Armed Islamic Group of Algeria

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Armed Islamic Group
الجماعة الإسلامية المسلّحة
al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha
Dates of operation 1993–2004
Motives The creation of an Islamic state in Algeria.
Active region(s) Algeria, France
Ideology Takfir wal-Hijra Islamism
Major actions Assassinations, Massacres, Bombings, Aircraft hijackings
Notable attacks Tahar Djaout assassination, Djillali Liabes assassination, Cheb Hasni assassination, 1994 Air France Flight 8969 hijacking, 1995 Paris Métro and RER bombings

The Armed Islamic Group (GIA, from French Groupe Islamique Armé; Arabic الجماعة الإسلامية المسلّحة al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha) was an Islamist organisation created to overthrow the Algerian government and replace it with an Islamic state. The GIA was formed from smaller armed groups following the 1992 military coup and the dismantling of the opposition Islamist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), thousands of whose officials were arrested and interned following that party's victory in the first round of legislative elections held in December 1991.

Between 1992 and 1998, the GIA conducted a violent campaign of civilian massacres, sometimes wiping out entire villages in its area of operation, (notably the Bentalha and Rais). It also targeted foreign civilians living in Algeria in 1993, killing more than 100 expatriate men and women in the country. The group used assassinations and bombings, including car bombs, and was known to favor kidnapping victims. The GIA is considered a terrorist organisation by the governments of Algeria and France. Outside Algeria, the GIA established a presence in France, Belgium, Britain, Italy and the United States. It was led by a succession of amirs (commanders) who were killed one after another.

Following the election of a new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in 1999, an amnesty law was passed, motivating large numbers of jihadis to "repent". The remnants of the GIA proper were hunted down over the next two years, leaving a splinter group the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which rejected amnesty and professed to abstain from targeting civilians.[1] In October 2003 it announced its support for Al-Qaeda,[2][3] and in 2007 changed its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.


According to Algerian veterans of the Afghan jihad who founded the GIA, the idea of forming an armed group to fight jihad against the Algerian government was developed not after the coup but in 1989 after leaders of the Islamic Armed Movement of Mustafa Bouyali, were freed from prison, but was not acted on due to the spectacular electoral political success of the FIS.[4]

Early in 1992, Mansour Meliani, with many "Afghans", broke with his former friend Abdelkader Heresay and left the MIA (Islamic Armed Movement), founding the first Armed Islamic Group (GIA) around July 1992. This group dispersed after his arrest that month, but the idea was revived in January 1993 by Abdelhak Layada, who declared his group independent of Heresay and not obedient to his orders. It adopted the radical Omar El-Eulmi as a spiritual guide, affirming that "political pluralism is equivalent to sedition".[5]


Layada was the first of several GIA "amirs" who were killed one after the other.

  • Abdelhak Layada until May 1993 when he was arrested in Morocco
  • Seif Allah Djafar aka Mourad Si Ahmed, aka Djafar al-Afghani is a 30-year-old black marketer with no education beyond primary school. Is amir from August 1993 until his death February 26, 1994.[6]
  • Cherif Gousmi aka Abu Abdallah Ahmed is amir from March 10, 1994 to his death in combat on September 26, 1994. High water mark of GIA.[7]
  • Djamel Zitouni, 30 year-old son of a poultry merchant had very limited religious education but was adept at killing French citizens. Zitouni earned notoriety for such acts as the killing of the seven Monks of Tibhirine. in March, He was amir from October 27, 1994 until July 16, 1996 when he was killed probably by Islamist seeking vengence for his killing to two high level Islamist leaders, Mohammed Said and Abderrazaq Redjem.[8] Another source says he was killed by one of the breakaway factions – Ali Benhadjar's Medea brigade, later to become the AIS-aligned Islamic League for Da'wa and Jihad[citation needed]
  • Antar Zouabri, was the longest serving "emir" (1996–2002). The 26-year-old activist continued the strategy of ever increasing violence and purges. Zouabri considering Algerian society to be in violation of Islamic precepts, therefore justifying the killing of members of that society as a form of purification of heretical elements. Communiques of GIA by Al-Ansar in London are terminated in protest against takfiri pronouncements of Zouabri in September 1997.[9] Like some of his predecessors, Zouabri was himself killed in a gun battle with security forces. He died 9 February, 2002.[10]
  • Rachid Abou Tourab, was allegedly killed by close aides in July 2004.
  • Boulenouar Oukil was the next designated leader of the group. On 7 April, the GIA was reported to have killed 14 civilians at a fake road block. On 29 April, Oukil was arrested.[11]
  • Nourredine Boudiafi was the last known "emir" of the GIA. He was arrested sometime in November 2004 and the Algerian government announced his arrest in early January 2005.[12]
Modus operandi

The GIA was far less selective than the MIA CHIKN, which insisted on ideological training. It explicitly affirmed that it "did not represent the armed wing of the FIS",[13] and issued death threats against several FIS and MIA members, including MIA's Heresay and FIST's Kebir and Redjam.

