The Armed Islamic Group (GIA, al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha, from French Groupe Islamique Armé; Arabic الجماعة الإسلامية المسلّحة ) is an Islamist organisation that wants to overthrow the Algerian government and replace it with an Islamic state. The GIA adopted violent tactics in 1992 after the military government voided the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front, the largest Islamic opposition party, in the first round of legislative elections held in December 1991. During their 1994 hijack of Air France Flight 8969 the GIA announced "We are the Soldiers of Mercy".
Between 1992 and 1998 the GIA conducted a violent campaign of civilian massacres, sometimes wiping out entire villages in its area of operation (see List of Algerian massacres of the 1990s; notably the Bentalha massacre and Rais massacre, among others.) Since announcing its campaign against foreigners living in Algeria in 1993, the GIA has killed more than 100 expatriate men and women in the country. The group uses assassinations and bombings, including car bombs, and it is known to favor kidnapping victims and slitting their throats. The GIA is considered a terrorist organisation by the governments of Algeria, France and the United States. Outside of Algeria, the GIA established a presence in France, Belgium, Britain, Italy and the United States.
Early in 1992, Mansour Meliani, with many "Afghans", broke with his former friend Abdelkader Heresay and left the MIA (Islamic Armed Movement), founding the first Armed Islamic Group (GIA) around July 1992. This group dispersed after his arrest that month, but the idea was revived in January 1993 by Abdelhak Layada, who declared his group independent of Heresay and not obedient to his orders. This group became particularly prominent around Algiers and its suburbs, in urban environments. It adopted the radical Omar El-Eulmi as a spiritual guide, affirming that "political pluralism is equivalent to sedition"
It was far less selective than the MIA, which insisted on ideological training; as a result, it was regularly infiltrated by the security forces, resulting in a rapid leadership turnover as successive heads were killed. It explicitly affirmed that it "did not represent the armed wing of the FIS", and issued death threats against several FIS and MIA members, including MIA's Heresay and FIS's Kebir and Redjam.
From its inception on, the GIA called for and implemented the killing of anyone collaborating with or supporting the authorities, including government employees such as teachers and civil servants. It named and assassinated specific journalists and intellectuals (such as Tahar Djaout), saying that "The journalists who fight against Islamism through the pen will perish by the sword.". It soon broadened its attacks to civilians who refused to live by their prohibitions, and in later 1993 began killing foreigners, declaring that "anyone who exceeds that period [a one month deadline] will be responsible for his own sudden death."
Under Cherif Gousmi (its leader since March), the GIA became the most high-profile guerrilla army in 1994. In May, FIS suffered an apparent blow as Abderrezak Redjam, Mohammed Said, the exiled Anwar Haddam, and the MEI's Said Makhloufi joined the GIA; since the GIA had been issuing death threats against them since November 1993, this came as a surprise to many observers, who interpreted it either as the result of intra-FIS competition or as an attempt to change the GIA's course from within. On August 26, it declared a "Caliphate", or Islamic government for Algeria, with Gousmi as Commander of the Faithful, Mohammed Said as head of government, the US-based Haddam as foreign minister, and Mekhloufi as provisional interior minister.
However, the very next day Said Mekhloufi announced his withdrawal from the GIA, claiming that the GIA had deviated from Islam and that this "Caliphate" was an effort by Mohammed Said to take over the GIA, and Haddam soon afterwards denied ever having joined it, asserting that this Caliphate was an invention of the security services. The GIA continued attacking its usual targets, notably assassinating artists, such as Cheb Hasni, and in late August added a new one to its list, threatening schools which allowed mixed classes, music, gym for girls, or not wearing hijab with arson.
Cherif Gousmi was eventually succeeded by Djamel Zitouni as GIA head. Zitouni extended the GIA's attacks on civilians to French soil, beginning with the hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 at the end of December 1994 and continuing with several bombings and attempted bombings throughout 1995. In Algeria itself, he continued likewise, with car bombs, assassinations of musicians, sportsmen, and unveiled women as well as the usual victims. Even at this stage, the seemingly counterproductive nature of many of its attacks led to speculation (encouraged by FIS members abroad) that the group had been infiltrated by Algerian secret services.
The region south of Algiers, in particular, came to be virtually dominated by the GIA; they called it the "liberated zone". Later it would be known as the "triangle of death". During this period, judging from its London-based magazine Al-Ansar, it worked out ever broader ideological justifications for killing civilians, with the help of fatwas from such figures as Abu Qatada. Abu Qatada's writings and speeches have been critically assessed by a contemporary Muslim scholar, Shaykh 'Abdul-Malik ar-Ramadani al-Jaza'iri, in the book Takhlis al-'Ibad min Wahshiyyat Ab'il-Qataad aladhi yu'du ila Qatli'n-Nisa wa Awlad (Jeddah: Maktabah Asalah al-Athariyyah, 1422AH).
Reports of battles between the AIS and GIA increased (resulting in an estimated 60 deaths in March 1995 alone), and the GIA reiterated its death threats against FIS and AIS leaders, claiming to be the "sole prosecutor of jihad" and angered by their negotiation attempts. On July 11, they assassinated a co-founder of FIS, Abdelbaki Sahraoui, in Paris (although some question the authenticity of their statement claiming credit for this.)
During the 1995 election, the GIA threatened to kill anyone who voted (using the slogan "one vote, one bullet".) Soon afterwards, the GIA was shaken by internal dissension: shortly after the election, its leadership killed the FIS leaders who had joined the GIA - Mohammed Saïd, Abderrezak Redjam, and their supporters, accusing them of attempting a takeover. Other Islamists suggested that they had objected to the GIA's indiscriminate violence. This purge accelerated the disintegration of the GIA, leading to suspicion of Zitouni's leadership: Mustapha Kartali, Ali Benhadjar, and Hassan Hattab's factions all refused to recognize Zitouni's leadership starting around late 1995, although they would not formally break away until somewhat later. The GIA killed the AIS leader for central Algeria, Azzedine Baa, in December, and in January pledged to fight the AIS as an enemy; particularly in the west, full-scale battles between them became common.
In July 1996, GIA leader Djamel Zitouni was killed by one of the breakaway factions - Ali Benhadjar's Medea brigade, later to become the AIS-aligned Islamic League for Da'wa and Jihad - and was succeeded by Antar Zouabri. Djamel Zitouni had earned notoriety for such acts as the killing of the seven Monks of Tibhirine in March, but his successor would prove to be far bloodier. Under the leadership of Antar Zouabri, its longest serving "emir" (1996-2002), the GIA became a "takfiri" group, considering Algerian society to be in violation of Islamic precepts, therefore justifying the killing of members of that society as a form of purification of heretical elements.
Like some of his predecessors, Zouabri was himself killed in a gun battle with security forces, in February 2002. The group's leadership next passed on to Rachid Abou Tourab, who was allegedly killed by close aides in July 2004. Next, Boulenouar Oukil was designated leader of the group. On April 7, the GIA killed 14 civilians at a fake road block. On April 29, Oukil was arrested. Nourredine Boudiafi is currently the last known "emir" of the GIA. He was arrested sometime in November of 2004 and the Algerian government announced his arrest in early January 2005. According to the Algerian government, "almost all" of the GIA is now "broken up."
In Algeria, however, the group's repeated massacres of civilians had drained popular support (although rumors persist that security forces were involved in some of the massacres, or even controlled the group). Meanwhile, a 1999 amnesty law that was officially rejected by the GIA was accepted by many rank-and-file Islamist fighters; an estimated 85 percent surrendered their arms and returned to civilian life.
The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) splinter faction appears to have eclipsed the GIA since approximately 1998 and is currently assessed by the CIA to be the most effective armed group remaining inside Algeria. Both the GIA and GSPC leadership continue to proclaim their rejection of President Bouteflika's amnesty, but in contrast to the GIA, the GSPC has stated that it avoids attacks on civilians.
The Algerian state pursued a number of strategies against the GIA. One was to encourage France to take an active part in the fight against the networks of the GIA in France, and thus to cut off its principal means of support abroad.
In an unsuccessful attempt to keep France out of the struggle, the GIA hijacked Air France Flight 8969, which was due to fly from Algiers to Paris in December 1994. A GIA mole named Omar Nasiri (a pseudonym for a Moroccan spy and author of Inside the Jihad) and a police raid of a safe house discovered their plan was to crash it on Paris, a plan prevented when the GIGN stormed the plane at Marseille.
The GIA conducted a series of bombings in France from 1995 to 1996. Analysis of a bomb with a failed trigger mechanism made it possible to identify a conspirator, Khaled Kelkal, who was shot and killed by French gendarmes on September 29, 1995. In late 1999, several GIA members were convicted by a French court for the 1995 bombing campaign [11 ].
In 1998, prior to the World Cup, France in collaboration with other european countries launched a vast preventive operation against the GIA. About 100 alleged members of the group were arrested throughout Europe. In Belgium, security forces seized weapons, detonators and forged identity papers . On June 11, 1999, the GIA announced a jihad on French territory in a threatening letter addressed to the media.