Armed Islamic Group (GIA)

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Armed Islamic Group (GIA)

LEADER: Antar Zouabri (longest serving)

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1992

ESTIMATED SIZE: Less than a hundred

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Algeria, France

OVERVIEW

The Armed Islamic Group works with the aim of establishing an Islamic state in Algeria. The organization is known as the Groupe Islamique Arme (GIA) in French. Mansour Meliani reportedly started the GIA in 1992, after the Algerian military government did not recognize the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party in the December 1991 elections.

Although GIA's leadership has frequently changed since its inception, the group, as thought by analysts, has operated primarily against eliminating those who it perceives as working in tandem with the government. Algerian government officials state that civilians and entities that do not abide by the group's philosophy are targeted. Citing the violent nature of GIA, several countries, including the United States, Algeria, and France, have declared it as a terrorist organization.

HISTORY

Mansour Meliani claimed to create the GIA in July 1992 after leaving the Islamic Armed Movement (MIA). Soon after its creation, however, Meliani was arrested, reportedly leading to the breakup of the group. In 1993, Abdelhak Layada revived the GIA with a focus on the ideology of Omar El-Eulmi, an Islamic fundamentalist. Due to internal disagreements the group's leadership changed frequently until Cherif Gousmi became its leader in March 1994.

The GIA engaged in a variety of violent activities throughout Algieria, including bombings, kidnappings, and murders. They are thought to be responsible for thousands of deaths during the 1990s. The GIA was especially active in a region to the south of Algiers, the capital of Algeria. The GIA referred to this region as the "liberated zone," which in 1997–1998 came to be known as the "triangle of death" because of the bloodbath that occurred in the region.

In November 1993, the GIA declared a fatwa (declaration of war) against prominent leaders of the FIS. These leaders included Abderrezak Redjam, exiled and United States-based Anwar Haddam, Said Makhloufi, and Mohammed Said. Interestingly, as claimed by experts, these same leaders subsequently joined the GIA. In August 1994, the group reportedly declared an independent Islamic Algerian government, appointing Cherif Gousmi as the commander, Haddam as the foreign minister, Makhloufi as the interior minister, and Mohammed Said as the government head. Reports suggest that this declaration, however, suffered a massive blow when Makhloufi withdrew from GIA and Haddam claimed never to have had any association with it.

After Gousmi, Djamel Zitouni (alias Abou Aberrahmane Amine) became GIA's new leader. He continued with the group's activities in Algeria and expanded them into France. In December 1994, GIA members hijacked Air France flight 8969. This led to a 54-hour negotiation session that ended with a French antiterrorist squad storming the plane and killing the hijackers. By then, the terrorists had also killed three hostages. In 1995, according to French government officials, the group attempted several bombings in France.

The GIA attempted to keep Algerians from voting in the 1995 national elections through intimidation, proclaiming "one vote, one bullet." Monitor groups, however, argue that after the elections internal disagreements within the group grew rapidly. FIS leaders who had switched loyalties to GIA were supposedly eliminated and, toward the latter part of 1995, other GIA members seemingly refused to acknowledge Zitouni as their leader. Reports claim that some of them even formed separate groups.

Islamic League for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), an offshoot of GIA under the leadership of Ali Benhadjar, is believed to have killed Zitouni in July 1996. Antar Zouabri took over leadership of the GIA. He would maintain control of the GIA until 2002, and under his leadership, Algerian authorities allege that GIA carried out even more terrorist operations and killings.

The GIA is the primary suspect for the August 1997 massacre at Rais village, located south of Algiers. The villagers had initially supported the GIA and other Islamic fundamentalists by regularly providing them food and money. They, however, stopped doing so toward the middle of 1997. The massacre is thought to have been carried out in response to discontinuation of the villagers' support.

LEADERSHIP

ANTAR ZOUABRI

The leadership of GIA changes frequently. Some experts also say that GIA appoints multiple leaders at the same time. In spite of the often-changing leadership, Antar Zouabri is reportedly the longest-serving commander, from 1996–2002. He was also allegedly the most ruthless leader, responsible for killing many civilians, including children. The mass murders, especially in the regions of Rais and Bentalha, occurred during Zouabri's reign. Zouabri died at the age of 31, supposedly while fighting with government forces, in 2002.

Abou Tourab took over as the leader after his death. Though not much is known about the group's activities as of 2005, the Algerian Ministry of the Interior confirmed Abou Tourab's death in July 2004, at the hands of his own associates. The Ministry also claims to have arrested GIA's next leader, Nourredine Boudiafi, but the government has been tightlipped about giving any further details.

In Rais, though officially 98 people were reportedly killed and 120 injured, witnesses and medical personnel estimated 200 killed and approximately double that number wounded. Survivor accounts report a group of terrorists storming into the village around 1:00 a.m. and continuing with violence till 6:00 a.m. Everyone, including men, women, pregnant women, children, and even animals were reportedly executed.

