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Armed Islamic Group
The Armed Islamic Group (GIA, from French Groupe Islamique Armé) is a militant Islamist group with the declared aim of overthrowing the Algerian government and replacing it with an Islamic state. The GIA adopted violent tactics in 1992 after the military government voided the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), the largest Islamic opposition party, in the first round of legislative elections held in December 1991.
Between 1992 and 1998 the GIA conducted a violent campaign of civilian massacres, sometimes wiping out entire villages in its area of operation (see List of Algerian massacres of the 1990s; notably the Bentalha massacre and Rais massacre, among others.) Since announcing its campaign against foreigners living in Algeria in 1993, the GIA has killed more than 100 expatriate men and women in the country. The group uses assassinations and bombings, including car bombs, and it is known to favor kidnapping victims and slitting their throats. The GIA is considered a terrorist organization by the governments of Algeria, France and the United States.
The GIA simultaneously began fighting an intra-Islamist battle against the armed branch of the FIS over which Islamist group would eventually achieve power in Algeria. Outside of Algeria, the GIA established a presence in France, Belgium, Great Britain, Italy and Sweden.
Under the leadership of its longest serving "emir," Antar Zouabri(1996-2002), the GIA became a "takfirist" group, considering Algerian society to be in violation of Islamic precepts, therefore justifying the killing of members of that society as a form of purification of heretical elements. Like some of his predecessors, Zouabri was himself killed in a gun battle with security forces, in February 2002. The group's current leader is Rachid Abou Tourab.
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.
In an unsuccessful attempt to keep France out of the struggle, the GIA hijacked Air France Flight 8969, which was enroute from Algiers to Paris in December 1994. The GIGN stormed the plane, preventing it from being crashed into the Eiffel Tower, reportedly its intended target.
In 1995-96, the GIA conducted a series of bombings in France. 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 September 29, 1995. In late 1999, several GIA members were convicted by a French court for the 1995 bombing campaign.
In 1998, prior to the football world cup, France, in collaboration with the 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 June 11, 1999, the GIA announced a jihad on French territory in a threatening letter addressed to the media.
In Algeria, however, the group's repeated massacres of civilians had drained popular support (although rumors persist that security forces were involved in some of the massacres, or even controlled the group). Meanwhile, a 1999 amnesty law that was officially rejected by the GIA was accepted by many rank-and-file Islamist fighters; an estimated 85 percent surrendured 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.
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