Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

William Thornberry and Jaclyn Levy

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) emerged from a decades-long militant Islamist tradition in Algeria. In 1998, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, or GSPC) broke away from the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé, or GIA) because of the GIA’s extensive targeting of civilians. Gradually, the GSPC evolved to encompass global jihadist ideology in addition to its historical focus on overturning the Algerian state. In 2006, the GSPC officially affiliated with al Qaeda core, soon rebranding itself as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. In the following years, AQIM was able to conduct a small number of large-scale attacks, most notably its 2007 bombing of the UN headquarters in Algiers. In recent years, counterterrorism pressure and weak governance have combined to shift the center of AQIM’s presence to the Sahara-Sahel region. AQIM continues to make its presence known through smuggling operations, kidnappings, and clashes with security forces in the desert. In the coming years, general instability within the region could allow AQIM to further expand its influence.