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Homeland Security

Backgrounder: Armed Islamic Group (Algeria, Islamists) (a.k.a. GIA, Groupe Islamique Armé, or al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha)

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Lauren Vriens

Updated: June 27, 2008


The Armed Islamic Group, known by its French acronym, GIA, waged a violent war against Algeria's secular military regime during the 1990s. Though terrorism continues to plague Algerian society, the GIA's role in current violence appears to have abated. The GIA grew out of a 1992 decision by Algeria's military government to cancel an election in which it appeared that a moderate, mainstream Muslim party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was headed for victory. The backlash took many forms, including formation of the Islamic Salvation Army, a militant group linked with the FIS. But the separate and more radical GIA soon gained a notorious reputation for mayhem and murder, targeting those affiliated—even remotely—with the military and the government, as well as innocents and foreign nationals. The GIA vowed to raze the secular Algerian government and, in its place, establish a Muslim state ruled by sharia, or Islamic law. The ensuing civil war ranked as one of the most violent in the world during the 1990s but petered out in 2002 following a cease-fire declared by the Islamic Salvation Army, a group that never condoned the civilian violence perpetrated by the GIA. While the GIA is now largely defunct, it remains designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Algerian and Western counterterrorism officials say that many members may have defected in recent years and joined al-Qaeda or its sister organization al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Whom does the GIA target?

One of the GIA's leaders, Antar Zouabri, has proclaimed: "in our war, there is no neutrality. Except for those who are with us, all others are renegades." International press during the 1990s focused on the large number of journalists and intellectuals who were beheaded or whose throats were slit during Algeria's civil war.

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Copyright 2008 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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