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Homeland Security

Backgrounder: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (aka Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat)

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Andrew Hansen
February 26, 2007


Reports from North Africa point to a recent resurgence in terrorist activity by several local Islamist movements, the most prominent of which is the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). An Algeria-based Sunni group that recently renamed itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, 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, GSPC claims to be the local franchise operation for al-Qaeda, a worrying development for a region which has been relatively peaceful since the bloody Algerian civil war of the 1990s drew to a close.

What is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb?

The group 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 after it became clear the Islamic Salvation Front, a coalition of Islamist militants and moderates, might win and take power. The GSPC declared its independence from another insurgent group, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in 1998, believing the GIA’s brutal tactics were hurting the Islamist cause. The GSPC gained support from the Algerian population by vowing to continue fighting while foreswearing 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, with the majority of its members refusing government offers of amnesty after Algeria’s civil war of the mid-1990s.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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