The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb: Expansion in the Sahel and Challenges from Within Jihadist Circles

January 2010 marked the three-year anniversary of the merger between the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (or GSPC, as it is known by its French acronym) and al-Qaeda central.  The GSPC became the official wing of al-Qaeda in North Africa, under the title of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  After a two-year period, in which this newly-luanched organization seemed to be busy organizing spectacular suicide terrorist attacks against primarily government targets in Algeria, there was suddenly a lull in the major attacks in the third year of AQIM’s existence.  And apart from kidnapping Westerners in the Sahara between the Maghreb and the Sahel region, and a handful of attacks launched in Mauritania in 2009, AQIM seemed to have failed in its attempts to expand its theater of operations to the rest of the Arab countries that make up the Maghreb, a region that consists of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.  This Occasional Paper will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses demonstrated by AQIM in the whole of the Maghreb during 2009 with particular comparison to the previous few years.  In doing so, it will also take into account the activities of AQIM in some of the Saharan countries known as the Sahel region.  Ultimately, it will aim to forecast those trends which AQIM will assume over the course of this coming year.

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