Who is behind Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb?
LEMONDE.FR | 21.09.10 | 3:32 p.m. • Updated 22.09.10 | 2:17 p.m.
Screenshot showing a group of militants of AQIM, provided by the site “SITE.” AFP / –
TWO FRENCHMEN ABDUCTED IN NIGER WERE “EXECUTED” BY THEIR ABDUCTORS, “AL QAEDA IN THE ISLAMIC MAGHREB”. BUT WHAT IS THIS ORGANISATION? HERE, LE MONDE PUTS A SEARCHLIGHT ON IT:
The kidnapping in Niger seven foreign expatriates, including five French, were claimed by Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in an audio message released Tuesday, September 21 by the television station Al-Jazeera, Qatar. What is known today about the organization? Its origins? Structure? Ambitions?
AQIM was born from the integration in January 2007, of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) to al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden. A Jihadist organization in Algeria, the GSPC had appeared in 1998 , at the time of the mass killings perpetrated by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Having pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, the group has expanded its area of action throughout the Sahel, from Mauritania to Chad, through Mali, Niger and Nigeria.
Area of influence and operations of al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.
“When creating AQIM, the objective assigned to it by bin Laden , was Europe “, but without reaching the Old Continent, the movement focused and folded over the Sahara, recalls Jean-Pierre Filiu , professor at the Center for Studies and Research (CERI) at Sciences, Po, “a region in which it was already present and where it has increased its share by opening new fronts, notably in Niger in 2009 ” , notes Filiu, who is the author of Nine Lives of Al Qaeda .
AQIM By whom is it directed?
AQIM has been headed since 2004 by Abdelmalek Droukde , alias Abu Musab Abdelwadoud. Aged about forty years, he was born at Meftah, a suburb south of Algiers. Chemist by training, he joined the GIA in 1994. According to Jeune Afrique , which devoted a lengthy portrait to him, his rise within the Islamist organization has been meteoric
Cell leader and ruler of phalanx, he came into contact with Al-Qaeda from 2005 through the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the organization in Iraq.
Abdelmalek Droukdel, alias Abu Musab Abdelwadoud, the head of AQIM. AFP / –
Dubbed as “The Base”, he has installed himself at Droukdel training camps in Kabylia to train jihadist candidates from Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritania and elsewhere. In an interview granted to the New York Times on 1 st July 2008, he stated that his troops consist mainly of Algerian militants. They are two hundred to three hundred gathered around him in the maquis in Kabylia.
AQIM How is it organized?
In the Sahel and Sahara, AQIM is divided into several phalanges [branches] that are highly mobile. These katibas – the name is borrowed from the fighting units of the National Liberation Army (NLA) during the Algerian war of independence – each have dozens of activists. They are organized around a leader, or emir, appointed by Abdel Malek Droukdel. The two main ones are:
– The katiba West , hitting mostly in Mauritania. Its leader, the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar , alias Khaled Abou El Abbas, is also known by the nickname “Mister Marlboro” because of his involvement in cigarette smuggling. Among other crimes, he participated in the kidnapping of two Canadian diplomats working for the UN in December 2008 and the abduction of three Spaniards in November 2009. The release of the latter in August the following year cost 8 million euros, paid in Madrid.
– The katiba East, who roam the south of Tunisia, northern Niger, and in the east, from Mauritania to Chad. At its head: Abid Hammadou , alias Abdel Hamid Abu Zayd . Older than Droukdel and Belmokhtar, Abu Zeid is responsible for the murder of a British kidnap victim, Edwyn Dyer and the death of French hostage Michel Germaneau . In testimony gathered by the magazine Jeune Afrique, the former French hostage, Peter Camatte,e described the organisation as “small” and “rickety” . “It demonstrates great courage in operational terms,” [Camatte said.]
“That is the organisation’s greatest strength, it added to the fact that it is also relatively new to the network” , notes Jean Peter Filiu .
Since the Franco-Mauritanian attempt to obtain the release of the hostage Michel Germaneau, France has been in the sights of Al Qaeda.
Trafficking and abduction: “the business” of AQIM
AQIM operates in an area delivered to the trafficking of all kinds: cigarettes, drugs, weapons … The Islamists are involved in smuggling, which, along with the kidnappings of foreigners and the “business of taking hostages”, are a source of revenue for the organization.
Tuareg chiefs play a role in the economy of terror, by selling some of their own hostages in the Sahara to the Islamists. “Culturally speaking, the Tuareg have nothing to do with Islamic ideeology. But their traditional mission is to provide airlift missions and to smuggle goods across the desert, and they can lend a hand to the jihadists, in return for their support and protection,” said one expert interviewed by Le Monde.
Due to the support of the former colonial power for the regime of Algerian President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika , France’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan, and the ban on headscarves in French schools and the niqab in public places, France is particularly targeted by the Islamists of AQIM.
The pressure on Paris and its interests in the countries of the Sahara and Sahel has intensified considerably since an “Operation Franco-Mauritanian”was conducted on July 22 against AQIM camp in northern Mali, as evidenced by a note from the French Directorate General for external monitoring (DGSE) to which Le Monde had access.
According to French experts, the Islamists would not have AQIM logistical capability in France to claim a share on the national territory. However, the organization could strike “or through people already on our soil, or by sending a group dedicated to this company based on local logistical support” . French concerns have recently been reinforced by information from the CIA giving details of the trip of Islamic militants from North Africa to Italy.