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Monday, August 04, 2008

AQIM and their Global Strategy

It is about time the CFR did an update to the profile of AQIM.
Here is a summary.

-Shimron

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or L'Organisation Al-Qaïda au Maghreb Islamique (Formerly Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat or Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat)


Introduction
What is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb?
What's the connection between AQIM and al-Qaeda?
What are AQIM's goals?
What are the group's tactics?
Is the group capable of carrying out global attacks?
Who are the group's main leaders?
How is the group funded?
Does AQIM have a significant presence in Iraq?

Introduction
Terrorist activity in North Africa has been reinvigorated in the last few years by a local Algerian Islamist group turned pan-Maghreb jihadi organization: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A Sunni group that previously called itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), the organization has taken responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks in the region, declared its intention to attack Western targets, and sent a squad of jihadis to Iraq.

Experts believe these actions suggest widening ambitions within the group's leadership, now pursuing a more global, sophisticated, and better-financed direction.

Long categorized as part of a strictly domestic insurgency against Algeria's military government, AQIM claims to be the local franchise operation for al-Qaeda, a worrying development for a region that has been relatively peaceful since the bloody Algerian civil war of the 1990s drew to a close.

European officials are taking AQIM's international threats seriously and are worried about the growing number of Europe-based cells, states this Europol Report (PDF) .

What is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb?
AQIM originated as an armed Islamist resistance movement to the secular Algerian government. Its insurrection began after Algeria's military regime canceled the second round of parliamentary elections in 1992 when it seemed that the Islamic Salvation Front, a coalition of Islamist militants and moderates, might win and take power. In 1998, the group declared its independence from another terrorist organization, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), believing the GIA's brutal tactics were hurting the Islamist cause. The GSPC gained support from the Algerian population by vowing to continue fighting the government while avoiding the indiscriminate killing of civilians. The group has since surpassed the GIA in influence and numbers to become the primary force for Islamism in Algeria.

A government amnesty program and a persistent counterterrorism campaign by the Algerian army significantly decreased the number of local terrorists, which at its highest point in the 1990s was estimated as high as 28,000. According to the U.S. State Department, which compiles yearly statistics on terrorist groups, AQIM's membership is now in the hundreds.

But there are indications that terrorism in North Africa is on the rise and that AQIM is using the Iraq war and other unpopular Western policies to recruit new membership. "Despite the official happy talk," says Olivier Guitta, a Washington-based foreign affairs consultant, "kidnappings by Islamists to raise money for their cause are a routine occurrence in Algeria.


And not a day goes by without terrorists' attacking military personnel, government employees, or ordinary civilians, whom they regard as allies of the government."

What's the connection between AQIM and al-Qaeda?

Collusion between AQIM and al-Qaeda is not a new phenomenon. According to a 2007 report by Emily Hunt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Osama bin Laden provided funding for Algerian Islamists in the early 1990s and was involved in the GSPC's early formation. Many of the group's founding members trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The GSPC declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda as early as 2003, but al-Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, officially approved GSPC's merger in a videotape released on September 11, 2006.
AQIM has since claimed responsibility for attacks under its new name.

What are AQIM's goals?

Originally, its aims included the overthrow of Algeria's secular military government and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, a theocracy based on Islamic law that for twelve centuries spanned the Muslim world. Counterterrorism experts, however, say the group's folding into the global al-Qaeda structure may indicate a shift to take up the banner of global jihad and collude on future attacks in North Africa, Western Europe, and Iraq. "Pressed by Algerian counterterrorism successes, the once Algeria-centric GSPC has become a regional terrorist organization, recruiting and operating all throughout the Maghreb—and beyond to Europe itself," said Henry A. Crumpton, U.S. ambassador for counterterrorism, during April 2006

Senate subcommittee testimony (PDF).

Algerian authorities consider the name change to be a last-ditch attempt to revitalize a domestic insurgency. However, AQIM's vocal support of al-Qaeda and declaration of solidarity (PDF) with Islamic extremists in the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Somalia, and Chechnya indicate broader intent. "Our general goals are the same goals of Al Qaeda the mother," AQIM's current leader, Abdelmalek Droukdal, said in a July 2008 interview with the New York Times. In keeping with this statement, the group has issued several communiqués that expand its targets—originally the Algerian military and France—to include the United States. AQIM has accused America of propping up the "apostate" Algerian regime and leading a crusade against Muslims.

What are the group's tactics?

AQIM employs conventional terrorist tactics (PDF) in Algeria, including guerilla-style ambushes against military personnel and truck bombs against government targets, according to the Center for Policing Terrorism (CPT) at the Manhattan Institute. GSPC militants kidnapped thirty-two European tourists traveling in the Algerian Sahara in February 2003. The ransom paid for their release is unknown but estimated to be from $5 million to as much as $10 million; the group may have used these funds to purchase surface-to-air missiles, heavy machine guns, mortars, and satellite-positioning equipment.