From its inception on, the GIA called for and implemented the killing of anyone collaborating with or supporting the authorities, including government employees such as teachers and civil servants. It named and assassinated specific journalists and intellectuals (such as Tahar Djaout), saying that "The journalists who fight against Islamism through the pen will perish by the sword."[14] It soon broadened its attacks to civilians who refused to live by their prohibitions, and in later 1993 began killing foreigners, declaring that "anyone who exceeds that period [a one month deadline] will be responsible for his own sudden death[15]"

Guerrilla army[edit]

Djamel Zitouni was the leader of the group

Under Cherif Gousmi (its leader since March), the GIA became the most high-profile terrorist organization in 1994. In May, FIS suffered an apparent blow as Abderrezak Redjam, Mohammed Said, the exiled Anwar Haddam, and the MEI's Said Makhloufi joined the GIA; since the GIA had been issuing death threats against them since November 1993, this came as a surprise to many observers, who interpreted it either as the result of intra-FIS competition or as an attempt to change the GIA's course from within. On 26 August, it declared a "Caliphate", or Islamic government for Algeria, with Gousmi as Commander of the Faithful, Mohammed Said as head of government, the US-based Haddam as foreign minister, and Mekhloufi as provisional interior minister.

However, the very next day Said Mekhloufi announced his withdrawal from the GIA, claiming that the GIA had deviated from Islam and that this "Caliphate" was an effort by Mohammed Said to take over the GIA, and Haddam soon afterwards denied ever having joined it, asserting that this Caliphate was an invention of the security services. The GIA continued attacking its usual targets, notably assassinating artists, such as Cheb Hasni, and in late August added a new one to its list, threatening schools which allowed mixed classes, music, gym for girls, or not wearing hijab with arson.

Cherif Gousmi was eventually succeeded by Djamel Zitouni as GIA head. Zitouni extended the GIA's attacks on civilians to French soil, beginning with the hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 at the end of December 1994[16] and continuing with several bombings and attempted bombings throughout 1995. In Algeria itself, he continued likewise, with car bombs, assassinations of musicians, sportsmen, and unveiled women as well as the usual victims. Even at this stage, the seemingly counterproductive nature of many of its attacks led to speculation (encouraged by FIS members abroad) that the group had been infiltrated by Algerian secret services.

The region south of Algiers, in particular, came to be virtually dominated by the GIA; they called it the "liberated zone". Later it would be known as the "triangle of death". During this period, judging from its London-based magazine Al-Ansar, it worked out ever broader ideological justifications for killing civilians, with the help of fatwas from such figures as Abu Qatada. Abu Qatada's writings and speeches have been critically assessed by a contemporary Salafi Muslim scholar, Shaykh 'Abdul-Malik ar-Ramadani al-Jaza'iri, in the book Takhlis al-'Ibad min Wahshiyyat Ab'il-Qataad aladhi yu'du ila Qatli'n-Nisa wa Awlad (Jeddah: Maktabah Asalah al-Athariyyah, 2001 CE/1422 AH)[17]

Reports of battles between the AIS and GIA increased (resulting in an estimated 60 deaths in March 1995 alone), and the GIA reiterated its death threats against FIS and AIS leaders, claiming to be the "sole prosecutor of jihad" and angered by their negotiation attempts. On 11 July, they assassinated a co-founder of FIS, Abdelbaki Sahraoui, in Paris (although some question the authenticity of their statement claiming credit for this.)

During the 1995 election, the GIA threatened to kill anyone who voted (using the slogan "one vote, one bullet"). Soon afterwards, the GIA was shaken by internal dissension: shortly after the election, its leadership killed the FIS leaders who had joined the GIA – Mohammed Saïd, Abderrezak Redjam, and their supporters, accusing them of attempting a takeover. Other Islamists suggested that they had objected to the GIA's indiscriminate violence. This purge accelerated the disintegration of the GIA, leading to suspicion of Zitouni's leadership: Mustapha Kartali, Ali Benhadjar, and Hassan Hattab's factions all refused to recognize Zitouni's leadership starting around late 1995, although they would not formally break away until somewhat later. The GIA killed the AIS leader for central Algeria, Azzedine Baa, in December, and in January pledged to fight the AIS as an enemy; particularly in the west, full-scale battles between them became common.

