|Dates of operation 1993–2004||Active region(s) Algeria, France|
|Motives The creation of an Islamic state in Algeria.|
Ideology Takfir wal-Hijra, Islamism
Major actions Assassinations, Massacres, Bombings, Aircraft hijackings
Notable attacks Tahar Djaout assassination, Djillali Liabes assassination, Cheb Hasni assassination, 1994 Air France Flight 8969 hijacking, 1995 Paris Métro and RER bombings
The Armed Islamic Group (GIA, from French: Groupe Islamique Armé; Arabic: الجماعة الإسلامية المسلّحة, al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha) was one of the two main Islamist insurgents groups that fought the Algerian government and army in the Algerian Civil War. It was created from smaller armed groups following the 1992 military coup and arrest and internment of thousands of officials in the Islamist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party after that party won the first round of parliamentary elections in December 1991. It was led by a succession of amirs (commanders) who were killed or arrested one after another.
- Abdelhak Layada
- Djafar al Afghani
- Cherif Gousmi
- Djamel Zitouni
- Antar Zouabri and takfir
- Claims of Algerian Government involvement
- Leaders amirs
Unlike the other main armed groups, the MIA and later the AIS, in its pursuit of an Islamic state the GIA sought not to pressure the government into concessions but to destabilise and overthrow it, to "purge the land of the ungodly". Its slogan inscribed on all communiques was: "no agreement, no truce, no dialogue". The group desired to create "an atmosphere of general insecurity" and employed kidnapping, assassination, and bombings, including car bombs and targeted not only security forces but civilians.
Between 1992 and 1998, the GIA conducted a violent campaign of civilian massacres, sometimes wiping out entire villages in its area of operation, (notably the Bentalha and Rais). It attacked and killed other Islamists that left the GIA or attempted to negotiate with the government. It also targeted foreign civilians living in Algeria, killing more than 100 expatriate men and women in the country. The group established a presence outside Algeria, in France, Belgium, Britain, Italy and the United States, and launched terror attacks in France in late 1994.
The "undisputed principal Islamist force" in Algeria in 1994, by 1996, militants were deserting "in droves", alienated by its execution of civilians and Islamists leaders. In 1999, a government amnesty law motivated large numbers of jihadis to "repent". The remnants of the GIA proper were hunted down over the next two years, leaving a splinter group the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which announced its support for Al-Qaeda in October 2003.
The GIA was and is considered a terrorist organisation by the governments of Algeria and France. To what extent the group was infiltrated and manipulated by Algerian security services is disputed. The GIA remains a Proscribed Organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000.
According to Algerian veterans of the Afghan jihad who founded the GIA, the idea of forming an armed group to fight jihad against the Algerian government was developed not after the coup but in 1989 after leaders of the Islamic Armed Movement (MIA) of Mustafa Bouyali, were freed from prison, but was not acted on due to the spectacular electoral political success of the FIS.
Early in 1992, Mansour Meliani, a former aid to Bouyali, along with many "Afghans", broke with his former friend Abdelkader Heresay and left the MIA (Islamic Armed Movement), founding his own Jihadi group around July 1992. Meliani was arrested in July and executed in August 1993. Meliani was replaced by Mohammed Allal, aka Moh Leveilley, who was killed on 1 September 1992 by the Algerian military when they attacked a meeting held to unify command of the jihad.
Leveilley was replaced in January 1993 by Abdelhak Layada, who declared his group independent of the FIS and MIA and not obedient to its orders. It adopted the radical Omar El-Eulmi as a spiritual guide, and Layada affirmed that "political pluralism is equivalent to sedition". He also believed jihad in Algeria was fard ayn, or an individual obligation of adult male Muslims. Layada threatened not just security forces but journalists ("grandsons of France") and the families of Algerian soldiers. From its inception on, the GIA called for and implemented the killing of anyone collaborating with or supporting the authorities, including government employees such as teachers and civil servants. Layada did not last long and was arrested in Morocco in May 1993.
Beside's the GIA, the other major branch of the Algerian resistance was the Islamic Armed Movement (MIA). It was led by the ex-soldier "General" Abdelkader Chebouti, and was "well-organized and structured and favored a long-term jihad" targeting the state and its representatives and based on a guerrilla campaign like that of the War of Independence. From prison, Ali Benhadj issued a fatwa giving the MIA his blessing.
In August 1993, Seif Allah Djafar, aka Mourad Si Ahmed, aka Djafar al-Afghani, a 30-year-old black marketer with no education beyond primary school, became GIA amir. Violence escalated under Djafar, as did the GIA's base of support outside of Algeria.
