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. The group had close to 30,000 members at its height, but the Algerian Government’s counterterrorism efforts have reduced GSPC’s ranks to fewer than 1,000. The current leader of AQIM is Abdelmalek Droukdal, who has been in charge of AQIM since it was founded in 1998 as the GSPC.
AQIM historically has operated primarily in the northern coastal areas of Algeria and in parts of the desert regions of southern Algeria and the Sahel. Since the French-led military intervention in early 2013, however, the group has reduced its presence in northern Mali and expanded into Libya and Tunisia. AQIM mainly employs conventional terrorist tactics, including guerrilla-style ambushes, mortar, rocket, and IED attacks. The group’s principal sources of revenue include extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and donations. 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.
AQIM since 2010 has 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 death of some AQIM members and possibly disrupted some AQIM activity. In 2011, however, AQIM killed two French hostages during an attempted rescue operation, and in 2013 killed one French hostage in retaliation for France’s military intervention in Mali. AQIM continues to hold five French, one South African, one Dutch, and one Swede hostage.
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 Timbuktu for ethnic Tuaregs. The Islamic militant group Ansar al-Dine was formed to support the creation of an Islamic state in Mali ruled by sharia.
Since 2011, dissident groups of AQIM members broke away to form Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and al-Mulathamun Battalion and its subordinate unit al-Muwaqi‘un Bil-Dima (“Those Who Sign With Blood”) led by former AQIM battalion leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. In August 2013 these groups merged to form al-Murabitun, (“The Sentinels”), and officially formalized the groups’ ties; their stated goals are to “unite all Muslims from the Nile to the Atlantic in jihad against Westerners” and to curb French influence in the region.