The AQIM’s objective is to create an Islamist State based on the Islamic law. The AQIM aspires to expand its influence throughout North and West Africa.
The Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a Salafi-jihadist militant group operating in the Sahara and Sahel region. The AQIM is an affiliate of Al-Qaida and shares its core jihadist ideology, seeking to remove governments, through violent means if necessary, in Muslim countries that it deems are “un-Islamic” in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate. The AQIM also espouses anti-Western ideals and has called on Muslims across North Africa to target Western interest. The United Nations listed the AQIM as a terrorist organization on April 26, 2007. The group has also been designated a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The AQIM’s objective is to create an Islamist State based on the Islamic law. The AQIM aspires to expand its influence throughout North and West Africa. The origins of the AQIM can be traced to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA, from French: Groupe Islamique Armé), an Islamic insurgent group that fought the Algerian Government and Army in the Algerian Civil War and was vehemently opposed to Algeria’s secular leadership in the 1990s. In 1998, one of these GIA Commanders, Hassan Hattab, launched his own splinter organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat or GSPC) and pledged a military jihad against the security forces. Abdelmalek Droukdel and Nabil Sahrawi, dissatisfied GIA followers, soon rose to prominence in the GSPC.
Some GSPC leaders and operatives reportedly fought alongside Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but the overall connections were limited, and the GSPC always remained focused on Algeria rather than global jihad. The ideological connections between the AQIM and Al-Qaeda became strong after the 9/11 attacks. Osama bin Laden dispatched an emissary for talks with the GSPC. The emissary was reported killed in September 2002, by Algerian security services, but his presence in Algeria marked a turning point as the GSPC now started to develop an international outlook. In August 2003, Hattab was forced to step down in favour of Sahrawi and Droukdel. A few months later, after Sahrawi was shot in a clash with the security forces, Droukdel became the GSPC’s undisputed leader.
On the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a leader of the Algerian group posted a statement on the Internet pledging the group’s allegiance to Al-Qaeda for the first time, adding, “We strongly and fully support Osama bin Laden’s jihad against the heretic America”. In March 2005, a successor leader, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, issued a similar statement praising Osama bin Laden. The jihadi pact was further bolstered as a result of two Algerian diplomats being abducted by Al-Qaeda in Iraq in July 2005 and executed with the GSPC’s public endorsement.
From 2004, the GSPC made a large number of documents available on its website, including manuals on how to manufacture explosives and poison. This development coincided with the GSPC’s change in tactics. These methods, particularly the use of explosives, were previously associated with the modus operandi of the GIA in its indiscriminate target selection. The website, however, urged its members and supporters not to introduce these methods before “consulting the Fatwas of Osama bin Laden”.
The GSPC also came into contact with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the notoriously anti-Shia leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. In September 2006, Al Qaeda’s Deputy Leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video statement released on internet remarked that Al-Qaeda had joined forces with an Algerian group to “crush the pillars of the crusader alliance”. “Our brothers”, he said, “will be a thorn in the necks of the American and French crusaders and their allies, and a dagger in the hearts of the French traitors and apostates”. Droukdel pledged public allegiance to Osama bin Laden in September 2006.
The GSPC was renamed the AQIM in January 2007 following the group’s union with Al-Qaida, which was announced by Al-Qaida Leader, Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri on September 11, 2006. This change in nomenclature came as the Algerian Army began to act tough on the GSPC. In 2005 and 2006, the Algerian Government also captured or killed around 500 jihadists having affiliations with the GSPC.
Its new alliance with Al-Qaida potentially gave it access to more resources and training. It now began to operate in the Trans-Sahara region, crossing difficult-to-patrol borders between Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, and Chad to recruit extremists within the region for training and terrorist operations in the Trans-Sahara.