Under him, the group named and assassinated specific journalists and intellectuals (such as Tahar Djaout), saying that "The journalists who fight against Islamism through the pen will perish by the sword." The GIA explicitly affirmed that it "did not represent the armed wing of the FIS", and issued death threats against several FIS and MIA members, including MIA's Heresay and FIS's Kebir and Redjam.
About the time al-Afghani took power of GIA, a group of Algerian jihadists returning from Afghanistan came to London. Together with Islamist intellectual Abu Qatada, they started up a weekly magazine, Usrat al-Ansar as a GIA propaganda outlet. Abu Qatada "provided the intellectual and ideological firepower" to justify GIA actions, and the journal became "a trusted source of news and information about the GIA for Islamists around the world."
The GIA soon broadened its attacks to civilians who refused to live by their prohibitions, and then foreigners living in Algeria. A hostage released on 31 October 1993 carried a message ordering foreigners to "leave the country. We are giving you one month. Anyone who exceeds that period will be responsible for his own sudden death." By the end of 1993 26 foreigners had been killed.
In November 1993 Sheik Mohamed Bouslimani "a popular figure who was prominent" in Hamas party of Mahfoud Nahnah was kidnapped and executed after "refusing to issue a fatwa endorsing the GIA's tactics."
Djafar was killed February 26, 1994.
Cherif Gousmi, aka Abu Abdallah Ahmed, became amir March 10, 1994. Under him, the GIA reached its "high water mark", and became the "undisputed principal Islamist force" in Algeria. In May, Islamist leaders Abderrezak Redjam (allegedly representing the FIS), Mohammed Said, the exiled Anwar Haddam, and the MEI's Said Makhloufi joined the GIA; a blow to the FIS and surprise since the GIA had been issuing death threats against the three since November 1993. This was interpreted by many observers as either the result of intra-FIS competition or as an attempt to change the GIA's course from within. On 26 August, the group declared a "Caliphate", or Islamic government for Algeria, with Gousmi as Commander of the Faithful, Mohammed Said as head of government, the US-based Haddam as foreign minister, and Mekhloufi as provisional interior minister.
However, the very next day Said Mekhloufi announced his withdrawal from the GIA, claiming that the GIA had deviated from Islam and that this "Caliphate" was an effort by Mohammed Said to take over the GIA, and Haddam soon afterwards denied ever having joined it, asserting that this Caliphate was an invention of the security services. The GIA continued attacking its usual targets, notably assassinating artists, such as Cheb Hasni, and in late August added a new one to its list, threatening schools which allowed mixed classes, music, gym for girls, or not wearing hijab with arson. He was killed in combat on September 26, 1994.
Cherif Gousmi was eventually succeeded by Djamel Zitouni who became GIA head on October 27, 1994. Zitouni, 30-year-old son of a poultry merchant had very limited religious education but was adept at killing French citizens. Zitouni extended the GIA's attacks on civilians to French soil, beginning with the hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 at the end of December 1994 and continuing with several bombings and attempted bombings throughout 1995. In Algeria itself, he continued likewise, with car bombs, assassinations of musicians, sportsmen, and unveiled women as well as the usual victims. In February 1995 it issued a communique ordering that "for every pure Muslim woman arrested by the government, an apostate's wife would be executed." Non GIA Islamists such as Muslim Brotherhood members and Djazarist were condemned as Godless and ordered to repent "according to a precise procedure". Even at this stage, the seemingly counterproductive nature of many of its attacks led to speculation (encouraged by FIS members abroad) that the group had been infiltrated by Algerian secret services.
The region south of Algiers, in particular, came to be virtually dominated by the GIA; they called it the "liberated zone". Later it would be known as the "triangle of death". During this period, judging from its London-based magazine Al-Ansar, it worked out ever broader ideological justifications for killing civilians, with the help of fatwas from such figures as Abu Qatada.
Reports of battles between the AIS and GIA increased (resulting in an estimated 60 deaths in March 1995 alone), and the GIA reiterated its death threats against FIS and AIS leaders, claiming to be the "sole prosecutor of jihad" and angered by their attempts to negotiate a settlement with the government. On 11 July, they assassinated a co-founder of FIS, Abdelbaki Sahraoui, in Paris (although some question the authenticity of their statement claiming credit for this.)