In December 2006, the group attacked two buses carrying contractors near Algiers, wounding several foreign nationals. Four months later, the group killed twenty-three people with twin bombings in Algiers. One of the bombs exploded outside the prime minister's office, a move CFR Senior Fellow Steven A. Cook describes as "a major escalation." In December 2007, the group was behind a double suicide bombing in Algiers that killed forty-one people, including seventeen UN staff members. These attacks, as well as a June 2008 twin suicide bombing of an army outpost, suggest the group is relying more on suicide attacks as its preferred method. The State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism says this development is a nod to al-Qaeda and a wish to emulate the success of suicide bombings in Iraq.

Is the group capable of carrying out global attacks?

Some experts warn the group's growing confidence could increase its willingness to target Westerners both inside and outside Algeria. The group has called for jihadis who can't reach the battlefields of Iraq to target Jews, Christians, and apostates (PDF) in their own regions.
  • AQIM has taken over, and some say revitalized, many Europe-based cells of the former GIA for both fundraising and recruiting.
  • In spite of its growing global presence, some experts doubt AQIM's ability to carry out a Qaeda-scale attack. "They haven't done anything spectacular," says Hugh Roberts, an expert on North African politics and former head of the International Crisis Group's North Africa project. "They have not actually pulled off a single terrorist attack in Europe in the eight years they've existed. And that's a fact that you have to put in balance against European security services that say the group is a major threat."
  • On the other hand, Bruce Reidel, a former CIA counterterrorism official now with the Brookings Institution, writes that AQIM has been steadily building up its capability to carry out attacks in Western Europe and even North America. In June 2008, Spanish authorities uncovered a terrorist cell in Spain, arresting eight men and detaining ten accused of providing logistical and financial support to AQIM. This follows French police uncovering a similar cell in the outskirts of Paris in December 2007. Arrests of suspected terrorists with ties to AQIM have been made throughout Europe in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Some analysts point to thwarted attacks and arrests of AQIM-linked terrorists as evidence the group is capable of attacks in Western Europe.

Who are the group's main leaders?

After the 1979-1989 insurgency against the Soviets in Afghanistan, hundreds of North African volunteers known as "Afghan Arabs" returned to the region and radicalized Islamist movements. Most of the group's main leaders are believed to have trained in Afghanistan. Abdelmalek Droukdal, also known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadoud, is the current chief of the group. University-educated as a science student and well known for his bomb-making abilities, he has led the group since 2004, when its previous leader, Nabil Sahraoui, was killed in a firefight with Algerian forces.

Amari Saifi, also known as Abderrazak el-Para because he was trained as an Algerian

paratrooper, is a former leader of the group that remains an important figure. Saifi is best known for organizing the lucrative 2003 kidnapping of European tourists in the Algerian Sahara. He was known as the "Bin Laden of the desert" and classified as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" by the United States, a title shared by top al-Qaeda commanders before he was captured in Chad in 2004 and eventually extradited to Algeria. In February 2008, AQIM militants kidnapped two Austrian tourists in Tunisia and listed el-Para's release as one of their demands. Algerian courts recently sentenced him to death, though the last execution in the country occurred in 1993.


How is the group funded?

Smuggling and petty crimes are a lucrative source of income, according to the CPT report. The porous, unpoliced borders of the Sahara region make smuggling vehicles, cigarettes, drugs, and arms particularly easy. Europe-based cells provide funds to AQIM through drug dealing, counterfeiting money, and other illegal activities, French and Italian police forces reported to Europol in 2008. The ransom paid as a result of the 2003 kidnapping provided a significant windfall for the group. To continue its tradition of self-financing, writes counterterrorism consultant Olivier Guitta, AQIM operatives may be turning more to kidnapping as a source of income. The group reportedly requested five million pounds for the ransom of two Austrian tourists in 2008. Algerian authorities have accused Iran and Sudan of giving material support to

AQIM, but experts say that is unlikely.

Does AQIM have a significant presence in Iraq?
Yes. AQIM has funneled North African insurgents to Iraq to fight as suicide bombers, foot soldiers, and mid-level commanders, says Hunt. Although counting foreign fighters is difficult, Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism consultant, estimates that North Africans represent between 9 percent and 25 percent of foreign fighters in Iraq, although the vast majority are still of Saudi and Jordanian origin. Adil Sakir al-Mukni, a key link between AQIM and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was deported by the Syrian government in 2005 for helping shuttle foreign fighters into Iraq. AQIM reportedly called on the Zarqawi network to attack French nationals in Iraq and applauded the 2005 killing of two Algerian diplomats there.


Authors: Andrew HansenLauren
The Rest @ The Council on Foreign Relations

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