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Appendix E – Statement of Reasons – Al-Qa’ida in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

Also known as: Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM); Le Groupe Salafiste Pour La Predication et le Combat; Salafist Group for Call and Combat; Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC); Tanzim al-Qa’ida fi bilad al-Maghreb al-Islamiya

The following information is based on publicly available details about al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. To the Australian Government’s knowledge, these details are accurate and reliable and have been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Attorney-General must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

(a)    is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur); or

(b)   advocates the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur).

Details of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb

Objectives

Formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a Sunni Islamic extremist group with its headquarters in northern Algeria. The group operates mainly in Algeria and the Sahel region of northern Mali. From its bases in northern Mali, AQIM also conducts regular attacks in Mauritania with some forays into Niger. AQIM does not appear to have established a strong foothold in the Maghreb countries of Morocco, Tunisia or Libya at this stage but aspires to expand its influence throughout North Africa and the Sahel/Sahara region and to conduct attacks in Europe.

As the GSPC, the group’s main goal was to overthrow the Algerian Government and replace it with an Islamic government to rule Algeria under Sharia law. This remains one of AQIM’s key aims. However, following the GSPC’s merger with al-Qa’ida in late 2006 and name change to AQIM in early 2007, the group increasingly has adhered to al-Qa’ida’s extremist ideology and has declared war against foreigners and foreign interests.

AQIM has called for the freeing of the Maghreb countries of North Africa from Spanish and French influences and for the regaining of the lost Islamic regions of southern Spain, known as al-Andalus. AQIM also has stated its support for the Palestinians and called on Muslims across North Africa to target Jewish and Christian interests. Since 2000, Algerians believed to be GSPC/AQIM members have been arrested in France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the UK and Pakistan. Security forces also have dismantled AQIM support cells in several European countries. While an AQIM attack in Europe is possible; the threat appears to have receded in the past few years.

Concerted counter-terrorism campaigns by Algerian security forces have put AQIM on the defensive in northern Algeria. Algerian authorities reportedly neutralised hundreds of AQIM militants in 2009 and believe that the group’s national emir, Abdelmalek Droukdal, is losing control of the organisation. As a result of these pressures, the group’s focus appears to be moving southwards into the Sahel region, boosting the relevance of the group’s Mali-based battalions for training and recruitment and fundraising operations. These battalions are currently able to operate in relative safety in the vast, ungoverned north of the country and AQIM is launching an increasing number of attacks in Mali and Mauritania, including against Westerners, with some forays into Niger. As a result, international and regional calls for the Malian Government to drive AQIM out of Mali are becoming louder.

The GSPC was formed in 1998 as a splinter group of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) to protest against the GIA’s indiscriminate killing of civilians. The GSPC quickly became Algeria’s largest and most dangerous terrorist group and by 2000, the external networks of the GIA across Europe and North Africa had been absorbed by the GSPC.

In June 2004, the GSPC released statements claiming that its jihad in Algeria was part of the international jihad led by Usama bin Laden and declaring war on all foreigners and foreign interests in Algeria. The culmination of this increasingly pro-al-Qa’ida stance was the GSPC’s official merger with al-Qa’ida and its subsequent name change.

Following the 2006 merger, AQIM media statements took an increasingly anti‑Western position and the group conducted its first attacks specifically targeting Western interests.

Leadership

Since 2004, the group has been led by Abdelmalek Droukdal (aka Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud). Other central figures include the leaders of two semi-autonomous and increasingly active AQIM battalions based in Northern Mali - Abdal Hamid Abu Zayd aka Abid Hamadou (Tariq Ibn Zyad Battalion) and Mokhtar Belmokhtar (Al Moulathamine Battalion). The group’s 2006 merger with al-Qa’ida has proved to be largely ideological and AQIM appears to operate autonomously with limited contact and direction from its parent organisation.

Membership

AQIM’s membership currently is estimated at between 500 and 800 members, about a third of whom operate in the Sahel regions of northern Mali and Mauritania. AQIM members are recruited from the Maghreb countries (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia), the Sahel region (extending across northern Mali, southern Mauritania, northern Senegal, southern and central Niger central Chad, central Sudan and Eritrea) and from other West African countries.

Recruitment and funding

Following substantial losses in its northern Algerian strongholds in the past two years, AQIM has stepped up its efforts to recruit new members. The group released a video entitled ‘Join the Caravan’ on 1 January 2010, maintains web-based propaganda and issues on-line updates of its activities under the title ‘Series of the Swords’ Shadows’, disseminated by the Al-Fajr Media Centre website. In October 2009, the website announced that AQIM had formed a new media outlet called ‘Al Andalus Media Productions’, in reference to an area of Spain regarded by AQIM as occupied Islamic territory.

AQIM funds itself primarily through criminal activities, including the kidnapping of Westerners for ransom payments. Kidnapping operations in the Sahel/Sahara region of North Africa have been a key source of funding in the past two years and have netted the group millions of Euros in ransoms since February 2008. Other funding sources include protection rackets, people and arms trafficking, money laundering and muggings and increasingly, the facilitation of drug trafficking from South America into Europe.

Terrorist activity of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb

Directly or indirectly engaged in the doing of terrorist acts

AQIM conducts attacks against Western interests in northern Algeria and increasingly in Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Its methods include suicide bomb attacks, remotely detonated roadside bombings, small arms attacks, kidnappings for ransoms and assassinations.

In addition to targeting Western interests, AQIM routinely attacks Algerian military, police and government interests. Common tactics include ambushes, attacks at false roadblocks, raids on military, police and government convoys, armed assaults and vehicle-born suicide bombings.

List of attacks

AQIM can also be reliably attributed to, or has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks including:

Attacks in the past two years include:

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

AQIM leaders and senior al-Qa’ida members including Ayman al-Zawahiri, have stated publicly that AQIM should target US, French and other Western interests in Algeria, across North Africa and into Western Europe.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, ASIO assesses that AQIM is directly and indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in and fostering the doing of terrorist acts and advocating the doing of terrorist acts.  It is submitted the acts attributable to the AQIM are terrorist acts as they:

  1. are done with the intention of advancing a political cause, namely the overthrow of the Algerian Government and the establishment of an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law; and advancement of al-Qa’ida’s political and religious causes.

  2. are intended to coerce or influence by intimidation, the governments of foreign countries including Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya.

  3. constitute acts which cause serious physical harm to persons, including death, as well as serious damage to property.

Other relevant information

Proscription by the UN and other countries

AQIM is listed on the United Nations 1267 Committee’s consolidated list as an entity associated with al-Qa’ida. AQIM has been also listed as a terrorist organisation by the US. Canada and the UK still list the group as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC).

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