In September 1997 another massacre took place at Bentalha, a small town south of Algiers and only a short distance away from the village of Rais. The GIA is also thought to be responsible for this attack. Equipped with a variety of weapons, the members of GIA came to the town and allegedly killed everyone in sight. News reports also state various incidents of robbery. According to Amnesty International, 200 people were killed in this attack.

Zouabri was reportedly killed in a February 2002 encounter with Algerian forces. Abou Tourab (alias Rachid Oukali) was named the next GIA leader after Zouabri. Tourab's main aim as the GIA leader is thought to be that of advancing the group's activities until Algeria became an Islamic state. However, not much is known about him or other leaders subsequent to Zouabri. By the late 1990s the GIA appears to have become lost active. The huge number of deaths blamed on the GIA had gained it much notoreity but cost the group local support. Also, many of its members took advantage of a pardon offered in 1999, gave up fighting, and attempted to return to normal life.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

The GIA claims that its mission is to replace the democratically chosen government in Algeria with an Islamic state. It is a non-secular group that views all opposing individuals and organizations as anti-Islam. Beyond its aim of establishing an Islamic government in Algeria, the GIA has not come out with any other political agenda. Experts state that the group is also against the government and people of France, Algeria's former colonial ruler.

PRIMARY SOURCE
Armed Islamic Group (GIA)

DESCRIPTION

An Islamist extremist group, the GIA aims to overthrow the Algerian regime and replace it with a fundamentalist Islamic state. The GIA began its violent activity in 1992 after the military government suspended legislative elections in anticipation of an overwhelming victory by the Islamic Salvation Front, the largest Islamic opposition party.

ACTIVITIES

The GIA has engaged in attacks against civilians and government workers. Starting in 1992, the GIA conducted a terrorist campaign of civilian massacres, sometimes wiping out entire villages in its area of operation, and killing tens of thousands of Algerians. GIA's brutal attacks on civilians alienated them from the Algerian populace. Since announcing its campaign against foreigners living in Algeria in 1992, the GIA has killed more than 100 expatriate men and women, mostly Europeans, in the country. Many of the GIA's members have joined other Islamist groups or been killed or captured by the Algerian Government. The GIA's most recent significant attacks were in August, 2001.

STRENGTH

Precise numbers are unknown, but probably fewer than 100.

LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATION

Algeria, Sahel (i.e. northern Mali, northern Mauritania, and northern Niger), and Europe.

EXTERNAL AID

The GIA has members in Europe that provide funding.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.

As part of their tactics and propagation of ideology, the GIA is alleged by Algerian government officials to have killed thousands in numerous acts of terror. According to the Islamic fundamentalists who are members of this organization, everyone with or supporting the Algerian government harbor anti-Islamic sentiments and, therefore, are a target. In the GIA's view, artists, scholars, teachers, academicians, musicians, sports enthusiasts, women moving around without a veil, and all foreigners working in Algeria, including officers working in embassies, are potential targets.

According to the GIA, children killed as part of their operations are considered to be martyrs who end up giving their lives to a "noble" cause. The GIA has resorted to car bombings and assassinations as part of their strategy. The group, reportedly, kills people by slitting their throats. Other violent activities the group resorts to are hijackings and massacres of civilians.

Most members of the group are thought to be Berbers (native North Africans) based primarily in the Atlas Mountains (in northern Algeria). Anti-terrorism experts state that an extremely high rate of unemployment in the region drives young Algerian men to join the GIA and other similar groups. Additionally, Afghans who have been trained in the numerous training camps of Afghanistan are thought to comprise a significant portion of the group.

According to news reports, the GIA might be in some way connected to al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. There is, however, no proof of the existence or the extent of this connection. The link, if it exists, is thought to be limited in nature. Some news agencies suggest that the GIA may have connections with Al Hayat, a Saudi newspaper published from Beirut, Paris, and London.

In the past, to generate funds, the GIA allegedly imposed taxes on the people of the villages that group members lived in, robbed banks, and raided villages. In addition, they are also reported to acquire money from the governments of Sudan and Iran, and from Algerian nationals living abroad, especially in Western Europe. To equip themselves for their activities, they purportedly stole arms and ammunition from police stations, as well as from police and military men who died in the encounters with them.

Since the late 1990s and early in the 2000s, the GIA is thought to have lost its edge, while other militant groups have emerged as potential threats to the government of Algeria. The government has also claimed to disrupt several smaller cells of the GIA. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates the strength of the GIA to be in the hundreds. However, according to published reports from the U.S. Department of State, as of 2005, the GIA is estimated to have less than 100 members.

