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Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

By mid-2013 growing lawlessness in southern Libya and an influx of Islamist militants from Mali stoked worries that Libyas security weaknesses are fast becoming a destabilizing factor in the region. Many al-Qaida-linked jihadists driven out of Mali by a French-led offensive earlier in the year set up at least three jihadist camps in southern Libya. As a consequence, Libya had become the headquarters for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

The Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been designated as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union. AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets throughout the Sahel (including Mali, Mauritania, and Niger). No single group is responsible for supporting Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) cells in the region, but noted that AQIM could not survive in the desert without support from local lifelines in the form of food, fuel and arms.

AQIM factions in the northern Sahel (northern Mali, Niger, and Mauritania) conducted kidnap for ransom operations and conducted small scale attacks and ambushes on security forces. The targets for kidnap for ransom are usually Western citizens from governments or third parties that have established a pattern of making concessions in the form of ransom payments or the release of operatives in custody. AQIM remains largely a regionally-focused terrorist group. It has adopted a more anti-Western rhetoric and ideology and has aspirations of overthrowing apostate African regimes and creating an Islamic Caliphate. AQIM numbers under a thousand fighters and is significantly constrained by its poor finances and lack of broad general appeal in the region. Abdelmalek Droukdel, aka Abu Musab Abd al-Wadoud, is the leader of the group.

Isolated portions of northern Mali continue to serve as a safe haven for AQIM, an Algerian-origin terrorist organization formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). The continued presence of AQIM and other armed groups in northern Mali present significant potential danger to travelers. In 2007, AQIM bombed the UN building and an Algerian government building just outside of Algiers killing over 60 people. In 2008 and 2009, even as it was under significant pressure by Algerian security forces, AQIM continued to conduct small scale attacks and ambushes in northeastern Algeria against Algerian security forces and regularly used improvised explosive devices there.

In January 2008, a group of assailants who may have been linked to AQIM robbed some Italian aid workers near Araouane north of Timbuktu. In October 2008, in northern Mali, AQIM released two Austrian tourists who had been captured eight months earlier in Tunisia. In February 2009, AQIM claimed responsibility for the December 2008 and January 2009 kidnappings, respectively, of two Canadian-citizen United Nations officials and four European tourists along the Mali-Niger border.

AQIM has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Canadian United Nations officials in Niger in December 2008, the kidnapping of four European tourists in January 2009 on the Mali-Niger border, the murder of a British hostage in Mali in June 2009, the murder of a U.S. citizen in Mauritania in June 2009, and the suicide-bombing of the French Embassy in Mauritania on August 8, 2009. On November 14, 2009, heavily armed individuals attempted to kidnap U.S. Embassy employees in Tahoua, Niger.

In November 2009, AQIM kidnapped three Spanish citizens in Mauritania. Also in November 2009, AQIM attempted to kidnap USG employees in Niger. In December 2009, AQIM kidnapped an Italian citizen and his wife and a French citizen NGO worker in Mali. On July 24, 2010, AQIM executed the French citizen NGO worker.

During 2010 the terrorist organization AQIM killed persons and took hostages. On April 19, in Niger, bandits abducted French citizen Michel Germaneau and later handed him over to AQIM. On July 25, AQIM claimed it had executed Germaneau in reprisal for a French-supported Mauritanian attack on AQIM camps in Mali on July 22, although reportedly Germaneau may already have died by the time of the July 22 raid. On September 17, elements believed to be part of AQIM abducted seven employees--five French, one Togolese, and one Malagasy--of the French firms Areva and Satom in Arlit, Niger, and transported them to AQIM camps in northern Mali.

On 23 February 2010, AQIM released French citizen Pierre Camatte who was taken hostage in Menaka in November 2009. The release occurred after courts tried and sentenced to "time served" four AQIM operatives authorities had taken into custody in April 2009. There were developments in the case of three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in Mauritania in November 2009 and held in northern Mali by AQIM. On March 10, AQIM released Alicia Gamez. The remaining two Spanish hostages, Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual, were released on August 22. According to media reports, the release was in exchange for ransom payments as well as the release by Mauritanian authorities of Malian AQIM member Omar Oul Sid Ahmed Ould Mama, also known as Omar the Sahroui. On April 16, AQIM released two Italian citizens, Sergio Cicala and his wife Philomene Kaboure, who had been held hostage in Mali since their kidnapping in December 2009 in Mauritania.

In June 2010, an AQIM attack resulted in the death of 11 Algerian soldiers and the kidnapping of a customs official who was later executed by the organization. Also in June, AQIM was responsible for a detonation of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) at a police checkpoint, which resulted in the death of seven national police officers and three civilians. In Niger, the group conducted its first vehicle-borne suicide attack in March and in August used similar tactics in an attack on a Mauritanian military base. In total, AQIM attacks in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger resulted in the deaths of over 80 people in 2010.

In April 2010, AQIM kidnapped French aid worker Michel Germaneau in Niger, later moving him to Mali. In July, Germaneau was killed in retaliation for the death of six AQIM operatives during a failed attempt by France and Mauritania to free him. In September, AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of seven people, including five French nationals working at a mine in Niger. At years end, the hostages had not been released.

On January 4, 2011, an individual who had received training in AQIM camps in the north of Mali attacked the French Embassy, causing only minor injuries. On January 7, 2011, AQIM kidnapped and subsequently killed two French nationals from Niamey along the Mali-Niger border in their efforts to elude their pursuers. On November 24, 2011, two French nationals were kidnapped from the town of Hombori, in eastern Mali. On November, 25, 2011, a German national was killed, and a Dutch, a South African, and a Swedish national were kidnapped in Timbuktu.

Mauritania, Algeria, and Niger have all been given authorization to pursue terrorist or criminal elements crossing their borders into Mali. With the exception of French hostage Pierre Camatte, all of the hostages purported to be held in Northern Mali were kidnapped in other countries, some from very far afield. And yet, once the hostages disappear these other countries simply assert that they have been taken to Northern Mali and wash their hands of all efforts to gain their liberty.

By 2011 AQIM had under a thousand fighters operating in Algeria with a smaller number in the Sahel. It operates in Northeastern Algeria (including but not limited to the Kabylie region) and northern Mali, Niger, and Mauritania. Algerian expatriates and AQIM members abroad, many residing in Western Europe, provide limited financial and logistical support. AQIM members engage in hostage-taking for ransom and criminal activity to finance their operations.

Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)

The Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on March 27, 2002. The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) aimed to establish an Islamic state within Algeria. Addtionaly it sought to destroy western targets. The GSPC had been visible since 1996 and is an offshoot of the GIA.

On March 11, 2004 news sources reported that a firefight had occurred between the Chad military and an Algerian terrorist group, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). This firefight, which is believed to have resulted in the death of some 43 GSPC members, apparently began in Niger and crossed into Chad. The fighting took place over two days. The group, led by a former Algerian soldier named Saifi Ammari and nicknamed "the Para," had been tracked across the Sahara from its bases in the Algeria-Mali border area. It is not clear if "the Para" was involved in the attack.

After the GSPC officially merged with al-Qaida (AQ) in September 2006 the organization became known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). On February 20, 2008, the Department of State amended the GSPC designation to reflect the change and made AQIM the official name for the organization. Some senior members of AQIM are former Armed Islamic Group (GIA) insurgents.




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