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What are Western and African powers up against in Mali, Algeria?

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Much Islamist militancy in North Africa traces its origins to 1990s Algeria, when the Army’s decision to cancel elections that an Islamist party was expect to win tipped the country into a decade of civil strife. Tens of thousands were killed in bombings, massacres, and disappearances, as government forces battled Islamist insurgents led by veterans of the Afghan war of the 1980s.

While Algeria is largely stable today, a militant Islamist faction called the Salafist Group for Call and Combat has continued attacks mainly on government forces. In 2007 the group formally changed its name to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and remains North Africa’s premier militant Islamist outfit.

Who’s out there?

AQIM is North Africa’s most powerful Islamist militant group, operating mainly in Algeria and northern Mali. While its exact structure isn’t clear, it seems to consist of a northern wing based in Algeria’s Kabylie region and Saharan bands based in northern Mali.

Also in Mali are Ansar al Din and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). With AQIM, these groups have seized control of Mali’s north. Their numbers are hard to gauge, but are believed to range in the hundreds to thousands.

Elsewhere in North Africa, small apparently independent groups – sometimes just a dozen or so people – have staged occasional bombings in recent years (Morocco) and gotten into firefights with police (Tunisia).

What do militants believe?

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