KEY EVENTS

1993:
GIA kidnapped three French diplomats in Algiers; the group reportedly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping after a few days, killed a police officer who tried to avert the kidnapping; later, the GIA released all the kidnapped diplomats unharmed.
1993:
Attacked the construction site of a hydroelectric project in Tamezguida, Algeria, abducting 14 Croatian workers, of which 12 workers were allegedly killed, while the remaining two Croatians escaped with some injuries.
1994:
Attacked a French residential area in Algiers, killing five French embassy officers and injuring one.
1994:
Hijacked Air France flight 8969 going from Algiers to Paris.
1997:
Alleged massacre of the Rais village.
1997:
Alleged massacre of Bentalha.
1999:
GIA declared jihad (holy war) against France.
2002:
Antar Zouabri, the longest-serving leader of GIA, reportedly killed while fighting the government forces.
2003:
The Algerian government's antiterrorist units captured Abou Tourab (successor to Zouabri).

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Although the Algerian government claim that the GIA is responsible for most of the terrorist attacks Algeria suffered in the 1990s, they have rarely made public statements against the group. However, as reported by CNN in 1997, after the Rais massacre, the then-prime minister of Algeria, while referring to the GIA, stated that "Algerians were being killed each day in remote communities." The report also states that soon after launching a manhunt against the group, a statement issued by the government read, "The state will continue to struggle without mercy against the barbarous criminals until their eradication."

That said, news reports from CNN, Associated Press, and Amnesty International (among others) claim that survivors and dissident military officers have questioned the many killings credited to the GIA. Accounts from these survivors quite often point toward complete destruction of entire villages, at times in spite of military camps being in the vicinity. According to most of these reports, while the GIA is clearly responsible for carrying out several of the many documented killing episodes, the government and associated paramilitary setups also carried out some of these bloodsheds in the GIA style to generate opposition against the group.

A survivor account given to Amnesty International in 1997 states, "'The army and the security forces were right there; they heard and saw everything and did nothing, and they let the terrorists leave…. They waited for the terrorists to finish their dirty task and then they let them leave. What does this mean to you?'"

PRIMARY SOURCE
Algeria Reveals Rebel Crackdown

The leader of a radical Islamic rebel group in Algeria has been arrested and his deputy has been killed, the Interior Ministry has said.

Security services detained Nourredine Boudiafi, head of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), in the eastern Algiers suburb of Bab Ezzouar in November.

His deputy, Chaabane Younes, was killed in Chlef, 210km (160 miles) west of Algiers, the ministry added.

The GIA has already been weakened by internal rivalries, the statement said.

The ministry statement did not give precise details of Mr Boudiafi's arrest or of the killing of Mr Younes.

But it said his arrest followed the killing of Mr Boudiafi's predecessor, Rachid Ouakali, alias Abu Tourab, in July by his own men so that Mr Boudiafi could take over.

WANING POWER

The GIA was the most radical of Algeria's armed Islamic movements, says the BBC's Mohamed Arezki Himeur in Algiers.

It has been behind the majority of attacks and assassinations targeting intellectuals, journalists and foreigners.

The group was also responsible for the bloody hijacking of an Air France airbus in December 1994 at Algiers airport, and a series of civilian massacres in several parts of the country during the 1990s.

But its power started to wane at the end of the 1990s following the death of leader Djamel Zitouni by Islamic rivals in an ambush, says our correspondent.

The battle for the leadership led to internal divisions and rivalries that sparked the establishment of other armed groups.

The Salafist group, GSPC—considered today to be the most important armed Islamic movement—was born in 1998 out of the wrangling of the GIA.

Source: BBC News, 2005

SUMMARY

The GIA was most active during the 1990s when it reportedly carried out massive bombings, hijackings, kidnappings, and killings of civilians. In the decade-long violence that the GIA unleashed, thousands of people have been reported killed, and many properties have been destroyed.

Toward the end of 1990s, GIA became extremely notorious for its anti-civilian activities, seemingly losing local support. At the time, the then-elected Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika started a massive campaign against such militants and their organizations. He also offered pardon to members of these groups, including those of the GIA. Consequently, in accordance with the 1999 amnesty law and concord agreements, which the GIA reportedly rejected, several of its members gave up the life of a terrorist, entered the mainstream, and started living like other people. Due to this, the group is no longer considered as active as it was and many of its members are thought to be based in the United States and other places outside Algeria.

SOURCES

Periodicals

"Algeria reveals rebel crackdown." BBC News (UK edition). January 4, 2005.

Web sites

CNN.com. "Islamic Terrorists Slaughter Algerian Villagers." 〈http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/9708/29/algeria.new/〉 (accessed September 25, 2005).

Associated Press. "Hundreds of Villagers Killed in Algeria's Worst Massacre." 〈http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/08-97/08-30-97/a03wn016.htm〉 (accessed September 25, 2005).

Amnesty International. "Algeria: A Human Rights Crisis: Civilians Caught in a Spiral of Violence." 〈http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/〉 (accessed July 28, 2005).

Human Rights Watch Group. "Algeria: Human Rights Development." 〈http://www.hrw.org/worldreport99/mideast/algeria.html〉 (accessed September 25, 2005).

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