Al-Qa‘ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
Al-Qa‘ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is an Algeria-based Sunni Muslim jihadist group. It originally formed in 1998 as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a faction of the Armed Islamic Group, which was the largest and most active terrorist group in Algeria. The GSPC was renamed in January 2007 after the group officially joined al-Qa‘ida in September 2006.
Following its formal alliance with al-Qa‘ida, AQIM expanded its aims and declared its intention to attack Western targets. In late 2006 and early 2007, it conducted several improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against convoys of foreign nationals working in the energy sector. AQIM in December 2007 attacked United Nations offices in Algiers with a car bomb and in February 2008 attacked the Israeli Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania, with small arms.
AQIM, which operates primarily in the northern coastal areas of Algeria and in parts of the desert regions of southern Algeria and northern Mali, mainly employs conventional terrorist tactics, including guerrilla-style ambushes and mortar, rocket, and IED attacks. Its principal sources of funding include extortion, kidnapping, and donations. AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdal announced in May 2007 that suicide bombings would become the group’s main tactic. The group claimed responsibility for a suicide truck bomb attack that killed at least eight soldiers and injured more than 20 at a military barracks in Algeria on 11 July 2007, the opening day of the All-Africa Games. In May 2009, AQIM announced it had killed a British hostage after months of failed negotiations. In June of the same year, the group publicly claimed responsibility for killing US citizen Christopher Leggett in Mauritania because of his missionary activities. In 2011, a Mauritanian court sentenced a suspected AQIM member to death, and two others to prison for the American’s murder.
In 2010, AQIM failed to conduct the high-casualty attacks in Algeria that it had in previous years. Multinational counterterrorism efforts—including a joint French-Mauritanian raid in July 2010 against an AQIM camp—resulted in the deaths of some AQIM members and possibly disrupted some AQIM activity. In 2011, however, AQIM killed two French hostages during an attempted rescue operation.
In 2012, AQIM took advantage of political chaos in northern Mali to consolidate its control there and worked with the secular Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) to secure independence in Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktou for ethnic Tuaregs. The Islamic militant group Ansar al-Din subsequently formed to support the creation of an Islamic state in Mali ruled by sharia, and a dissident group of AQIM members broke off to form Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and support Ansar al-Din. As of early summer 2012, MUJAO was holding two Spanish and an Italian hostage. Separately, AQIM has provided funding and training to members of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram.