Profile: Al-Qaeda in North Africa

Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb, to give its full name in English, has its roots in the bitter Algerian civil war of the early 1990s, but has since evolved to take on a more modern Islamist agenda. It emerged in early 2007, after a feared militant group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), aligned itself with Osama Bin Laden's international Reported leader Abdel Moussab network. Abdelwadoud is rarely seen Back in the 1990s, against a background of Islamist political groups testing their strength across North Africa, the military-backed authorities in Algeria at first permitted the Islamists to play a full part in the nation's political life. But then, when the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to sweep the board in a 1992 general election, they annulled the whole process and took power back. The political ferment immediately moved into violence. Armed Islamists mounted attacks across Algeria; the security forces fought back; and sometimes it was hard to tell which group had carried out which atrocity. Other states in the region - Tunisia and Morocco, Mauritania to the west and Libya to the east - also battled against Islamists. Most feared But the conflict in Algeria was particularly brutal, killing perhaps 150,000 people. It peaked in the 1990s, until an amnesty offer to Islamists in 1999 led to gradual improvements. Violence fell and the country's economy recovered during the early years of the 21st Century. However, the most feared of the militant organisations, the Armed Islamic Group or GIA, rejected the promised amnesty and continued a violent campaign to establish an Islamic state. By then it had split, with the most extreme faction calling itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) - a name which echoed an Islamist group in Morocco. The Arabic word "Salafist" means GSPC deputy leader Amari Saifi is fundamentalist, in the sense of going back to the original serving a life sentence texts of Islam.

east of Algiers. Two days later. hit a barracks and a company bus The death toll continued to mount in 2008. and in April 2007 at least 30 people were killed in bomb attacks on official buildings in Algiers. seven bombs exploded in the eastern Kabylia region. Al-Qaeda's North African wing said it had planted the bombs. The attacks continued into 2009. who described it at the time as "a source of chagrin. twin car bombs claimed by al-Qaeda in North Africa Attacks in August 2008 in Bouira killed at least 37 people in Algiers. The second explosion in Bouira killed 12 Algerian employees of the Canadian engineering firm SNCLavalin. south-east of Algiers. killing 48 people. Wave of attacks Shortly afterwards. In December. when suspected al-Qaeda militants in February killed nine security guards who were working for the state-owned gas and electricity distributor Sonelgaz at a camp near Jijel. A day later.In September 2006 the GSPC said it had joined forces with al-Qaeda. killing six people. Today. Others consider it a far more worrying development. a car bomb killed more than 30 people at a coastguard barracks in the town of Dellys. on American diplomats. Some officials have dismissed it as an act of desperation by a group on its last legs. The first was a suicide car bombing at a police college in Issers. showing that al-Qaeda has succeeded in persuading North Africa's Islamic extremists to take a more global view. and in September 2007. aimed at the motorcade of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. There has been much debate in intelligence circles about the significance of the move. The president was not injured. including 17 UN staff. a suicide bomb attack in Batna. Back-to-back attacks on 19 and 20 August killed dozens of people. two more car bombings struck in quick succession in Bouira. and in January 2007 it announced that it had changed its name to reflect its new allegiance. on soldiers. according to Jim Carroll. frustration and sadness" for Algeria's authorities. More attacks followed: on buses carrying foreign oil workers. The news delighted al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. seeking to attract new recruits by aligning itself with Osama bin Laden. author of How Did Al-Qaeda Emerge in North Africa? 'Years of hardship' . east of Algiers. Algerian Islamists represent the largest national grouping in al-Qaeda. but 20 people were killed.

They were released in April 2009. In December 2008. security forces have clamped down on several militant cells . was released from jail in the UK.a Briton . And in June the British government said it believed the group's claims on an Islamist website that the death threat had been carried out against the British captive.after four incidents blamed on alQaeda-inspired groups in 2007. In January 2007.Algeria's prime minister has warned that the bombers want to take Algeria back to "the years of hardship". which killed almost 200 people in 2004. near Niger's capital. militants from al-Qaeda in North Africa abducted the United Nations special envoy. Niamey.unless a radical Islamic cleric convicted of terrorism in Jordan. The security forces are said to be on the lookout for militants who are believed to be crossing into Morocco from Algeria. Meanwhile. Louis Guay. Abu Qatada. Two were freed in April. Its leader is thought to be Abou Mossab Abdelwadoud. Robert Fowler. south of the capital. This group trained in Algeria and have learned their techniques from Iraq as well as in Afghanistan Mohamed Ben-Madani Maghreb analyst And of course the Madrid train bombs. a former university science student and infamous bomb-maker. trying and jailing their leaders . But other incidents across the Maghreb point to the group's possible regional ambitions. The group also seized four European tourists who disappeared in January 2009 along the Mali-Niger border. 12 people were shot dead by the security forces in Tunisia near the small town of Solimane. The authorities initially described their adversaries as criminals but later admitted that the men were Islamic militants with connections to the GSPC. The group threatened to kill one of the remaining pair . He took over in 2004. and his assistant. 'One-eyed' The group is thought to have between 600 and 800 fighters spread throughout Algeria and Europe. in Morocco. . though there are unconfirmed reports that he has since been toppled by internal rivals. Edwin Dyer. Tunis. were the work of a Moroccan gang.arresting.

Two years ago.Another leading member is Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Mokhtar Belmokhtar is known as the "one-eyed" The former paratrooper was captured by Chadian rebels in mysterious circumstances and passed on to Libya before standing trial in Algeria. . He leads the Saharan faction of the group and has organised the importation of arms for the underground network from Niger and Mali. 36. a former soldier who followed the familiar route for radical young Muslims and went to fight in Afghanistan. He is wanted in Algeria on terrorism charges. known as the "one-eyed". deputy GSPC leader Amari Saifi was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping 32 European tourists in 2003.

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