During the 1995 election, the GIA threatened to kill anyone who voted (using the slogan "one vote, one bullet"), but turnout was high among the pious middle class. Soon afterwards, the GIA was shaken by internal dissension: shortly after the election, its leadership killed Islamist leaders who had joined the GIA. In December, the GIA killed the number three figure in the MEI who had returned to the AIS, Azzedine Baa. In January Abderrezak Redjam announced he wanted to rejoin the AIS and was killed. The death of Mohammad Said followed in November 1995. The two men's deaths were not announced in Al-Ansar journal until mid-December 1995 when the GIA blamed the killings on the security forces, but a few issues later in January 4 and 11 announced that it had in fact killed the two for being "members of the heretic djazarist sect" and for plotting a coup d'état. Other Islamists suggested that they had objected to the GIA's indiscriminate violence.
Considerable uproar and accusations of manipulation of GIA by security service followed. Militants began "to desert in droves": Mustapha Kartali, Ali Benhadjar, and Hassan Hattab's factions all refused to recognize Zitouni's leadership starting around late 1995, although they would not formally break away until somewhat later. On May 31, 1996 Al-Ansar suspended publication demanding an explanation from the GIA, and a week later it and two other Islamists groups (including the al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya in Egypt) announced their withdrawal of support for Zitouni. In the summer of 1996 the GIA finally released a video of two friends of the victims "`confessing` to the plot and humbly requesting summary execution for themselves."
In addition the GIA pledged to fight the AIS as an enemy; particularly in the west, full-scale battles between them became common. In July 1996, Zitouni was killed probably by Islamist seeking vengeance for his killing of Mohammed Said and Abderrazaq Redjem, or by one of the breakaway factions – Ali Benhadjar's Medea brigade, later to become the AIS-aligned Islamic League for Da'wa and Jihad – and was succeeded by Antar Zouabri. Djamel Zitouni had earned notoriety for such acts as the killing of the seven Monks of Tibhirine in March, but his successor would prove to be far bloodier.
GIA in France
The Algerian state pursued a number of strategies against the GIA. One was to encourage France to take an active part in the fight against the networks of the GIA in France, and thus to cut off its principal means of support abroad. To prevent this from happening, brought a campaign of bombings, hijackings, etc. to France, in hopes the French government would conclude that "the price of terrorism within France was too high" and would withdraw its support from the Algerian regime and "hasten its collapse."
The GIA's first act was to hijack a Air France Flight 8969, which was due to fly from Algiers to Paris in December 1994. During their hijack the GIA announced "We are the Soldiers of Mercy". Intelligence provided by "Omar Nasiri" (a disgruntled GIA member turned mole) and a police raid of a safe house discovered their plan was to crash it on Paris, a plan prevented when the GIGN stormed the plane at Marseille.
The GIA conducted a series of bombings in France from 1995 to 1996. Analysis of a bomb with a failed trigger mechanism made it possible to identify a conspirator, Khaled Kelkal, who was shot and killed by French gendarmes on 29 September 1995. In late 1999, several GIA members were convicted by a French court for the 1995 bombing campaign.
After the death of Zitouni in 1998, prior to the World Cup, France in collaboration with other European countries launched a vast preventive operation against the GIA. About 100 alleged members of the group were arrested throughout Europe. In Belgium, security forces seized weapons, detonators and forged identity papers. On 11 June 1999, the GIA announced a jihad on French territory in a threatening letter addressed to the media.
Antar Zouabri and takfir
Antar Zouabri, was the longest serving "emir" (1996–2002) was nominated by a faction of the GIA "considered questionable by the others". The 26-year-old activist was a "close confidant" of Zitouni and continued his policy of "ever increasing violence and redoubled purges". Zouabri opened his reign as emir by issuing a manifesto entitled The Sharp Sword, presenting Algerian society as resistant to jihad and lamented that the majority of the people had "forsaken religion and renounced the battle against its enemies," but was careful to deny that the GIA had ever accused Algerian society itself of impiety (kufr).
Convinced of Zouabri's salafist orthodoxy, Egyptian veteran of the Afghan jihad Abu Hamza restarted the Al-Ansar bulletin/magazine in London. During the month of Ramadan (January–February 1997) hundreds of civilians were killed in massacres some with their throats cut. The massacres continued for months and culminated in August and September when hundreds of men women and children were killed in the villages of Rais, Bentalha, Beni Messous. Pregnant women were sliced open, children were hacked to pieces or dashed against walls, men's limbs were hacked off one by one, and, as the attackers retreated, they would kidnap young women to keep as sex slaves. The GIA issued a communiques signed by Zouabri claiming responsibility for the massacres and justifying them—in contradiction to his manifesto—by declaring impious (takfir) all those Algerians who had not joined its ranks. In London Abu Hamzu criticised the communique and two days later (September 29) announced the end of his support and the closure of the bulletin, cutting off GIA's communication with international Islamist community and the rest of the outside world. In Algeria, the slaughters drained the GIA of popular support (although evidence showed security forces cooperated with the killers preventing civilians from escaping, and may even have controlled the GIA). A week earlier the AIS insurgents announced it would declare a unilateral truce starting in October. These events marked the end of "organized jihad in Algeria," according to one source (Gilles Kepel)
Although Zouabri was seldom heard of after this and the jihad exhausted, massacres "continued unabated" through 1998 led by independent amirs with added "ingredients of vendetta and local dispute" to the putative jihad against the government. Armed groups "that had formerly belonged to the GIA" continued to kill, some replacing jihad with simple banditry, others settling scores with the pro-government "patriots" or others, some enlisting themselves in the services of landowners and frightening illegal occupants off of property.
