4.10 Extremist groups in the Greater Middle East: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb AQIM

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AQIM, which evolved from an Islamist insurgent faction in Algeria’s 1990s civil conflict, was formed when the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) “united” with Al Qaeda in 2006 and renamed itself in 2007. AQIM has conducted bombings against Algerian state targets, attacks on security forces in Algeria and the Sahel region of West Africa, and kidnappings, including Westerners, across the region. It has also reportedly provided support to other Africa-based violent extremist groups. U.S. officials have assessed AQIM to be focused on local and Western targets in North and West Africa, potentially including U.S. interests and personnel in the region. The group has leveraged instability in North and West Africa since 2011 to expand the scope of its operations. At the same time, its capacities may have been degraded by French military operations since 2013.
AQIM’s emir, Abdelmalik Droukdel, an Algerian national, is reportedly based in northeastern Algeria. Long-reported leadership disputes within AQIM have erupted since 2011, as
several of AQIM’s former Sahel-based commanders have joined or founded new groups.
AQIM’s rhetoric broadly focuses on achieving an Islamic caliphate in Algeria and throughout North Africa, and on countering Western influence, notably that of former colonial power France.
Areas of Operation
AQIM has claimed responsibility for attacks, kidnappings, and other activities in Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, and Mali. AQIM has also pursued ties to groups in Tunisia and Libya, and elements of the group are reported to have moved to southwestern Libya since 2013.
Algeria: AQIM claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Algiers in 2007-08 targeting the prime minister’s office, Constitutional Council, U.N. office in Algiers, and a police precinct, which killed dozens of people. Bombings and attacks on Algerian police and military institutions have continued outside Algiers, occasionally killing a dozen or more people at a time.
Mali:AQIM has long had a presence in Mali, which has served as a hub for kidnap-for-ransom operations and other fundraising.AQIM asserted territorial control in parts of northern Mali in 2012, in coordination with two other Islamist extremist groups. France’s military intervention in January 2013 restored nominal Malian state control and weakened—but did not eliminate—AQIM’s presence. Recent attacks attributed to AQIM have targeted French, Malian, and U.N. forces.

Niger: AQIM has conducted multiple kidnappings in Niger. Two French citizens kidnapped in the capital, Niamey, in 2011 were killed during a French rescue attempt.
Mauritania: Between 2005 and 2009, AQIM carried out multiple attacks on Mauritanian security forces and foreign nationals in Mauritania. In 2008, AQIM used small arms to attack the Israeli Embassy in the capital, Nouakchott. No fatalities were reported.
Attacks against U.S. interests
AQIM claimed responsibility for the 2009 murder in Mauritania of American citizen Christopher Leggett, who was conducting missionary work. According to the State Department, AQIM was linked to the Benghazi attacks on September 11, 2012. AQIM has publicly urged its supporters to attack U.S. embassies and kill U.S. ambassadors.
Size, Financing, and Capabilities
According to the State Department, as of 2013 AQIM had under a thousand fighters in Algeria and a “smaller number” in the Sahel. Sources of funding include kidnap-for-ransom, involvement in regional smuggling operations, local “taxation” and extortion, and possibly aid from supporters in Europe. In 2012, U.S. officials described AQIM as the “best funded” Al Qaeda affiliate.
Relationship with Al Qaeda and AQ Affiliates
“Union” with Al Qaeda was announced by Al Qaeda’s then-deputy leader Ayman al Zawahiri in 2006. The Obama Administration considers AQIM an Al Qaeda “affiliate.” In July 2014, the group publicly reiterated its pledge of allegiance to Zawahiri; however, news reports suggest that the group’s members may be torn over whether to switch allegiance to the Islamic State.
Source US Congressional Research Service 2014
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