while the "Flintlock" exercise was still underway, Mauritania asked "Western countries interested in combating the terrorist surge in the African Sahel to supply it with advanced military equipment."
In November 2007 Nigerian authorities arrested five men for alleged possession of seven sticks of dynamite and other explosives. Nigerian prosecutors alleged that three of the accused had trained for two years with the then Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in Algeria. In January 2008 the Dakar Rally was cancelled due to threats made by associated terrorist organizations.
In late 2011, the splinter group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa was founded in order to spread jihadi activities further into West Africa. Their military leader is Omar Ould Hamaha, a former AQIM fighter.
AQIM voiced support for demonstrations against the Tunisian and Algerian Governments in a video released on 13 January 2011. Al Qaeda offered military aid and training to the demonstrators, calling on them to overthrow "the corrupt, criminal and tyrannical" regime, calling for "retaliation" against the Tunisian government, and also calling for the overthrow of Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. AQIM leader Abu Musab Abdul Wadud appeared in the video, calling for Islamic sharia law to be established in Tunisia. Al Qaeda has begun recruiting anti-government demonstrators, some of whom have previously fought against American forces in Iraq and Israeli forces in Gaza.
AQIM has also endorsed efforts in Libya to topple the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, though it remains unclear how many fighters in Libya are loyal to al-Qaeda. Gaddafi seized on the expression of support and help for the rebel movement to blame al-Qaeda for fomenting the uprising.
Major attacks since 2002
- 23 November 2002: a group of Algerian soldiers are ambushed. Nine died and twelve were wounded.
- February 2003: 32 European tourists are kidnapped. One died, seventeen hostages were rescued by Algerian troops on 13 May 2003, and the remainder were released in August 2003.
- 12 February 2004: near Tighremt, Islamic extremists ambush a police patrol, killing seven police officers and wounding three others. The assailants also seized firearms and three vehicles.
- 7 April 2005: in Tablat, Blida Province, armed assailants fire on five vehicles at a fake road block, killing 13 civilians, wounding one other and burning five vehicles.
- 15 October 2006: in Sidi Medjahed, Ain Defla, assailants attack and kill eight private security guards by unknown means.
- 11 April 2007, two car bombs were detonated by the group. One was close to the Prime Minister’s ofﬁce in Algiers and the blast killed more than 30 people and wounded more than 150.
- 30 July 2009: at least 11 Algerian soldiers are killed in an ambush while escorting a military convoy outside the coastal town of Damous, near Tipaza.
- March 2010: an Italian national, Sergio Cicala, and his wife are held hostage.
- 21 March 2010: three militants are killed by security forces near El Ma Labiod, 35 kilometres (22 mi) from Tebessa.
- 26 March 2010: three militants are killed and another captured by security forces in Ait Yahia Moussa, 30 kilometres (19 mi) from Tizi Ouzou.
- 14 April 2010: according to Algerian officials, at least ten militants are killed during a counter-terrorist operation in Bordj Bou Arreridj wilaya.
- 16 September 2010: seven employees from Areva and Vinci are kidnapped in Arlit, Niger (five French, one Togolan and one Malagasy). The capture was claimed on 21 September by AQIM in a communiqué published in Al Jazeera.
- 9 December 2011: AQIM publishes two photos, showing five kidnapped persons of European descent.
In 2003, 32 Europeans were taken hostage in the Sahara in a series of abductions run by El Para, an agent of GSPC. In February 2008 two Austrians were captured in Tunisia and taken via Algeria to Mali and freed later that year. Two Canadian diplomats were taken hostage in south-western Niger in December 2008 while on official UN mission to resolve crisis in northern Niger. They were freed in Mali in April 2009. Diplomat Robert Fowler later stated that the government of Niger could be behind the kidnapping. These all kidnappings were attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).
Edwin Dyer was one of four Westerners who were kidnapped when their convoy was ambushed near the border between Niger and Mali in January 2009 by an African terrorist group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, militia which aims to overthrow the Algerian government. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb made demands that the British government must release Abu Qatada, the Jordanian known as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, or Dyer would face execution.
On 31 May 2009 the terrorist group released a statement on a known terrorist website claiming to have executed Dyer. Edwin Dyer's murder was confirmed by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown on 3 June 2009 after reports on an Islamist website that he had been killed. Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned what he called an "appalling and barbaric act of terrorism" in Prime Ministers Questions on 6 March 2009.
Dyer spoke fluent German and had been working in Austria. He was kidnapped in Niger on 22 January, close to the border with Mali.
He was captured along with a number of other European tourists, including two Swiss and one German. The group had been visiting the Anderamboukane festival on nomad culture. All of the other tourists were eventually released. Werner Greiner, a fellow victim of the kidnap revealed to The Daily Telegraph on 19 September 2009 that Edwyn Dyer 'saved his life' forcing him to eat and drink when he was at his weakest, arguing with his kidnappers to bring him medicine, and persuading him that no matter how hard things were, hope should never be abandoned.
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