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 Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

(Also known as: Al Qaida au Maghreb Islamique; Al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb; Al Qa‘ida Organisation in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb; AQIM; Le Groupe Salafiste Pour La Predication et Le Combat; Salafist Group for Call and Combat; Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat; Tanzim al-Qaida fi bilad al-Maghreb al-Islamiya)

This statement is based on publicly available information about al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). To the Australian Government’s knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has 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:

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

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed the organisation under its former name, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Le Groupe Salafiste Pour La Predication et Le Combat –GSPC), on 14 November 2002 and relisted under that name on 5 November 2004 and 3 November 2006.  The organisation was listed as al Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on 9 August 2008 and relisted 22 July 2010 and 12 July 2013.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

AQIM’s objective is to create an Islamist state based on Islamic law. AQIM aspires to expand its influence throughout North and West Africa.

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

AQIM has called for the freeing of the Maghreb countries of North Africa from Spanish and French influences and for the restoration of the lost Islamic regions of southern Spain, known as al-Andalus. AQIM has stated its support for Islamist extremist violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Chechnya and Palestine.

AQIM has undertaken the following to advance its ideology and achieve its objectives:

Directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts

AQIM has engaged in terrorist attacks and kidnappings against a wide range of targets in North and West Africa. Attacks which AQIM has claimed responsibility for since it was last re-listed include:

  • 5 February 2016: AQIM militants attacked a United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission base in Timbuktu, Mali. One Malian soldier was killed in the attack.
  • 7 January 2016: AQIM militants kidnapped a Swiss national in Timbuktu, Mali. AQIM demanded the release of militants imprisoned in Mali in return for the release of the Swiss national.
  • 20 November 2015: AQIM conducted a joint attack with al-Murabitun on a hotel frequented by foreigners, the Radisson Blu, in Bamako, Mali. Twenty people were killed in the attack.
  • 3 August 2015: AQIM conducted an attack against a Malian military camp in Gourma Rharous, Mali, killing 13 soldiers.
  • 20 April 2014: AQIM militants attacked an Algerian military convoy in the Tizi Ouzou region of Algeria, killing 14 soldiers.

AQIM has ongoing intent to undertake terrorist acts in North and West Africa. Following the military intervention of French and African forces in northern Mali in 2013, the leader of AQIM’s Sahara Branch, Yahya Abu al-Hammam, stated that AQIM would engage in prolonged, mobile, guerrilla warfare against Malian, French and allied interests throughout the Sahel region.

AQIM has pursued alliances with other regional terrorist groups to achieve its objectives, strengthening the capability of those groups in the process.

  • The attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, in November 2015, was a joint operation between AQIM and al-Murabitun.
  • AQIM has also provided weapons, support and training to Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

AQIM leaders have publically advocated terrorist attacks in order to further its objectives. Public statements in which AQIM has advocated terrorist attacks since it was last re-listed include:

  • 6 December 2015: AQIM released a speech from its deputy Shariah judge, Abu Abdul Rahman Ali al Sanhaji, inciting Muslims in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and northern Mali to participate in violent jihad.
  • 26 April 2015: AQIM released a speech from the head of its Council of Dignitaries, Abu Obeida Yusuf al ‘Annabi, inciting Tunisians to wage jihad and to fight the government.

Details of the organisation

AQIM is an affiliate of al-Qaida and shares its core jihadist ideology, seeking to remove governments, through violent means if necessary, in Muslim countries that it deems are ‘un Islamic’ in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate. AQIM also espouses anti-Western ideals and has called on Muslims across North Africa to target Western interests. AQIM’s alliance with al-Qa‘ida in 2006 has proved to be largely ideological and AQIM appears to operate autonomously with limited contact and direction al-Qa‘ida senior leadership.

  • In 2014, AQIM reiterated its commitment and pledge of allegiance to the leader of al-Qa‘ida, Ayman al Zawahiri.

Leadership

Since 2004, AQIM (known then as GSPC) has been led by Abdelmalek Droukdal (aka Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud). Although Droukdal reportedly commands AQIM’s battalions from Algeria, the battalions also enjoy some operational autonomy.

Since 2013, Yahya Abu al-Hammam (aka Jemal Oukacha) has been the leader of AQIM’s Sahara Branch which operates predominantly in northern Mali. Al-Hammam has played a key role in AQIM’s ongoing terrorist activities, including the killing of US national Christopher Leggett in Mauritania in June 2009 and the killing of French national Michel Germaneau in Niger in July 2010.

Membership

AQIM’s membership is estimated at several hundred.  AQIM members primarily originate from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and other North and West African countries.

  • Since 2000, individuals believed to be GSPC/AQIM members have been arrested in France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the UK and Pakistan. Security forces have also dismantled AQIM cells in several countries.

Recruitment and funding

AQIM exploits the instability and local grievances across much of the Sahel to recruit members. The inability of governments to provide jobs for a rapidly expanding young population provides a fertile ground for recruitment. AQIM also recruits from communities in northern Mali through cooperation in transnational smuggling activities and intermarriage with local powerful families. AQIM continues to communicate with the wider extremist community through web-based propaganda and official statements issued through AQIM’s media wing, Al Andalus Media Productions.

AQIM funds itself primarily through criminal activities and the kidnapping of Westerners for ransom payments. Kidnapping operations in the Sahel/Sahara region of North Africa have been a key source of funding and have netted the group millions of Euros since February 2008. AQIM has also used kidnapping to obtain political concessions such as the release of Islamist prisoners. Other funding sources include protection rackets, robbery, people and arms trafficking, money laundering and smuggling and increasingly, the facilitation of drug trafficking from South America into Europe.

Links to other terrorist organisations

AQIM remains an affiliate of and ideologically aligned with al-Qa‘ida. However, AQIM maintains a largely autonomous command structure and determines its own targeting strategy.

AQIM has current and historic ties to other regional terrorist groups.

  • In November 2015, AQIM conducted a joint attack with al-Murabitun on a hotel frequented by foreigners in Bamako, Mali. Al-Murabitun was proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Australia in 2014.
  • In 2010 and 2011, AQIM provided weapons, support and training to Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram.
    • Boko Haram was proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Australia in 2014.

Links to Australia

Australians are not directly involved in the organisation.

Threats to Australian interests

AQIM had not made statements specifically threatening Australians or Australian interests. However, AQIM has issued statements threatening Westerners and Western interests in general.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

The United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qaida Sanctions Committee (formerly the United Nations Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee) has designated AQIM for targeted financial sanctions and an arms embargo since 6 October 2001.

AQIM has been listed as a terrorist organisation by Canada, the US and New Zealand. The UK lists the group as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC).

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

AQIM did not participate in negotiations with the Malian Government over the Islamist occupation of northern Mali in 2012.

AQIM has not participated in peace talks with the Algerian Government.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation assesses AQIM continues to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts, involving threats to human life and serious damage to property.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, AQIM is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  • cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endangered life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
  • are intended to have those effects;
  • are done with the intention of advancing AQIM’s political, religious or ideological causes;
  • are done with the intention of intimidating, the government of one or more foreign countries; and
  • are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.