International Relations Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
by
Sergei Boeke
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0267

Introduction

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a branch of the al-Qaeda terrorist movement that is active in the Sahel countries. It has been responsible for many attacks and hostage-takings in North as well as sub-Saharan Africa, and has targeted French and Western interests, as well as local governments (which are seen as stooges of the West). Although AQIM is continually in flux, this bibliography aims to provide initial pointers for historical research covering the group’s background and developments. Since much research and reporting on Sahel developments emanates from the Francophone world, this bibliography does not distinguish between French or English sources, and includes French articles and books that are worthy of study (but refers to the English translation if one is present). A recurrent challenge in terrorism research is the reliance on secondary sources, in part as a result of the limited availability of primary sources. This also applies to AQIM, and the bibliography starts by mentioning some of the primary sources available. Most secondary sources mentioned here are academic articles and think-tank reports. Few books have been written focusing solely on AQIM; those that have are often more journalistic than academic in nature, and some lack references. After listing several primary source works and avenues, this bibliography mentions articles covering the GIA and GSPC; AQIM’s ancestral roots. The next section focuses on academic works that analyze AQIM between its official inception in 2006 and the start of the Malian crisis of 2012. This cutoff date is important, as the group temporarily became the governing authority in northern Mali, effectively running its own “Islamic State.” Then the article focuses on the nexus between terrorism and crime, mentioning works that explore this theme for AQIM. One section subsequently focuses on the period 2012–2018, while another examines counterterrorism operations deployed in the Sahel. Finally, several ancillary works that cover AQIM—but not as the primary subject—are mentioned. Here the emphasis might lie elsewhere (e.g., local politics, Tuareg history, political Islam), but these works still offer valuable insights for the study of AQIM.

Primary Sources

Terrorism research is often complicated by a lack of primary sources, with many academic studies characterized by an overreliance on secondary reporting, such as newspaper articles. Several batches of letters written by AQIM commanders (and al-Qaeda central command) have been found, translated, and published. Many letters captured during the 2011 raid on Abbottabad, and the killing of Osama bin Laden, have been declassified and released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). A batch of letters found in Timbuktu in 2013 by the Associated Press has also been made available, and provides good insights on the internal functioning of AQIM at the time. This is well covered by Guidère 2014. Other primary sources involve accounts by the over thirty released hostages who have given accounts to newspapers of their ordeal in the hands of AQIM. Many have shared extensive details of their life in captivity, but few have written books such as Fowler 2011.

  • Associated Press. Al-Qaeda Letters.

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    A trove of AQIM internal correspondence—also with al-Qaeda Central in Pakistan—was found in Timbuktu by French troops when they captured the town from the jihadists in 2013. These letters illustrate the difficult relationship between the emir (leader) of AQIM in northern Algeria and his commanders in Mali. The letters also highlight the challenges of actually governing territory.

  • Fowler, Robert. A Season in Hell. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

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    Fowler was a Canadian diplomat who spent 130 days in captivity in one of AQIM’s katibas (fighting units). His personal account provides many details on how the katibas and their commanders functioned.

  • Guidère, Mathieu. “The Timbuktu Letters: New Insights about AQIM.” Res Militaris 4.1 (Winter–Spring 2014): 25–40.

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    The author was one of the experts asked to validate the authenticity of the letters, and this insightful article adds new facts and analyses on the discovered letters.

  • Nasiri, Omar. Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

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    While this book does not cover AQIM, but rather its predecessor, the GIA, it does provide a firsthand account of an informer working for Western intelligence. Nasiri (an alias, of course) details how he was trained in camps in Afghanistan and infiltrated Salafi-Jihadist circles in London.

  • Nouakchott News Agency (ANI).

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    This media outlet in Mauritania has frequently been used by AQIM to make announcements concerning their commanders or operations. While some announcements are intended to mislead or provide false information, they do offer primary source material on what AQIM wants the world to see and hear. The messaging is generally in Arabic, but the for-profit SITE Intelligence Group offers a subscription service that provides translations of announcements, postings, and videos, and often adds an analysis.

  • Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Bin Laden’s Bookshelf. Washington, DC: Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

    E-mail Citation »

    In the 2011 raid that killed Bin Laden, thousands of letters were taken by US Special Forces. Many of these have been declassified in different batches by the ODNI. These letters cover communications between al-Qaeda Central and its many local affiliates, including AQIM, providing insights on many organizational issues.

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