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AQIM and Europe!

Interesting Op-Ed: "The Terrorists in Europe's Backyard" by AVI JORISCH / Europe published Tuesday, December, 20, 2011

An interesting op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal mentioned that Europe's security is being threatened by the terrorist organization known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is based in North Africa and active since 2002. AQIM is an al Qaeda affiliate whose principal aim is to overthrow the Algerian government and establish an Islamic state governed by Shariah law in North Africa, Spain and Portugal. AQIM regularly funds its operations through criminal activity in Europe and the kidnapping of Western tourists and aid workers in North Africa, and is now in possession of weapons galore from the fallen Gadhafi regime. It is also actively involved in courting North African immigrant communities in the west. So how does AQIM affect Europe?

I have extensive blog posts on AQIM; therefore, feel free to enter "AQIM" into the search feature to read more. Though its list of targets originally included only the Algerian military and France, in recent years AQIM has expanded the list—to the government of Mauritania, for example. It has also taken to vocally supporting extremists in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Somalia, and has launched attacks against European, American and other Western targets across Africa. According to Abdelmalek Droukdal, AQIM's founder and former leader, "Our goals are the same as al Qaeda, the mother." European counterterrorism officials are reportedly increasingly worried about AQIM's Europe-based cells, in particular in Spain and France. Spain is often mentioned in AQIM statements because of its "occupation of Ceuta and Melilla," two small autonomous Spanish ex-clave cities on the north coast of Morocco. AQIM urges its followers to "take back Ceuta and Melilla by force, because they were taken by force." Counterterrorism experts consider the group to be small—it numbers anywhere from 500-1,000 members—but they believe it has growing capabilities. Authorities have arrested militants with suspected ties to AQIM throughout Europe (including the U.K., Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands) and the United States. This, coupled with the organization's own rhetoric, is perhaps an indication of its ever-increasing footprint and its attempt to broaden its ability to carry out attacks. AQIM has increasingly expanded its capabilities beyond its traditional area of influence. The group has gone on the offensive by reaching out to Muslim communities in Europe and throughout Africa, and its influence among immigrant and second-generation Muslims in Western European cities is increasing. It is believed to be meddling in Nigeria's Muslim-Christian conflict, and there is the potential for AQIM to collaborate with al-Shabab, the other major African al Qaeda affiliate that has wreaked havoc in Somalia. In terms of their funding, the porous, unpoliced borders of the Sahara region make smuggling vehicles, cigarettes, drugs, and arms particularly easy. Europe-based cells provide funds to AQIM through drug dealing, counterfeiting money, and other illegal activities, French and Italian police forces reported to Europol in 2008. The ransom paid as a result of the 2003 kidnapping provided a significant windfall for the group. To continue its tradition of self-financing, writes counterterrorism consultant Olivier Guitta, AQIM operatives may be turning more to kidnapping as a source of income. The group reportedly requested five million pounds for the ransom of two Austrian tourists in 2008. Algerian authorities have accused Iran and Sudan of giving material support to AQIM, but experts say that is unlikely. The group also has a number of members abroad in Western Europe, mainly Algerian expatriates, who provide financial support. Some experts warn the group's growing confidence could increase its willingness to target Westerners both inside and outside Algeria. The group has called for jihadis who can't reach the battlefields of Iraq to target Jews, Christians, and apostates in their own regions. AQIM has taken over, and some say revitalized, many Europe-based cells of the former GIA for both fundraising and recruiting. In spite of its growing global presence, some experts doubt AQIM's ability to carry out a Qaeda-scale attack. "They haven't done anything spectacular," says Hugh Roberts, an expert on North African politics and former head of the International Crisis Group's North Africa project. "They have not actually pulled off a single terrorist attack in Europe in the eight years they've existed. And that's a fact that you have to put in balance against European security services that say the group is a major threat." Whatever might be the truth; AQIM is active and is a threat to the west that will carry on until they are stopped.



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