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Al-Qa'ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb

Name

Al-Qa'ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

Date of Founding

1998: Formed as part of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). At its height, the GSPC had 30,000 members.

Flag

FlagThe white text reads "In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” The yellow text reads "Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.” The flag symbolizes a united, global Islamic Caliphate created through militancy.

Founder/Leader

Founder: Hassan Hattab. He later left the group and became very critical of it, which has weakened the movement. He has called the group "the remnants of the armed Islamic movement who rejected national reconciliation.”

Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel MalekLeader: Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek. Current leader who succeeded Abu Ibrahim, killed in 2004. He is also known as Abdelmalek Droukdel. Before joining AQIM and becoming its leader, he had a university degree in mathematics.

Estimated Size

Estimated to have fewer than 2,000. At its peak in the 1990s, after declaring itself separated from the Armed Islamic Group (which later dissolved at the end of the Algerian Civil War), the AQIM was estimated to have 28,000 fighters.

Members

AQIM fighters are largely drawn from the poor and disposed in North Africa who are easily persuaded to join a movement larger than themselves. Some of the fighters are believed to have received experience fighting against the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and have brought these skills back to Algeria. It is unknown if AQIM or their sympathizers were involved in the fighting in Libya. However, it is probable that the training, weapons in Libya, and dissatisfaction could be of impetus to AQIM.

"The large proportion of our mujahedeen comes from Algeria. And there is a considerable number of Mauritanians, Libyans, Moroccans, Tunisians, Mali's and Nigerians brothers.” - Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek, 2008.

"We have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world. As for our benefiting from the (Libyan) weapons, this is a natural thing in these kinds of circumstances.” – AQIM Senior Leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

History

1991-2002: The Algerian Civil War occurs between the Algerian government and various Islamist insurgency groups. Approximately 100,000 – 250,000 Algerians were killed in the fighting. While two Islamist movements were neutralized, the GSPC (Salafist Group for Call and Combat) continued an insurgency after the destruction of the other groups.

2002: The GSPC is placed on the United States' designated terrorism list.

23 October 2003: The GSPC announces that it backs al Qaeda and jihad against the United States and its allies.

02 May 2006: AQIM's leader Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek called upon al Qaeda in Iraq's leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and others for help after a renewed Algerian crackdown against the movement.

"(The jihad movement) has been going through difficult phases for the past years, but the crisis got worse in the last two years following the killing of Salafi movement leader Abu Ibrahim, which caused an earthquake that could have eliminated the jihad rend altogether if it wasn't for the commitment of the mujahideen.” – Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek.

25 June 2011: Mauritania claims to have launched a devastating attack on an al-Qaeda training camp in the neighboring country of Mali. The attacks involved heavy weapons and air strikes, and Mauritania claimed to have "completely destroyed” the al Qaeda training camp and base.

11 September 2006: In a videotaped message, Ayman al-Zawahiri officially approved GSPC's merger with al Qaeda.

16 September 2011: The armed forces of Niger were able to ambush and destroy a convoy of suspected al Qaeda fighters killing three and capturing over 50. Weapons were also seized and some of the fighters captured were described as having been forcibly enlisted in the terrorist group.

24 January 2012: It is announced that Algerian officials had foiled a plot to target a USS-Cole style attack against European and U.S. flagged ships in the Mediterranean. Algerian authorities were able to interrupt the plot while it was still in the planning stages.

13 March 2012: An Algerian court sentences Abdelmalek Droukdel to death in absentia for a series of deadly attacks that AQIM conducted in 2007.

04 April 2012: France warns that AQIM maybe taking advantage of the situation in Mali.  Mali, had a coup on 22 March, which has allowed Tuareg rebels to step up attacks.  Tuareg militants have been joined by Islamists, who may be connected to AQIM.  Specifically Ansar Dine, is an Islamist group which has strong ties to AQIM and other al Qaeda groups.  Ansar Dine operates in the uncontrolled northern Mali, which may become a potential base of operations for AQIM and other al Qaeda groups.

"We fear that in this confused situation al Qaeda in teh Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) will take advantage of the situation to expand its perimeter of activity and strengthen the terrorist threat." - French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bernard Valero.

23 April 2012: Abdel-Wadud has called for Algergians to boycott elections in Algeria and instead revolt against the regime. AQIM is seeking to take advantage of the political revolts in its neighbors (Tunisia and Libya) in order to attract political support.  However, their use of terrorism is unlikely to suceed in the country and only attract marginal support.

"These elections will not bring the real change that is sought, rather it will be like plastic surgery, the goal of which is to give false legitimacy to this corrupted and corrupting gang. Muslims, your duty today is not to participate in this disgraceful, fake election; your duty is to reject those oppressors in disguise and wage jihad and rise up against them." - Abu Musab Abdel-Wadud, 23 April 2012.

