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al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb
Participant in Insurgency in the Maghreb (2002–present)
GSPC-AQIM in Algeria from as-Sahab video.PNG
Active 2002-present
Leaders Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud
Area of
Algeria, North Africa
Strength 300-800
Part of Al-Qaeda
Originated as Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat
Allies Al-Qaeda

The al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb[1], previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Arabic: الجماعة السلفية للدعوة والقتال‎ (al-Jamaa`atu l-Salafiyyatu li l-Da`wati wa l-Qitaal); French: Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, GSPC; also known as Group for Call and Combat) is an Islamist militia which aims to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state. To that end, it is currently engaged in an insurgent campaign.

The group has declared its intention to attack Algerian, Spanish, French, and American targets. It has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State, and similarly classed as a terrorist organization by the European Union.



The GSPC was founded by Hassan Hattab, a former Armed Islamic Group (GIA) regional commander who broke with the GIA in 1998 in protest over the GIA's slaughter of civilians. After an amnesty in 1999, many former GIA fighters laid down their arms, but a few remained active, including members of the GSPC.[2] Estimates of the number of GSPC members vary widely, from a few hundred to as many as 4000.[3] In September 2003, it was reported that Hattab had been deposed as national emir of the GSPC and replaced by Nabil Sahraoui (Sheikh Abou Ibrahim Mustapha), a 39 year-old former GIA commander who was subsequently reported to have pledged the GSPC's allegiance to al-Qaeda,[4] a step which Hattab had opposed.[5][2] Following the death of Sahraoui in June 2004, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud became the leader of the GSPC.[6] Abdelmadjid Dichou is also reported to have headed the group.[7]

A splinter or separate branch of Hattab's group, the Free Salafist Group (GSL), headed by El Para, has been linked with the kidnapping of 32 European tourists in Algeria in early 2003.[2] Numerous other sources clearly illustrate the involvement of the Algerian intelligence services in exaggerating the claims about terrorist threats in the Sahara and the supposed alliance between this group and Al-Qaeda. Much about the mythology surrounding El Para is also attributed to the Algerian government who he possible works for, and it is also contended that certain key events (such as kidnappings) were set-up, and finally that the resulting hype stems from a campaign of deception and disinformation led by the Algerian government, and perpetuated by the media.[8]

By March 2005, some sources argued that the GSPC "may be prepared to give up the armed struggle in Algeria and accept the government's reconciliation initiative."[9]. In March 2006, the group's former leader, Hassan Hattab, called on its members to accept a government amnesty under which they can lay down their guns in return for immunity from prosecution.[10] However, in September of 2006 the top Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced a "blessed union" between the groups in declaring France an enemy. They said they would work together against French and American interests.[11] In January 2007, the group announced a formal change of name to al-Qaeda.[12]

On January 19, 2009, the London Sun reported that the GSPC had suffered an epidemic of bubonic plague at a training camp in the Tizi Ouzou province in Algeria. According to the Sun, at least 40 GSPC fighters suffered "horrible" deaths from the disease. The surviving GSPC members from the training camp have reportedly fled to other areas of Algeria hoping to escape being infected by the disease.[13] The Washington Times reported a day later that the incident was not an epidemic of bubonic plague, but an accident involving some type of unconventional weapon, either a biological or chemical agent.[14]

Speculation about international links

GSPC Area of Operations & Pan-Sahel Initiative nations

Algerian officials and authorities from neighbouring countries have long speculated that the GSPC may be active outside Algeria. However, these activities most likely have to do with the GSPC's long-standing involvement with the black economy - smuggling, protection rackets and money laundering across the borders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Chad - which provides the group's financial underpinnings.[2] However, recent developments seem to indicate that a splinter group may have sought refuge in the Tuareg regions of northern Mali and Niger following crackdowns by Algerian government forces in the North and South of the country since 2003.

A number of observers (notably Jeremy Keenan) have voiced doubts regarding the GSPC's capacity to carry out large-scale attacks such as the one in northeastern Mauritania during the "Flintlock 2005" military exercise.[15] They suspect the involvement of Algeria's Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) in an effort to improve Algeria's international standing (as a credible partner in the War on Terrorism) and to lure the United States into the region.[8] In addition to staging major attacks over the years, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has also called for a general boycott of the April 2009 Algerian preseidential elections.

Allegations of GSPC's links to al-Qaeda predate the September 11, 2001 attacks. As followers of a Qutbist strand of jihadist Salafism, the members of the GSPC are thought to share al-Qaeda's general worldview. After the deposition of the group's founder, Hassan Hattab, between 2001 and 2003, various leaders of the group have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Some observers have argued that the GSPC's connection to al-Qaeda is nominal (i.e. opportunistic), not operational. Claims of GSPC activities in Italy[16] are disputed by other sources, who say that there is no evidence of any engagement in terrorist activities against US, European or Israeli targets: "While the GSPC [...] ha[s] established support networks in Europe and elsewhere, these have been limited to ancillary functions (logistics, fund-raising, propaganda), not acts of terrorism or other violence outside Algeria."[2] Investigations in France and Britain have concluded that young Algerian immigrants sympathetic to the GSPC or al-Qaeda have taken up the name without any real connection to either group.[3]

Similar claims of links between the GSPC and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in Iraq[17] are based on purported letters to Zarqawi by GSPC leader Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud.[18] In a September 2005 interview, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud hailed Zarqawi's actions in Iraq.[6] Like the GSPC's earlier public claims of allegiance to al-Qaeda, they are thought to be opportunistic legitimation efforts of the GSPC's leaders due to the lack of representation in Algeria's political sphere.[2]

