al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

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Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
تنظيم القاعدة في بلاد المغرب الإسلامي
Participant in Insurgency in the Maghreb (2002–present) and the Global War on Terrorism
The black flag variant used by AQIM
Active 2007 (2007)–present
Leaders Abdelmalek Droukdel
Headquarters Kabylie Mountains[3][4]
Area of operations The Maghreb and the Sahel
Strength 800–1,000+[1][6]
Part of Al-Qaeda
Originated as Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat
Opponents State opponents

Non-State Opponents

Battles and wars Insurgency in the Maghreb
Website {{#property:P856}}

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Arabic: تنظيم القاعدة في بلاد المغرب الإسلامي‎, translit. Tanẓīm al-Qā‘idah fī Bilād al-Maghrib al-Islāmī), or AQIM,[9] is an Islamist militant organization which aims to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state.[10] To that end, it is currently engaged in an anti-government campaign.

The group has declared its intention to attack European (including Spanish and French) and American targets. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations, Australia, Canada, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Membership is mostly drawn from the Algerian and local Saharan communities (such as the Tuaregs and Berabiche tribal clans of Mali),[11] as well as Moroccans from city suburbs of the North African country.[12][13][14][15] The leadership are mainly Algerians.[16] The group has also been suspected of having links with the Horn of Africa-based militant group Al-Shabaab.[17]

AQIM has focused on kidnapping for ransom as a means of raising funds and is estimated to have raised more than $50 million in the last decade.[18]


The group's official name is Organization of al-Qa’ida in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (Qaedat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Maghrib al-Islami), often shortened to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM, from French al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique, AQMI).[19] Prior to January 2007 it was known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Arabic: الجماعة السلفية للدعوة والقتال‎‎ al-Jamā‘ah as-Salafiyyah lid-Da‘wah wal-Qiṭāl) and the French acronym GSPC (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat).[20]


As Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (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.[21]

AQIM militants in the Algerian desert

Estimates of the number of GSPC members vary widely, from a few hundred to as many as 4,000.[22] 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,[23] a step which Hattab had opposed.[21][24] Following the death of Sahraoui in June 2004, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud became the leader of the GSPC.[25] Abdelmadjid Dichou is also reported to have headed the group.[26]

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.[21] 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.[27][28]

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."[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]

As al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

File:Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb fighters.jpg
AQIM fighters in a propaganda video, filmed in the Sahara desert.

In January 2007, the GSPC announced that it would now operate under the name of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).[19][32]

On 19 January 2009, the UK newspaper The Sun reported that there had been an outbreak of bubonic plague at an AQIM training camp in the Tizi Ouzou province in Algeria. According to The Sun, at least forty AQIM militias died from the disease. The surviving AQIM members from the training camp reportedly fled to other areas of Algeria hoping to escape infection.[33] 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.[34]

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is one of the region's wealthiest, best-armed militant groups due to the payment of ransom demands by humanitarian organizations and Western governments.[35] It is reported that 90 per cent of AQIM resources come from ransoms paid in return for the release of hostages.[36] Oumar Ould Hamaha said "The source of our financing is the Western countries. They are paying for jihad."[35]

In December 2012, one of AQIM's top commanders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split off from AQIM and took his fighters with him, executing the In Amenas hostage crisis in Algeria weeks later, just after France launched Operation Serval in Mali.[37] Belmokhtar later claimed he acted on behalf of Al Qaeda.[38] In December 2015, Belmokhtar's splinter group, Al-Mourabitoun rejoined AQIM, according to audio statements released by both groups.[39]

A top commander of AQIM, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, was reported killed by French and Chadian forces in northern Mali on February 25, 2013.[40] This was confirmed by AQIM in June 2013.[41]

Alleged prejudice

The FrontPage Magazine reported that Sub-Saharan Africans are treated with contempt by the predominantly Arab-led AQIM. The AQIM leadership are said to be mainly Algerians, while no Sub-Saharan African is known to possess any leadership position. Robert Fowler, a former Canadian diplomat, who was held hostage by AQIM for 130 days in the Sahara Desert in 2010, wrote that "There was a big gulf in the AQIM between those who were black and those who were not. They preached equality, but did not practice it. Sub-Saharan Africans were clearly second class in the eyes of AQIM.”"[16] The article went on to say that an AQIM splinter faction, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa separated itself from the group due to the marginalization of its Sub-Saharan African members.[16]

The United States National Counterterrorism Center stated that AQIM had a reputation for holding cultural and racial insensitivities towards Sub-Saharan Africans. The NCTC maintained that some recruits "claimed that AQIM was clearly racist against some black members from West Africa because they were only sent against lower-level targets.” The bulletin goes on to say that former AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar in August 2009 stated “he wanted to attract black African recruits because they would agree more readily than Arabs to becoming suicide bombers and because poor economic and social conditions made them ripe for recruitment.”[4][42]

By 2016, AQIM had reportedly recruited large numbers of young sub-Saharan Africans, with attacks like the 2016 Grand-Bassam shootings in Ivory Coast being carried out by black AQIM members. AQIM commander Yahya Abou el-Hammam, in an interview with a Mauritanian website, was quoted as saying "Today, the mujahideen have built up brigades and battalions with sons of the region, our black brothers, Peuls, Bambaras and Songhai".[43]

International links

GSPC area of operations and Pan-Sahel Initiative states.
AQIM Tuareg militant in Sahel, December 2012.