In 1999 the "Law on Civil Concord" granting amnesty to fighters was officially rejected by the GIA but accepted by many rank-and-file Islamist fighters; an estimated 85 percent surrendered their arms and returned to civilian life.
The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) splinter faction appears to have eclipsed the GIA since approximately 1998 and is currently assessed by the CIA to be the most effective armed group remaining inside Algeria. Both the GIA and GSPC leadership continue to proclaim their rejection of President Bouteflika's amnesty, but in contrast to the GIA, the GSPC has stated that it avoids attacks on civilians.
Zouabri was himself killed in a gun battle with security forces 9 February 2002. The GIA, torn by splits and desertions and denounced by all sides even in the Islamist movement, was slowly destroyed by army operations over the next few years; by the time of Antar Zouabri's death it was effectively incapacitated.
In 1999, following the election of a new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a new law gave amnesty to most guerrillas, motivating large numbers to "repent" and return to normal life. The violence declined substantially after Antar Zouabri was killed in 2002, Rachid Abou Tourab succeeded him and was allegedly killed by close aides in July 2004. He was replaced by Boulenouar Oukil. On 7 April 2005, the GIA was reported to have killed 14 civilians at a fake road block. Three week later on 29 April, Oukil was arrested. Nourredine Boudiafi was the last known "emir" of the GIA. He was arrested sometime in November 2004 and the Algerian government announced his arrest in early January 2005.
A splinter group of the GIA that formed on the fringes of Kabylie (north central coast) in 1998, called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), rejected the amnesty. It dissociated itself from the previous indiscriminate killing of civilians and reverted to the classic MIA-AIS tactics of targeting combatant forces. This break away was led by Hassan Hattab. In October 2003, they announced their support for Al-Qaeda and in 2006, Ayman al-Zawahiri announced a "blessed union" between the two groups. In 2007, the group changed its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It has focused on kidnapping for ransom as a means of raising funds and is estimated to have raised more than $50 million from 2003-2013.
Claims of Algerian Government involvement
According to Heba Saleh of BBC News,
"Algerian opposition sources allege that the group may have been manipulated at times by elements within ruling military and intelligence circles. A series of massacres in the summer of 1997 - in which many hundreds of people were killed - took place near Algerian army barracks, but no-one came to the help of the victims."
Fouad Ajami writing in The New Republic in 2010: called the GIA "a bastard child of the encounter between the Islamists and the security services of the regime." John Schindler in The National Interest stated, "Much of GIA’s leadership consisted of DRS agents, who drove the group into the dead end of mass murder"
Another source, journalist Nafeez Ahmed claims that ‘Yussuf-Joseph’—an anonymous 14-year "career secret agent" in Algeria’s sécurité militaire who defected to Britain in 1997 and claims to have had access to "all the secret telexes"—told Ahmed that GIA atrocities were not the work of ‘Islamic extremists’, but were ‘orchestrated’ by ‘Mohammed Mediane, head of the Algerian secret service’, and ‘General Smain Lamari’, head of ‘the counter intelligence agency’ and ... ‘In 1992 Smain created a special group, L’Escadron de la Mort (the Squadron of Death)… The death squads organized the massacres … ’ including ‘at least’ two of the bombs in Paris in summer 1995. That operation was (allegedly) ‘run by Colonel Souames Mahmoud, alias Habib, head of the secret service at the Algerian embassy in Paris.’ According to Ahmed, "Joseph's testimony has been corroborated by numerous defectors from the Algerian secret services." (Ahmed also claims that the "British intelligence believed the Algerian Government was involved in atrocities, contradicting the view the Government was claiming in public".)
However, according to Andrew Whitley of Human Rights Watch, "It was clear that armed Islamist groups were responsible for many of the killings of both civilians and security force members that had been attributed to them by the authorities. According to the Shadow Report on Algeria, Algerians such as Zazi Sadou, have collected testimonies by survivors that their attackers were unmasked and were recognised as local radicals - in one case even an elected member of the FIS.