30 April 2012: AQIM proposes a hostage switch in which they would free Stephen Malcolm if British Islamist Preacher Abu QATADA is allowed to leave the country. The terror group warned that Britain would face the consequences if it deported Abu QATADA to Jordan.

"We offer the British government an initiative to release its citizen Stephen Malcolm...who is our prisoner, if it allows Sheik Abu Qatada to leave to one of the Arab Spring countries or any other country of his choice where he guarantees his freedom and, rights and dignity." - AQIM Statement.

26 June 2012: A senior U.S. General Carter Ham, the Commander of the U.S. Africa Command has warned that AQIM, Boko Haram, and al Shabaab are attempting to merge and coordinate their efforts. Specifically they are attempting to take advantage of the power vacumn in northern Mali and funnel explosives and personnel to each other.

"Most notably I would say that the linkages between AQIM and Boko Haram are probably the most worrisome in terms of the indications we have that they are likely sharing funds, training and explosive materials that can be quite dangerous." - General Carter Ham, 26 June 2012.

03 July 2012: French police announced that they have arrested a Frenchman who was responsible for financing AQIM and recruiting for al Qaeda from Pakistan to Spain.  THe man was based in Toulon and was born in 1977.

10 August 2012: Video of five French hostages who had been seized over two years ago was made public.  One hostage, Philippe Verdon, spoke about "difficult living conditions" and urged former President Sarkozy to intervene.  AQIM has demanded that French forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

20 August 2012: A senior leader of AQIM and two other armed terrorists are arrested in southern Algeria. Necib Tayeb, is reportedly close to AQIM's leader and has been wanted since 1995. He is reportedly one of the oldest members of the terror organization.

28 August 2012: Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a senior leader and founder of the terror group is alive and leading terror operations, an AQIM spokesman claimed.  This comes as reports in late June 2012 suggested that Belmokhtar had been killed.  He is reportedly expanding the terror group into northern Mali.

10 September 2012: A senior leader of AQIM, Nabil Makhloufi, is killed in northern Mali in a car crash in Gao as reported by Ansar Dine and confirmed by Algerian diplomats. 

20 September 2012: AQIM has threatened to kill four French hostages that it is holding over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad were published in a French magazine. The hostages have held for over two years by AQIM.

26 September 2012: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has linked AQIM to the 11 September 2012 U.S. Consulate Attack in Benghazi, Libya.  She has suggested that AQIM helped plan the attack from outside of Libya and the U.S. is currently investigating along with other North African nations on tracking down the responsible terrorists. 

"Now, with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions.And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.” - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 26 September 2012.

30 September 2012: The U.S. is preparing to increase its efforts against AQIM in the aftermath of the Consulate attack in Libya.  The U.S. is considering sending Predator or Reaper drones to assist other drones already hunting the terror group.  There are also plans to increase the training and coordiniation of North African militaries fighting against the group.  Other steps may also be taken to hunt AQIM.

Scope of Operations

AQIM operates primarily within North Africa and has launched devastating and complex attacks. However, the group has also stated a desire to attack the United States if such attacks were able to bolster the AQIM's interests in North Africa.

"If the U.S. administration sees that its war against Muslims is legitimate, then what makes us believe that our war on its territories is not legitimate? Everyone must know that we will not hesitate in targeting it whenever we can and wherever it is on the planet.” – Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek, 2008.

Major Operations Attributed

23 November 2002: Ambush of Algerian soldiers leaves nine dead.

February 2003: 32 European tourists are kidnapped. On 13 May 2003, Algerian troops rescued 17, however one was killed in the attempt. The rest of the hostages were released in August 2003.

12 February 2004: Ambushed Algerian paramilitary officers killing seven.

08 April 2005: Fake checkpoint ambush, killing 14.

04 June 2005: 15 soldiers are killed and 17 wounded in a raid on a Mauritanian army base in the Sahara desert by gunmen linked to the GSPC. At least five attackers were killed in the attack.

"They (GSPC-linked al Qaeda terrorists) killed in cold blood the soldiers they had taken prisoner before fleeing.” – Mauritania Defense Minister Baba Ould Sidi.

10 December 2006: Ambush bombing of a bus carrying employees of Haliburton killing one and injurying nine.

13 February 2007: Seven car bombs near Algiers kill six and wound over a dozen.

March 2007: A gas station is attacked killing at least four.

11 April 2007: Suicide bombings against government ministry and police buildings in Algiers, Algeria leave over 30 dead.

May 2007: Dozens are killed in running gun battles between terrorists and security forces before Algerian elections.

11 July 2007: Suicide truck bomb against a military barracks in Algeria that killed eight and wounded over 20.

06 September 2007: 22 die in a bombing in Batna, Algeria.

08 September 2007: Over thirty are killed in bombings in Dellys, Algeria.

11 December 2007: Over sixty are killed with dozens wounded in two deadly car bomb attacks in Algiers against the country's Constitutional Council and the offices of the United Nations. Al Qaeda and AQIM claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"This was an abjectly cowardly strike against civilian officials serving humanity's highest ideals under the UN banner – base indecent and unjustifiable by even the most barbarous political standard.”- Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

24 December 2007: Four French tourists are killed and a fifth wounded in an ambush near the town of Aleg, Mauritania by three gunmen in a black Mercedes. The AQIM gunmen were later captured by French intelligence officials in Guinea-Bissau.