In Algeria, however, the group's repeated massacres of civilians had drained popular support (although rumors persist that security forces were involved in some of the massacres, or even controlled the group). Meanwhile, a 1999 amnesty law that was officially rejected by the GIA was accepted by many rank-and-file Islamist fighters; an estimated 85 percent surrendered their arms and returned to civilian life.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) splinter faction appears to have eclipsed the GIA since approximately 1998 and is currently assessed by the CIA to be the most effective armed group remaining inside Algeria. Both the GIA and GSPC leadership continue to proclaim their rejection of President Bouteflika's amnesty, but in contrast to the GIA, the GSPC has stated that it avoids attacks on civilians.

The GIA, torn by splits and desertions and denounced by all sides even in the Islamist movement, was slowly destroyed by army operations over the next few years; by the time of Antar Zouabri's death in early 2002, it was effectively incapacitated.[citation needed]

GIA in France[edit]

The Algerian state pursued a number of strategies against the GIA. One was to encourage France to take an active part in the fight against the networks of the GIA in France, and thus to cut off its principal means of support abroad.

In an unsuccessful attempt to keep France out of the struggle, the GIA hijacked Air France Flight 8969, which was due to fly from Algiers to Paris in December 1994. During their hijack the GIA announced "We are the Soldiers of Mercy".[18] A GIA mole named Omar Nasiri (a pseudonym for a Moroccan spy and author of Inside the Jihad) and a police raid of a safe house discovered their plan was to crash it on Paris, a plan prevented when the GIGN stormed the plane at Marseille.[18][19]

The GIA conducted a series of bombings in France from 1995 to 1996. Analysis of a bomb with a failed trigger mechanism made it possible to identify a conspirator, Khaled Kelkal, who was shot and killed by French gendarmes on 29 September 1995. In late 1999, several GIA members were convicted by a French court for the 1995 bombing campaign.[20]

In 1998, prior to the World Cup, France in collaboration with other European countries launched a vast preventive operation against the GIA. About 100 alleged members of the group were arrested throughout Europe. In Belgium, security forces seized weapons, detonators and forged identity papers.[21] On 11 June 1999, the GIA announced a jihad on French territory in a threatening letter addressed to the media.

Claims of Algerian Government involvement[edit]

According to Heba Saleh of BBC

"Algerian opposition sources allege that the group may have been manipulated at times by elements within ruling military and intelligence circles. A series of massacres in the summer of 1997 - in which many hundreds of people were killed - took place near Algerian army barracks, but no-one came to the help of the victims."[10]

International security analyst Nafeez Ahmed claims GIA atrocities were in fact perpetrated by the state. He claims ‘Yussuf-Joseph’, a career secret agent in Algeria’s sécurité militaire for 14 years, defected to Britain in 1997 and told the Guardian that civilian massacres in Algeria, blamed on the GIA, were ‘the work of secret police and army death squads… not Islamic extremists’. GIA terrorism was ‘orchestrated’ by ‘Mohammed Mediane, head of the Algerian secret service’, and ‘General Smain Lamari’, head of ‘the counter intelligence agency’. According to Ahmed 'Joseph' says: ‘The GIA is a pure product of Smain’s secret service. I used to read all the secret telexes. I know that the GIA has been infiltrated and manipulated by the Government. The GIA has been completely turned by the Government… In 1992 Smain created a special group, L’Escadron de la Mort (the Squadron of Death)… The death squads organize the massacres… The FIS aren’t doing the massacres.’[22]

'Joseph' is also supposed to have confirmed that Algerian intelligence agents organized ‘at least’ two of the bombs in Paris in summer 1995. ‘The operation was run by Colonel Souames Mahmoud, alias Habib, head of the secret service at the Algerian embassy in Paris.’ According to Ahmed's theories, 'Joseph's testimony has been corroborated by numerous defectors from the Algerian secret services. [23]

Ahmed claims that Western intelligence agencies are implicated. Secret British Foreign Office documents revealed in a terrorist trial in 2000 showed that ‘British intelligence believed the Algerian Government was involved in atrocities, contradicting the view the Government was claiming in public’. The documents referred to the ‘manipulation of the GIA being used as a cover to carry out their own operations’, and that ‘there was no evidence to link 1995 Paris bombings to Algerian militants’.[24]

Ahmed has been criticized by Christopher Hitchens,[25] and according to Andrew Whitley of Human Rights Watch, "It was clear that armed Islamist groups were responsible for many of the killings of both civilians and security force members that had been attributed to them by the authorities.[26]


In 1999, following the election of a new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a new law gave amnesty to most guerrillas, motivating large numbers to "repent" and return to normal life. The violence declined substantially, and the remnants of the GIA proper were hunted down over the next two years, and had practically disappeared by 2002.

