Since the death of Osama bin Laden, talk has been rife in intelligence circles about the next move Al-Qaeda will make and in which theater of operations this will be in. One thing is for sure, that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) will not be one to watch, for in Hugh Roberts' words: "They haven't done anything spectacular."
AQIM has been around since 2007, primarily active in Algeria, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania, the group has committed a few attacks, kidnapped a few people and killed a few Algerian soldiers. But, in terms of the threat they pose to the Maghreb and to Europe, AQIM is essentially a non-entity.
Founded in 2007 by elements linked to the defunct GIA, a group infamously involved in Algeria's civil war of the 1990s, AQIM was given the full blessing of Al-Qaeda's central command as part of a new strategy of Glocal Jihad. Glocal Jihad is a strategy designed to wage a global war on local lines, targets and objectives: in other words, decentralized jihad. AQIM was supposed to operate in the Maghreb, bringing down regimes which were viewed as illegitimate, Western puppets; but they have failed to do so.
They failed because in a region largely unaffected by foreign intervention, unlike the Middle East or Central Asia, they lacked a galvanizing cause for raising money, volunteers, and equipment. With no foreign oppressor to fight, most in the Maghreb balked at the idea of needlessly killing their own countrymen.
AQIM is also unable to fight off the singularly effective counter-intelligence service of the Algerian regime (Algeria is AQIM's main theater of operations), which, with the help of the U.S., has fought them and cornered them in the Saharan desert, where few, if any, real targets can be found.
Also, with Algeria as its main hub of operations, AQIM does not achieve the popular support needed to achieve any of its objectives. After the bloody and indiscriminate civil war that shook Algeria during the 1990s, Algerians have no stomach for a group bent on violent acts of terror, especially when this group is linked to the former GIA.
Equally, AQIM frequently blunders and causes some spectacular accidents which decimate their group; including one that in 2009 allegedly wiped out 40 of its operatives during an experiment with a chemical or biological weapon.
AQIM does, however, excel at seizing foreign nationals in the Sahel region, especially in Mauritanian sovereign territory as detailed by the British FCO in its travel advice. This shows AQIM to be an organization that thrives on opportunism rather than planning, which makes it incapable of carrying out longer range, more complex attacks.
Finally, because of the Arab Spring and nascent social movements in the Maghreb, AQIM is largely a relic of another age, when violence seemed the only means for people of the Maghreb to express discontent. Now, with popular and often peaceful protests becoming the norm, AQIM will become inconsequential in the region and to the world.
Whether, in light of the events of the past year, this same fate awaits the Al-Qaeda group itself is yet to be seen but its affiliate in the Maghreb has definitely become an irrelevant non-entity.
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