Gia (Armed Islamic Groups)

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Algerian terrorist group.

Among the many terrorist groups in the Algerian civil war, the Armed Islamic Groups (Groupes islamiques armés, or GIA) were the most radical and
destructive. According to a report of French secret services in 1993, the GIA was comprised of seventy groups leading noncoordinated actions in northern Algeria. The appearance of these autonomous groups goes back to the Algerian government's repression of the unlimited general strike announced by the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) in May-June 1991 to protest against the enactment of an uninominal electoral law with two rounds and an electoral redistricting putatively designed to favor the FLN (National Liberation Front). The most active and publicized group of the GIA was led by Mohamed Allel; it became famous in the working-class districts of Algiers for attacking police and regime representatives.

After the cancellation of the 1991 elections and the arrest of at least 4,000 Islamist activists, the radicalization of the movement became irreversible. An important leader was Mansouri Miliani, former brother-in-arms of Mustapha Bouyali, the founder of the Armed Islamic Movement (Mouvement islamique armé, or MIA) in 1982 who was killed in 1987. According to the testimony of a former Algerian fighter in Afghanistan, Slimane Rahmani, the armed movement was launched in military training camps in Pishawar, Pakistan, by two Algerian mercenaries in the Afghanistan war against the Soviets, Nourredine Seddiki and Sid Ahmed Lahrani. Miliani, the head of this group of about 100 fighters, was assisted by Abdelhak Layada, Moh Leveilly, and Omar Chikhi.

Upon the arrest of Miliani in July 1992, Moh Leveilly became for a short time amir (leader) of the GIA, which by that time was composed of several cells of ten to twenty terrorists each. He was neutralized quickly by the Algerian army during a secret meeting with Abdelkader Chabouti, chief of the Islamic State Movement (MEI), who wanted to federate all armed groups under the banner of a united Islamic army. Leveilly's first lieutenant, Abdelhak Layada, proclaimed himself national chief of the GIA in September 1992. He gave the movement greater structure and led it to spread its fighting beyond the Algiers region. According to the investigation led by the journalist Hassane Zerrouky, Layada divided the Algerian territory into nine military areas under the authority of a national amir who presided over a consultative assembly of lieutenants and regional chiefs. At the head of every area, he named a regional amir who commanded several operational units (katibate) and was assisted by an officer legislator (thabit charʾi). To assist himself, Layada named two lieutenants, Mourad Sid Ahmed and Cherif Gousmi, and two spiritual guides (mounther) empowered to enact fatwas to legitimize their actions, Omar Eulmi and Ikhlef Cherati. According to the Algerian authorities, the Islamic Armed Groups remained in contact with one another by means of "links agents" living abroad, particularly in London, and by communicating via satellite telephones.

With this new organization in place, the GIA began broadcasting every Wednesday via clandestine radio (Wafa) information on their groups' activities. In addition to attacking regime representatives and the security forces, it formulated new aims: the elimination of the French-speaking elite by the murder of intellectuals and journalists; the destabilization of the economic potential of Algeria by attacks against infrastructure; and the diplomatic isolation of the country by the murder of foreign workers and attacks against foreign interests. In response, the Algerian army intensively targeted Islamist bases, killing many activists including Mourad Sid Ahmed, and struck hard blows against urban guerrilla warfare. Thereafter, the GIA chiefs announced the union of Islamic Armed Groups and published a bulletin in which they presented the new program of the unified GIA: institution of a caliphate in Algeria and the creation of a government which would include some influential members of the FIS. At the same time, the group intensified its campaign against civilians and foreigners, killing several Algerian intellectuals and attacking the residential neighborhoods of Aïn Allah, where five employees of the French consulate at Algiers were killed. In retaliation, the French government arrested and expelled twenty Islamist activists who had been living in France since 1992.

Jamel Zitouni, amir from October 1994 to July 1996, spread the Algerian civil war to France, where several bombings were perpetrated in August 1995 by his sleeping terrorists cells in Europe. He also organized an attempt on the life of Shaykh Sahraoui, a historic member of the FIS, the hijacking of an Air France plane on 24 December 1994, and, three days later, the murder of four Catholic clerics at Tizi Ouzou. From January 1995 the GIA multiplied their attacks against security forces and set up road blocks to kill car and bus passengers, and the number of their victims reached 200 per week. In March 1996 they killed seven monks at Tibéhirine. Djamel Zitouni, among the most bloodthirsty of the GIA chiefs, took credit for this action, but according to some sources he may have been a double agent controlled and manipulated by the Algerian security forces. He reigned as a king in the Islamist bases of Algiers, Sidi-Bel-Abbes, Bejaïa, and Djijel, and he commanded 4,000 men (600, according to the Algerian authorities). His brutal methods earned him the nickname "Green Pol Pot." When he died in July 1996, Antar Zouabri became head of the GIA. Zouabri, who was as violent as his predecessor, organized collective massacres in Mitidja villages that caused more than 1,500 civilian deaths. These crimes were denounced by most Islamist groups throughout the world and and damaged the cohesion of the GIA, which fell apart into small autonomous groups. Most of these groups rallied around the cease-fire initiated by the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) in October 1997. After Zoubri's death in September 1997, Ouakali Rachid proclaimed himself amir of what remained of the GIA, but it progressively weakened. During their decline from 1998 onward, the Islamic Armed Groups, weakened greatly by the vigorous campaign of the Algerian army and deprived of their support network in Europe and in the Arab world, took refuge in mountain area, from which they launched raids and depredations against travelers and isolated villages.

See also front islamique du salut (fis); islamic salvation army (ais).


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Cooley, John K. Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America, and International Terrorism. Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 1999.

Malley, Robert. The Call from Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the Turn to Islam. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Martinez, Luis. The Algerian Civil War, 19901998. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Rich, Paul B. "Insurgency, Revolution and the Crises of the Algerian State." In The Counter-Insurgent State: Guerrilla Warfare and State Building in the Twentieth Century, edited by Paul B. Rich and Richard Stubbs. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Willis, Michael. The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

azzedine g. mansour