– AOIM militants kidnapped two Austrian tourists in Tunisia in exchange for the release of militants in Tunisian and Algerian prisons
– Hostages are purportedly being held in Mali; Austrian diplomat sent to negotiate release
– Kidnapping of Westerners suggests group may be retracing former-GSPC roots and, thus, splintering from within
– Nonetheless, the group will continue to threaten Western tourists and governments in the near to mid-term
It has been over five years since the former-Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) kidnapped a group of Westerners in North Africa . Following its merger with al-Qaeda in September 2006 to form the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AOIM), the group has concentrated heavily on the use of car bombs, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and suicide attacks as primary attack methods. The group’s transition to these new tactics suggests a number of pertinent developments regarding the solidarity of the AOIM, namely its internal fragmentation, and possible weakening. However, despite the group’s use of former tactics, Westerners remain primary targets. The AOIM will continue to target tourists and Western governments’ interests in the near to mid-term.
In Memory of the GSPC
AOIM’s kidnapping of two Austrian tourists in Tunisia on February 22, 2008 has brought back memories of the tragic 2003 GSPC series of abductions in which 32 Dutch, Austrian, German and Swiss tourists in Algeria were taken . The perpetrators of last month’s kidnapping have demanded the release of a number of militants from prisons in Tunisia and Algeria. Among them is Amar Saifi, aka El Para, the mastermind of the 2003 abductions. In retrospect, when the former-GSPC last abducted Westerners it was for ransom, to which the German government had paid US$5 million for their release. In this case, AOIM demanded 5 million euros, however, the group’s demand for the release of fellow incarcerated militants suggests that the AOIM is seemingly also more interested in the release of fellow incarcerated militants.
Furthermore, AOIM’s use of former-GSPC tactics conveys a number of implications about the group, primarily, its splintering ideologies and lack of a strong, cohesive leadership. In recent past, the AOIM has experienced serious internal fragmentation, which has polarized the organization and divided its ideology into two conforming sub-groups: pro-al-Qaeda and pro-GSPC (Previous Report). A second implication is the group’s seemingly weakening leadership. AOIM’s demand for older, imprisoned militants in addition to money indicates a present necessity for these former militants. They may be needed to boost the group’s manpower and morale, or to serve as operational leaders.
Westerners Remain Primary Targets
Ultimately, it makes little to no difference whether AOIM chooses to recycle former-GSPC tactics or strategies – the target remains the same. Westerners and Western economic interests will continue to be primary targets of interest for the AOIM. However, local government and security forces, remain primary soft targets for the group, as the majority of terrorist attacks continue to be against Algerian police.
To this end, the group has released several online statements and video footage of the hostages, justifying their actions by recalling the recent conflict in Gaza and Western governments’ support of Israel. According to the group’s recent online publications, AOIM’s targeting of Westerners, whether by kidnapping or by violent attack, will likely continue in the near to mid-term.