Who is AQIM?

Who is al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)?

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is an Islamist smuggling organization that operates in North Africa.  They profess to support the overthrow of local governments in favor of instituting sharia law – the comprehensive social, economic, and political system outlined in the Koran.  Their flag reads “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” and features an AK-47, the preferred weapon of the jihadi, on top of the world.

Yet in more recent time, AQIM is less interesting in being a messianic religious movement than a smuggling operation, offering recruits money and economic opportunity.  Here are some facts about the organization and its operations in northern Africa.

AQIM in Northern Africa

AQIM in Northern Africa

  • Formed in 1998 out of the Algerian insurgent group, Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA; English: Armed Islamic Group), AQIM is responsible for more than a dozen major terrorist attacks since 2002.
  • They operate in primarily Mali, Algeria, Chad, Libya, Tunisia, Niger, and Morocco.
  • AQIM allies include other Islamist cartels such as Al-Shabaab (in Somalia), Boko Haram (in Nigeria), and Ansaru (in Nigeria).
  • In 2006, Ayman al Zawahiri, the spiritual leader of al Qaeda, formally acknowledged that AQIM was part of the al Qaeda franchise.
  • AQIM is widely suspected of complicity in the September 11, 2012 attack on an American Benghazi compound, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.
  • AQIM is perhaps the preeminent smuggling organization across northern Africa, dealing directly with South American cartels and the cocaine trade.
  • In addition to narcotics trafficking, AQIM also profits handsomely from kidnapping and cigarette smuggling, which is estimated to bring in approximately $1 billion annually.  Such a lucrative cigarette business has led to leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar to be dubbed Mr. Marlboro.
  • Many who join AQIM (as well as other local Islamist groups) are not fundamentalists, but just looking for a job.  Said one Somali who joined Boko Haram, “… At least I could get a job.  The rate of unemployment is a threat to security.”  With that warning, you’d think that Obama might want to get the U.S. unemployment rate down?
  • According to a director of a Mali think tank, “AQIM approaches young people by proposing economic incentives.  It could be cash or economic incentives.”
  • One South American drug cartel, the FARC of Colombia, actively trades cocaine for arms with AQIM.  Much of the cocaine finds its way to Europe.
  • In 2009, a Boeing 727 was discovered, torched, in the Malian city of Gao.  It had departed from Venezuela, and was reported filled with cocaine.  This was dubbed “Le Boeing de la Coke” by the French press.
  • AQIM, unsurprisingly, is trying to “impose Sharia” in Gao.  Really, are they trying to impose Sharia or simply prepare the trading routes?  Do we have to assume religion motivates everything these goons do?
  • The U.S. State Department declared in 2012 that Mali was “a leading regional partner in U.S. efforts against terrorism.”  In December 2012, a one-year military peacekeeping mission was authorized in Mali by the U.N.
Mr. Marlboro, Mokhtar Belmokhtar

Mr. Marlboro, Mokhtar Belmokhtar

AQIM represents yet another definitive link between the narcotics trade and Islamic terrorism.  AQIM’s direct involvement with the FARC and other South American cartels, not to mention the suspicious Boeing 727 from Venezuela, point to a new axis narcotics and terrorism that stretches from South America to Pakistan – for the crime boss Dawood Ibrahim has long used al Qaeda and the ISI for illicit business purposes.

Another parallel can be drawn to the present state of the U.S. economy and the lure of gangs, however ridiculous their ideology may appear to outsiders.  With unemployment persistently high, especially among the youth, it is only logical that more will choose to enter a lucrative life of crime.

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