Profile: Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb
Al-Qaeda in North African traces its roots to the Algerian civil war of the 1990s.
Last Modified: 12 Dec 2007 04:25 GMT

The group launched a series of attacks on police stations in February this year [EPA]

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was born from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), initially formed to establish an Islamic state in Algeria, but now believed to have more widespread aims.

The Sunni group is the most significant resistance movement in Algeria and has taken responsibility for a number of attacks in the region.

GSPC was established in 1998 and was itself a breakaway faction from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

The GIA and the GSPC were characterised as part of a strictly domestic insurgency against Algeria's military government.

Civil war origins

The GIA began after the ruling Algerian military refused to recognise the Islamic Salvation Front's (FIS) election victory in 1992, causing a civil war to break out.

"It was a sign of another group joining the al-Qaeda franchise, as we have seen with groups in Iraq and Saudi Arabia"

The war, which lasted for ten years, cost more than 100,000 lives.

The GIA carried out a number of reprisal attacks on the military, but lost support after targeting civilians.

They therefore evolved into the GSPC in 1998, becoming the primary force for Islamism in Algeria.

In 2006, on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second in command, officially announced GSPC's merger with al-Qaeda and the change of its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Sajjan Gohel, a terrorism expert at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, said that this change was more than just symbolic: "It was a sign of another group joining the al-Qaeda franchise, as we have seen with groups in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

"It gave the GSPC a new impetus and showed that the ideology and doctrines which al-Zawahari puts out are being adhered to."

Range of strikes

In the last year, AQIM has moved on from carrying out localised ambushes to more varied strikes against a range of targets.

It has planted a series of bombs at police stations, killing six people, attacked the military and foreign workers, and in September attempted to assassinate Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the president.

Gohel said that AQIM are increasing the levels of violence and fear in the country to provoke a response from the military.

That could lead to return attacks or restrictions on civil liberties, both of which may cause dissatisfaction with the government and make it easier for AQIM to recruit.

The group is believed to have between 600 to 800 fighters in Algeria and Europe. It is said to gain members from the high numbers of Algerians who have returned from fighting against Western forces in Iraq.

As their name suggests, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb ambitions are not confined to Algeria.

Gohel said they intend to show that they are a transnational group and this has worrying implications for Europe as some the large diaspora of North Africans in Western Europe may become AQIM members.

Gohel said: "We are witnessing the beginning of a group which has ambitious intentions for transnational activity."

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