Al-Qaeda's North African franchise: key dates
Key attacks linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) after Mauritanian forces attacked and killed six members of an Al-Qaeda affiliated gang allegedly holding a French hostage in the desert.
- 2003: An organisation called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat kidnaps a group of 32 European tourists in southern Algeria. With the exception of a German woman who dies while being held they are all eventually freed, with some spending six months in captivity.
- 2006: The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat announces that it is part of the al-Qaeda network created by Osama bin Laden, and which carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States.
The group then says it is changing its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
- 2007: A series of bomb attacks claimed by AQIM kills dozens of people in Algeria. In December, attacks on government offices and United Nations buildings in the capital Algiers kill 37 people, 17 of them UN workers.
Also in December, armed men kill four French tourists in southeastern Mauritania. As a result the Mauritanian authorities later sentence to death three young men said to be members of AQIM.
- 2008: AQIM guerrillas kidnap two Austrian tourists in Tunisia and then take them to a remote location in Mali. They are freed eight months later.
In the same year, a French national dies in an attack near Algiers, and AQIM rebels kidnap two Canadian diplomats near Niamey, capital of Niger. They are freed after four months.
- 2009: In January, AQIM activists kidnap four European tourists in a border region between Mali and Niger. Three of them -- two Germans and a Swiss -- are freed after being held for between three and six months. On June 3 AQIM says it has killed the fourth, a Briton.
In November, AQIM militants kidnap a Frenchman in the northeast of Mali; he is freed three months later, after the Malian authorities agree to release four AQIM members.
In the same month, AQIM abducts three Spanish aid workers in Mauritania; one, a woman, is freed four months later, but the other two are still believed held by the group.
In December 2009, a couple of Italian tourists are abducted by AQIM militants in southeast Mauritania. They are freed four months later.
- 2010: In March, AQIM claims responsibility for an attack on a military outpost in Niger. Eight people, five of whom are Niger soldiers, die.
In April the group abducts a Frenchman and his Algerian driver in northern Niger, near the Algerian border. In May, after claiming responsibility for the attack, AQIM releases a video of the French captive, who identifies himself as Michel Germaneau, aged 78.
At the end of June, AQIM militants kill 11 Algerian gendarmes near the country's southern border with Mali.
On July 21, a Mauritanian court sentences a Malian national to jail for kidnapping the three Spanish aid workers in November 2009 and handing them over to AQIM. The group is demanding a ransom for the two it still holds.
On Friday, French officials say their country has supported an attack by the Mauritanian armed forces on an AQIM group which is believed to be holding Michel Germaneau.
© 2010 AFP