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How did Al Qaeda emerge in North Africa?

A briefing on the violent rise of a new-old jihadist group in Algeria.

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Algeria's ISLAMIC militants were finished. As recently as last summer, security officials thought they had subdued Islamic insurgents after nearly a decade of civil war. They were wrong. Nearly eight months ago, Algerian militants declared an alliance with Al Qaeda and have violently announced their resurgence with a wave of spectacular attacks. So far this year, at least 165 people have died in the ensuing political violence. The newly christened Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb presents a new challenge – and not just in North Africa. Staff writer Jill Carroll reports on the rise of this new-old group of jihadists.

How did Al Qaeda emerge in North Africa?

The Algerian militant organization Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, known by its French initials GSPC, officially joined Al Qaeda with the Sept. 11, 2006, announcement by Ayman Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's No. 2. Later, in a January statement, GSPC took on the name Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

With its new moniker and broader, global aims came increased violence. Last month, suicide bombers targeted the Algerian capital, Algiers, killing at least 33 people in the deadliest attack in that city in at least five years.

But long before the official union was announced, Algeria's radical Islamists were building ties with Osama bin Laden's group, according to terrorist experts.

The founders of GSPC fought alongside other militants in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. That battle not only gave rise to Al Qaeda, but dispersed fighters throughout the Middle East. The GSPC was formed in 1998 when its leaders split from Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, known by its French initials GIA. In 1993, a top member of Al Qaeda met with Islamist fighters starting to organize in Algeria and Mr. bin Laden gave factions of the GIA $40,000, Lawrence Wright reported in his new book, "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11."


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