A splinter group of the GIA that formed on the fringes of Kabylie (north central coast) in 1998, called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), rejected the amnesty. It dissociated itself from the previous indiscriminate killing of civilians and reverted to the classic MIA-AIS tactics of targeting combatant forces.[1] In October 2003, they announced their support for Al-Qaeda[27][28] and in 2006, Ayman al-Zawahiri announced a "blessed union" between the two groups. In 2007, the group changed its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It has focused on kidnapping for ransom as a means of raising funds and is estimated to have raised more than $50 million from 2003-2013.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hugh Roberts, The Battlefield Algeria, 1988-2002: Studies in a Broken Polity', Verso: London 2003, p. 269: "Hassan Hattab's GSPC which has condemned the GIA's indiscriminate attacks on civilians and, since going it alone, has tended to revert to the classic MIA-AIS strategy of confining its attacks to guerrilla forces."
  2. ^ Whitlock, Craig (5 October 2006). "Al-Qaeda's Far-Reaching New Partner". Washington Post: A01. 
  3. ^ Algerian group backs al-Qaeda. BBC News. 23 October 2003. Retrieved 7 November 2008. 
  4. ^ Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.257
  5. ^ Abdelhak Layada, quoted in Jeune Afrique, 27 January 1994.
  6. ^ Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.263
  7. ^ Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.264
  8. ^ Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.267-71
  9. ^ Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.272-3
  10. ^ a b Saleh, Heba (9 February, 2002). "Antar Zouabri: A violent legacy". BBC News. Retrieved 2 June 2015.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ "Algeria's top GIA rebel captured". BBC news. 29 April 2005. Retrieved 14 February 2009. 
  12. ^ "Algeria reveals rebel crackdown". BBC. 4 January 2005. Retrieved 14 February 2009. 
  13. ^ Agence France-Presse, 20 November 1993, quoted in Human Rights Abuses in Algeria: No One is Spared By Andrew Whitley, Human Rights Watch, 1994, p.54
  14. ^ Sid Ahmed Mourad, quoted in Jeune Afrique, 27/1/94.
  15. ^ The Times, 20 November 1993.
  16. ^ Cristiani, Dario; Riccardo Fabiani (April 2011). "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): Implications for Algeria’s Regional and International Relations" (PDF). IAI Working Papers 11 (7). Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  17. ^ Shaykh 'Abdul-Malik ar-Ramadani al-Jaza'iri (2007). "The Savage Barbarism of Aboo Qataadah" (PDF). Retrieved 14 February 2009. lecture given at Masjid Ibn Taymeeyah (Brixton Mosque, London) on 21 August 2005 CE. The lecture based on Shaykh AbdulMaalik's book Takhlhees al-'Ibaad min Washiyyati... 
  18. ^ a b Peter Taylor (18 June 2008). "The Paris Plot". Age of Terror. BBC World Service. Archived from the original on 1 February 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2009. We are the Soldiers of Mercy. Allah has selected us as his soldiers. We are here to wage war in his name. 
  19. ^ Peter Taylor (25 March 2008). "Age of Terror / Episode 3: The Paris Plot". BBC Two. Archived from the original on 23 February 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2009. The terrorists' true aim was to crash the plane in Paris. (26 minutes into television broadcast)
  20. ^ Institute for Counter Terrorism, 2 June 1999 [1].
  21. ^ National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, April 1999 [2].
  22. ^ Nafeez Ahmed (1 October 2009), Our terrorists, New Internationalist Magazine 
  23. ^ Nafeez Ahmed (2005), The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism, New York: Interlink, pp. 65–77 
  24. ^ Richard Norton-Taylor (21 March 2000), Terrorist case collapses after three years, The Guardian 
  25. ^ Hitchens wrote: "Mr. Ahmed on inspection proved to be a risible individual wedded to half-baked conspiracy-mongering, his 'Institute' a one-room sideshow in the English seaside town of Brighton, and his publisher an outfit called 'Media Monitors Network' in association with 'Tree of Life,' whose now-deceased Web site used to offer advice on the ever awkward question of self-publishing." (source:Christopher Hitchens "Vidal Loco", Vanity Fair, February 2010)
  26. ^ Human Rights Abuses in Algeria: No One is Spared By Andrew Whitley, Human Rights Watch, 1994, p.54
  27. ^ Whitlock, Craig (5 October 2006). "Al-Qaeda's Far-Reaching New Partner". Washington Post: A01. 
  28. ^ Algerian group backs al-Qaeda. BBC News. 23 October 2003. Retrieved 7 November 2008. 
  29. ^ Corera, Gordon (14 January 2013). "Islamists pose threat to French interests in Africa". BBC. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]