"The brothers implementing the process are connected with us, and we have previously trained some of them, and we offer them adequate support the implementation of such operations.” – Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek, 2008.

03 June 2009: It is reported that Edwin Dyer, a British hostage, was beheaded by AQIM members in Mali. He had been seized on 22 January 2009 and held with other European tourists who had been captured by al Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.

"When ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks.” (Koran verse quoted in a statement issued by the AQIM).

"The British captive was killed so that he, and with him the British state, may taste a tiny portion of what innocent Muslims taste every day at the hands of the Crusader and Jewish coalition to the east and to the west.” – AQIM statement.

"This tragedy reinforces our commitment to confront terrorism. It strengthens our determination never to concede to the demands of terrorists, nor to pay ransoms. I want those who would use terror against British citizens to know beyond doubt that we and our allies will pursue them relentlessly, and that they will meet the justice they deserve.” –British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

28 April 2011: Although denied by AQIM, it is believed that the group was responsible for a deadly bomb attack in Marrakesh, Morocco which killed 17 at a café. It is believed that the café was chosen because it is popular with Western tourists.

September 2011: AQIM took responsibility for an attack on the Cherchell Military Academy in Algeria which killed over 18.

23 October 2011: An Italian and two Spaniards are kidnapped in Algeria. Although denied by Mali, they are believed to being held in Mali.

November 2011: Two Frenchmen (Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic) were kidnapped near the Mali-Niger border by terrorist fighers believed to be with AQIM.

04 May 2012: Two Algerian officers are killed and two others are wounded after their car was hit by a mortar blast inthe Boumerdes region.  Violence has increased before the elections on 10 May 2012.

29 June 2012: At least one person is killed and three others wounded after a suicide car bomber attacked a paramilitary police base in Ouargla, Algeria.

Ideology/Aspirations

The AQIM seeks to overthrow the governments of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Morocco as well as other countries and create an Islamic Caliphate in North Africa. Although the group claims to avoid killing civilians, most of its attack have killed dozens of innocent civilians.

"Our first goal is the arbitration of the Lord of the world's law and achievement of the servitude to God. Our general goals are the same goals of Al Qaeda the mother, and you know them. As far as our goals concerning the Islamic Maghreb, they are plenty. But most importantly is to rescue our countries from the tentacles of these criminal regimes that betrayed their religion and people.” - Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek, 2008.

Finances

Money is funneled through cells in Europe and the group has also made dividends from ransoms paid through kidnappings. Algerian expatriates living in Western Europe (mostly France) have also repatriated money to the terrorist group.

"In the Sahel, al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), historically the weakest of the al-Qa'ida affiliates, saw its coffers filled in 2011 with kidnapping ransoms – a practice that other terrorist groups are also using to considerable advantage. These resources, together with AQIM's efforts to take advantage of the instability in Libya and Mali, have raised concern about this group's trajectory." - U.S. Department of State 2011Country Reports on Terrorism, July 2012.

Allies

Al Qaeda: The AQIM is a franchise group and part of the larger al Qaeda mission. It is believed that al Qaeda gave them assistance following pleas in 2006, which greatly increased their capability and allowed them to launch devastating attacks throughout the country.  There are also some concerns that AQIM could assist Boko Haram gain greater capacity for its attacks in Nigeria and neighboring countries.

"We and Al Qaeda are one body. It's normal that they are stronger by us and we get stronger by them. They back us up and we back them up. They supply us and we supply them with any kind of support, loyalty, advice and availabe support.” - Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek.

"We are ready to train your children to use weapons and will supply them with all we can, including support and men, weapons, ammunitions and equipment, in order to defend our people in Nigeria and respond against the aggression of the Christian minority.” – Emir Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek in a message to the Nigerian people.

"Boko Haram has the intent and may be developing capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level with al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al Shabaab.” – U.S. Congressional report on Boko Haram, 30 November 2011.

Quotes

"We believe that our greatest achievement is that the jihad is still continuing in the Islamic Maghreb for 16 years. And today it is developing and climbing. By the generosity of God we were able to transfer our jihad from the country to regional and we were able to expand our activity to the Maghreb states and the African coast, and we could participate in the regional awakening jihad.” - Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek, 2008.

"For the past few years, AQIM has been almost an afterthought when discussing the terrorist threat. This may be about to change…Recent public records point out that AQIM, which has traditionally operated in parts of Algeria and Mali, is well positioned to exploit instability and pockets of extremism in Libya and Nigeria, and to create new safe havens.” – Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Case Links

Al-Qa'ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (NCTC)