Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a terrorist group responsible for numerous kidnappings and attacks during the past few years, made headlines steadily during the last week. Here are some of the most important stories:
- In Niger, AQIM is one of the major challenges confronting Mahamadou Issoufou, the country’s recently elected president. Reuters reports.
- On April 25, Mauritanian troops captured an “important collaborator” of AQIM in Mali. This arrest forms part of Mauritania’s ongoing and “vast operation to hunt down supporters and accomplices of the northwest African branch of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel.” Mauritania’s aggressive approach contrasts with the actions Mali has taken, and will form an interesting point of reference as Niger’s new strategy takes shape.
- On April 26, AQIM released a video featuring four French hostages currently held in Mali or Niger. The video centered on AQIM’s demand that France withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan. The four captives are the remaining members of an initial group of seven, three of whom were released in February. AFP has more on AQIM’s demands concerning Afghanistan.
- Also on April 26, “Spain’s secretary of state for security Antonio Camacho arrived in Mauritania…to discuss the fight against [AQIM] and its campaign of kidnapping Westerners.” Camacho’s tour of the Sahel includes Mali and Niger, where he will also discuss counterterrorism cooperation.
- At an event on April 27, Daniel Benjamin of the US Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism discussed AQIM in the context of global trends in Al Qaeda’s activities. Benjamin detailed a long-standing “shift in activity toward the affiliates” that includes AQIM. Benjamin also commented that “the instability in Libya and the transition in Tunisia may provide AQIM with new openings.” Further commentary on AQIM’s role in Libya comes from James Dorsey.
- Also on April 27, a bomb in Algeria killed two policemen. This attack may be the work of AQIM, which has claimed responsibility for another bombing that took place on April 15 (also in Algeria).
- On April 28, Algeria announced plans to give $10 million in aid to Mali, part of which will go toward development in areas where AQIM operates. AFP suggests that this move reflects Algerian concerns about Mali’s effectiveness with regard to AQIM: “Algeria has long considered Mali as a regional weak link in the fight against terrorism and criminality.”
Taken together, these articles raise questions about AQIM’s global ambitions (what is its reach?) and its strategy (what does it want?). Despite AQIM’s demands regarding Afghanistan, most observers seem to be focusing on the group’s immediate influence in the Sahel and North Africa. The big question seems to be whether AQIM can combine its criminal activities in the desert zone with its political ambitions in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and elsewhere.