After years of absence, the United States has begun to show renewed military interest in the region[19][20] and staged the "Flintlock 2005" exercise, which involved US Special Forces training soldiers from Algeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Chad. The United States alleges that the Sahel region has become a training ground for Islamist recruits.[21] Yet the two most important pieces of evidence of 'terrorist activity' - the tourist kidnapping of 2003 and the attack on the Mauritanian army base just as "Flintlock" got underway - have been called into question.[22][15]

Observers say that the region's governments have much to gain from associating[23] local armed movements and long-established smuggling operations with al-Qaeda and a global 'War on Terrorism'.[15] In June 2005, while the "Flintlock" exercise was still underway, Mauritania asked "Western countries interested in combating the terrorist surge in the African Sahel to supply it with advanced military equipment."[24]

In November 2007 Nigerian authorities arrested five men who according to them had seven sticks of dynamite and other explosives on them at the time of arrest. Nigerian prosecutors say that three of the accused had trained for two years with the then Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in Algeria. [25] In January 2008 the Dakar Rally was cancelled due to threats made by associated terrorist organizations.


According to London-based risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt, AQIM issued the call for vengeance against Beijing for mistreatment of its Muslim minority following the July 2009 Ürümqi riots.[26]

Major attacks prior to 2007

  • On 15 October 2006, in Sidi Medjahed, Ain Defla, Algeria, assailants attacked and killed eight private security guards by unknown means. View Incident
  • On 7 April 2005, in Tablat, Blida Province, Algeria, armed assailants fired on five vehicles at a fake road block, killing 13 civilians, wounding one other and burning five vehicles. View Incident
  • On 12 February 2004, near Tighremt, Algeria, Islamic extremists ambushed a police patrol, killing seven police officers and wounding three others. The assailants also seized firearms and three vehicles. View Incident
  • February 2003: 32 European tourists are kidnapped. 1 dead, 17 hostages rescued by Algerian troops on May 13, 2003, and 14 released in August 2003.
  • November 23 2002: Ambush of a group of Algerian soldiers. 9 dead, 12 wounded.

Since 2007

July 30th 2009: At least 11 Algerian soldiers were killed in an ambush by Islamic extremists while they escorted a military convoy outside the coastal town of Damous, near Tipaza.[27]

As of March 2010, an Italian national, Sergio Cicala, and his wife are still being held hostage.[1]


  1. ^ Watson, Rob. "Algeria blasts fuel violence fears", BBC News, 04-11-2007. Retrieved 04-22-2007.Jean-Pierre Filiu, "Local and global jihad: Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib", The Middle East Journal,Vol.63, spring 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Islamism, Violence and Reform in Algeria: Turning the Page (Islamism in North Africa III) International Crisis Group Report, 30 July very sexy too! 2004
  3. ^ a b BBC Documentary about increased US military focus on the Sahara region. August 2005.
  4. ^ Algerian group backs al-Qaeda, BBC News, 23 October 2003
  5. ^ Interview with the Former Leader of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, 17 October 2005
  6. ^ a b Interview with Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, commander of the GSPC, 26 September 2005 ( website) (pdf)
  7. ^ "Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)", Terrorist Organizations, World Statesman. Retrieved 09-08-2007.
  8. ^ a b El Para, the Maghreb’s Bin Laden - who staged the tourist kidnappings? by Salima Mellah and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2005, and the writings of Jeremy Keenan, such as
  9. ^ Georges Rassi, "End of Insurgency", al-Mustaqbal, as reported in MidEast Mirror, 24 March 2005. Quoted in Islamist Terrorism in the Sahel: Fact or Fiction?
  10. ^ Top Algerian Islamist slams Qaeda group, urges peace, Reuters, 30 March 2006
  11. ^ "Al-Qaida joins Algerians against France", AP, 14 September 2006
  12. ^ Brand al-Qaeda, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 January 2007
  13. ^ West, Alex, "Deadliest Weapon So Far...The Plague", London Sun, January 19, 2009.
  14. ^ Lake, Eli, "Al Qaeda Bungles Arms Experiment", Washington Times, January 20, 2009, p. 1.
  15. ^ a b c US targets Sahara 'terrorist haven', BBC News, 8 August 2005
  16. ^ GSPC in Italy: The Forward Base of Jihad in Europe by Kathryn Haar, Jamestown Foundation, 9 February 2006)
  17. ^ "‘The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb’: The Evolving Terrorist Presence in North Africa", Inquiry and Analysis, Middle East Media Research Institute, 03-07-2007. Retrieved 09-08-2007.
  18. ^ Algerian terror group seeks Zarqawi's help, UPI 2 May 2006
  19. ^ General Sees Expanding Strategic Role for U.S. European Command In Africa by Charles Cobb Jr., American Enterprise Institute, 16 April 2004
  20. ^ Africa Command Not European Command, Says Official by Charles Cobb Jr., American Enterprise Institute, 4 May 2004
  21. ^ DoD Press Release about the "Flintlock 2005" military exercise, 17 June 2005
  22. ^ L'attaque contre la garnison de Lemgheity toujours à la une, Panapress, Jeune Afrique, 16 June 2005
  23. ^ Un Marocain arrêté en Mauritanie pour terrorisme, La Libération (Casablanca), 8 June 2006
  24. ^ Mauritanian authorities transform Lemgheity post into military base, Al-Akhbar website in Arabic 1410 gmt 22 Jun 05, BBC Monitoring Service.
  25. ^ BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Five Nigerians on terror charges
  26. ^ "China demands Turkish retraction". BBC News. 14 July 2009. Retrieved 14 July 2009. 
  27. ^

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