The Many Faces of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
GCSP Policy Paper N°15 (English & German)
May 2011 View this publication
Also available in German:
- Since its reinvention as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) in 2007, the Algerian Salafist Group for Predication and Combat (GSPC) has sought and managed to expand its regional domain of action throughout North Africa, the Sahel, and West Africa, and in targeting France has pursued a strategy of steady internationalization of its threat.
- Having actively sought to acquire the imprimatur of Osama Bin Laden’s global organization, the former GSPC has, however, paradoxically displayed few of the political characteristics of the “mother” Al Qaeda group, and AQMI has been acting increasingly independently on a primary modus operandi of kidnapping Western citizens in the Sahel region and releasing them in exchange of ransoms (fifty-four abductions between 2003 and 2011). This independence is bound to expand in the wake of Bin Laden’s death.
- With an estimated membership of some five hundred individuals, AQMI has managed to recruit a number of radical Islamists in the wider North African and Saharan areas but these foot soldiers have featured at lower ranks, while the group’s leadership remained in Algeria (Hassan Hattab, Nabil Al Sahraoui, and Abdelmalek Droukdel).
- Tactical opportunism and operational ambiguity have consistently characterized the activities of the group, and AQMI has distinctively merged criminality and terrorism into a significant transnational network able to oversee a “political economy of terrorism” with terrorist operationspursued in support of large-scale illicit financial activities and drug-trafficking routes.
- Whereas the group had been on the defensive in 2010-2011 due to stepped-up counter-terrorism operations, the armed conflict in Libya has provided AQMI with an unexpected opportunity to augment its threat by dispatching convoys to acquire higher-grade weaponry than its existing small arms stock, and expand geographically into an uncontrolled coastal Mediterranean terrain from which it can conduct substantially more lethal and spectacular operations (possibly on the Marrakech model), with regional and international implications.