New Menace Rises in Maghreb: An Algerian Rebel Group Formerly Focused on Toppling Its Own Country's Government Has Aligned Itself with Al Qaeda and Is Targeting Western Interests

By Harwood, Matt | Security Management, July 2007 | Go to article overview

New Menace Rises in Maghreb: An Algerian Rebel Group Formerly Focused on Toppling Its Own Country's Government Has Aligned Itself with Al Qaeda and Is Targeting Western Interests


Harwood, Matt, Security Management


AFTER YEARS OF relative silence, North Africa is once again being plagued by a resurgence in Islamist terrorism. A driving force is the new jihadist group formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which forged an alliance with al Qaeda at the beginning of the year and changed its name to The Organization of al Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), to reflect its integration into Osama Bin Laden's jihadist movement.

The GSPC, originally an antigovernment guerilla group, was thought to be "on the brink of falling apart" between 2003 and 2004, says Lianne Kennedy Boudali, a senior associate at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Increasingly brazen attacks since December 2006 have shredded such optimistic appraisals.

Jihadis ratcheted up their activity in April, when four adherents attempted nearly simultaneous suicide bombings in Casablanca; these activists were already suspected of being part of the terror cell that executed the 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca that killed 45 people.

Those four failed, but the next day Algeria's capital suffered the worst terrorist attack in years as three suicide bombers used truck bombs to hit the prime minister's office and a suburban police station just outside the capital city.

The string of bombings ended the following Saturday in Casablanca when two suicide bombers detonated themselves, one beside the U.S. Embassy. The next day the U.S. Embassy closed its doors indefinitely to reevaluate security.

AQIM issued a statement claiming responsibility for the Algiers bombings, which was released on a jihadist Web site. It included pictures of the three suicide bombers and descriptions of eight other attacks they claimed to have committed in April so that their "true harvest" would be known. Counterterrorism officials have no evidence the attacks in Morocco were the work of AQIM.

Under its former incarnation, AQIM sent jihadists to fight coalition forces in Iraq, early evidence of internationalist aspirations. Now that the group is part of al Qaeda, it is feared that it is attempting to coalesce into a regional and international terrorist movement targeting Western influence in North Africa, if not Europe itself. AQIM's leader, Abdelmalek Droukdal has repeatedly stated that Western influence, especially France, is the group's primary target. …

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