New Al-Qaeda cell is growing threat to West

4th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which claimed to have killed Briton Edwin Dyer is extending activities dead into the Sahara and beyond the Sahel nations of west Africa.

Algiers – Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which claimed Wednesday to have executed its first Western hostage, operates mainly in Algeria but has extended its threat zone to countries bordering the Sahara.

AQIM emerged from and includes members of the former Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a radical Islamic movement in Algeria that battled the secular state.

Since 2006, it has sought to enlist extremists in Tunisia and Morocco and extended activities deep into the Sahara and beyond the Sahel nations of west Africa, where Briton Edwin Dyer was captured and executed.

The movement seeks close ties to Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda and wants to be considered its north Africa-based armed wing.

The Salafist movement was itself an offshoot of Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, which was highly active inside the large northern African country until it was dismantled by military operations in January 2005.

AQIM is led by the Algerian Abdelmakek Droukdel, alias Abou Mossaab Abdelwadoud, and captured Dyer with three other tourists in Niger on 22 January, close to the border with Mali. The movement also kidnapped two Canadian diplomats, Robert Fowler and Louis Guay.

The diplomats and two of the four tourists, German Marianne Petzold and Swiss national Gabriella Burco, were freed on 22 April in northern Mali.

According to a Malian source close to negotiations, Dyer and Swiss hostage Werner Greiner were in the hands of a group led by the Algerian Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, who in February 2008 kidnapped two Austrians who were released eight months later in northern Mali.

Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, also known as Abib Hammadou, is close to Abdelmalek Droukdel and a deputy to Yahia Djouadi Abou Ammar, who is believed to have taken charge of the Sahara-Sahel zone after pushing aside Mokhtar Belmokhtar in 2006, according to the Algerian press.

Belmokhtar, who headed that zone in the days when Amari Saifi, known as "Abderrezak the Para" was leader of the Salafist group, is held to have resumed his activities in the region at the end of 2008.

Abderrezak the Para, who organised the kidnapping of 32 European tourists in the Algerian Sahara in 2003, was arrested in Chad the following year and handed over to Algeria. He has been awaiting trial since.

AQIM in 2007 introduced the technique of suicide bomb attacks in Algeria, which had never before been practiced there by Islamist groups. It remains active notably in the northeastern Kabylie provinces and in the Boumerdes region, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Algiers, where 10 people were killed on Tuesday in a bomb blast followed by shooting.

In the north, AQIM usually targets the security services.

Further south, the organisation in June 2005 attacked a military base in northeastern Mauritania, killing 15 soldiers, which was among the first of the indications it was extending its operations beyond Algeria.

Mauritania was then targeted in a series of attacks blamed on Al-Qaeda.

On 24 December 2007, four French tourists were killed. Three soldiers were killed three days later. Three French people were wounded in February 2008 close when the Israeli embassy in the capital Nouakchott came under attack.

AFP / Expatica

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