Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)—an Algerian jihadi group that pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in 2006—garnered worldwide media exposure after simultaneous attacks in December 2007 on the United Nations building and the Constitutional Court in Algiers. AQIM, however, has not been able to sustain this level of violence and failed to transform itself into a North Africa-wide organization.
AQIM’s global aims have been thwarted by the Algerian government’s more effective military strategy and the collapse of al-Qaeda in Iraq—the conflict in Iraq helped attract followers. Violent incidents fell from 200 in 2007 to below 150 in 2008. Still, the danger of terrorism in the region is real and considerable attention should be devoted to North Africa and the Sahel.
Methods to contain and ultimately eradicate al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb:
- Regional and international cooperation: AQIM wants its terror record to match its global rhetoric. The threat must be addressed at the regional and international level.
- Disrupt e-jihad: The internet is a powerful tool for recruitment and mobilizing terrorist attacks inspired by al-Qaeda. AQIM’s use of jihadi websites must not only be monitored, but actively disrupted.
- Enhanced cooperation among law-enforcement and intelligence agencies regionally and internationally: Algeria and other states facing terrorism in North Africa have a long record of confronting jihadi networks, but regional security organizations need to enhance their abilities to share information and manage borders.
- Long-term, indirect support from the United States and Europe to North Africa: Outside powers should continue to provide support by training and equipping rapid-reaction forces, but it is essential that they keep a low profile.
“AQIM is deeply rooted in Algeria’s recent history of violence and strife, but the organization’s heavy legacy limits its global potential,” says Filiu. “The security paradox posed by AQIM is that its inability to project its ‘global’ terror beyond Africa intensifies the pressures from al-Qaeda central to achieve such a breakthrough and to force the Algerian jihadi leadership to live up to this commitment.”