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.[21] 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.[44]

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.[45] They suspect the involvement of Algeria's Department of Intelligence and Security is 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.[27]

Allegations of GSPC links to al-Qaeda predate the September 11, 2001 attacks. As followers of a Qutbist strand of Salafist jihadism, 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[46] 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."[21] 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.[22]

Similar claims of links between the GSPC and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in Iraq[47] are based on purported letters to Zarqawi by GSPC leader Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud.[48] In a September 2005 interview, Wadoud hailed Zarqawi's actions in Iraq.[25] 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.[21]

In 2005, after years of absence, the United States showed renewed military interest in the region[49][50] 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.[51] 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.[45][52]

Observers say that the region's governments have much to gain from associating[53] local armed movements and long-established smuggling operations with al-Qaeda and the global "War on Terrorism".[45] 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."[54]

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.[55] 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.[56]

According to U.S. Army General Carter Ham, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, and the Nigeria-based Boko Haram were as of June 2012 attempting to synchronize and coordinate their activities in terms of sharing funds, training and explosives.[17] Ham added that he believed that the collaboration presented a threat to both U.S. homeland security and the local authorities.[37][57] However, according to counter-terrorism specialist Rick Nelson with the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies, there was little evidence that the three groups were targeting U.S. areas, as each was primarily interested in establishing fundamentalist administrations in their respective regions.[17]

In a 2013 Al Jazeera interview in Timbuktu, AQIM commander Talha claimed that his movement went to Niger, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, to organize cells of AQIM. He explained their strategy: "There are many people who have nothing, and you can reach them by the word of God, or by helping them."[58]


File:AQMI logo.png
AQIM logo.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operates a media outlet known as al-Andalus, which regularly releases propaganda videos showing AQIM operations, hostages, and statements from members.[59]

According to London-based risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt, AQIM issued a call for vengeance against Beijing for mistreatment of its Muslim minority following the July 2009 Ürümqi riots.[60]

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.[61] Al Qaeda has begun recruiting anti-government demonstrators, some of whom have previously fought against American forces in Iraq and Israeli forces in Gaza.[62]

AQIM 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.[63]

Timeline of attacks


  • 23 November 2002: A group of Algerian soldiers are ambushed. Nine died and twelve were wounded.[citation needed]
  • February 2003: 32 European tourists are kidnapped. One died of heat stroke, seventeen hostages were rescued by Algerian troops on 13 May 2003, and the remainder were released in August 2003.[64]
  • 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.[65]
  • 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.[66]
  • 15 October 2006: In Sidi Medjahed, Ain Defla, assailants attack and kill eight private security guards by unknown means.[67]
  • 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.[20]
  • February 2008: Two Austrians were captured in Tunisia and taken via Algeria to Mali and freed later that year, the kidnappings were attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb[68]
  • December 2008: Two Canadian diplomats were taken hostage along with their driver in south-western Niger while on official UN mission to resolve a crisis in northern Niger. The driver was freed in Mali in March 2009. The diplomats were freed in Mali in April 2009. The kidnappings were attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb[68]
  • 22 January 2009: Four Westerners were kidnapped while visiting the Anderamboukane festival in Niger near the border with Mali. AQIM demanded the British government release Abu Qatada, and on 31 May 2009 a statement was released claiming Edwyn Dyer had been executed, which was confirmed by the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on 3 June 2009. All of the other tourists were eventually released.[citation needed]
  • 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.[69]


  • March 2010: an Italian national, Sergio Cicala, and his wife are held hostage. They were released on April 16, 2010.[70][71]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 14 April 2010: According to Algerian officials, at least ten militants are killed during a counter-terrorist operation in Bordj Bou Arreridj wilaya.[citation needed]
  • 16 September 2010: seven employees from Areva and Vinci are kidnapped in Arlit, Niger (five French, one Togolese and one Malagasy). The capture was claimed on 21 September by AQIM in a communiqué published in Al Jazeera. Three of the hostages were released on February 24, 2011. The other four were released on October 28, 2013.[72][73][74]
  • 25 November 2011: Three Western tourists were abducted in Timbuktu, including Sjaak Rijke from the Netherlands, Johan Gustafsson from Sweden and Stephen Malcolm McGown from South Africa. A fourth tourist, from Germany, was killed when he refused to cooperate with the perpetrators. Rijke was rescued in April 2015.[75][76]
  • 9 December 2011: AQIM published two photos, showing five kidnapped persons of European descent including the three tourists abducted in Timbuktu. French hostage Philippe Verdon was killed in March 2013. His body was found in July 2013. French hostage Serge Lazarevic was released on December 9. 2013.[77][78][79][80]
  • 30 September 2013: AQIM claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in Timbuktu that killed at least two civilians.[81]
  • 20 November 2015: AQIM and Al-Mourabitoun attacked a hotel in Bamako, Mali. They took more than 100 persons hostage, killing 19 before the siege was ended by security forces.[82]
  • 15 January 2016: AQIM gunmen attack the Capuccino and Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, killing at least 28 people, wounding at least 56 and taking a total of 126 hostages.[83][84]
  • 13 March 2016: AQIM attacked the town of Grand-Bassam, in the Ivory Coast, killing at least 16 people, including 2 soldiers, and 4 European tourists. 6 assailants were also killed.[85][86]

See also


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Further reading

  • Atwan, Abdel Bari (2008). The Secret History of Al Qaeda. University of California Press. pp. 222–249.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Buss, Terry F.; Buss, Nathaniel J.; Picard, Louis A. (2011). Al-Qaeda in Africa: The Threat and Response. African Security and the African Command: Viewpoints on the US Role in Africa. Kumarian Press. pp. 193–200.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • Torres-Soriano, Manuel R. (2010). The Road to Media Jihad: The Propaganda Actions of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Terrorism and Political Violence Volume 23, Issue 1. pp. 72–88.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wilkinson, Henry (2013). "Reversal of fortune: AQIM's stalemate in Algeria and its new front in the Sahel". Global Security Risks and West Africa: Development Challenges. OECD Publishing. ISBN 978-92-64-11066-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links