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Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA)

By:
Joseph A. Kéchichian
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA)

The al-Jāmaʿah al-Islamiyʿah al-Musallaha, better known in Algeria by its French name, Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) (Armed Islamic Group), opposed the perceived military dictatorship ruling the North African State. Although its initial goal was murky—to establish just rule via elections—it resorted to extreme violence after 1992, and declared the establishment of an Islamic government in Algiers. This drew the ire of conservative forces in both the government and Paris.

After the Islamic Salvation Front—known as the FIS (Front Islamique du Salut)—gained a significant legislative electoral victory in December 1991 and the military voided this result, a number of Islamists adopted violent tactics. Between 1992 and 1998, groups operating under the GIA umbrella conducted an exceptionally violent campaign against civilians, both domestic and foreign. An estimated 150,000 Algerians were killed during these atrocities, along with more than one-hundred expatriate, mostly French, workers living in the country. Various kidnappings and assassinations were attributed to the GIA, including a particularly vicious attack—through decapitation—in May 1996 against seven monks serving in the Tibherine monastery who, ironically, were known to have assisted GIA dissidents.

Origin and Development.

A well-known “Arab Afghan,” Mansouri Meliani, broke away in early 1992 from the thenemerging Mouvement Islamique Armé (MIA), an organization led by renowned Islamist ʿAbdelkader Chebouti, to establish the GIA some time around July of that year. Meliani proved ineffective against the Chadli Benjadid government, which promptly arrested him in January 1993. ʿAbdelhak Layada, perhaps under the spiritual guidance of an Afghanistan-trained cleric by the name of Omar El-Eulmi, succeeded Meliani. As the second GIA leader, Layada served for the 1993 to 1994 period, steered by El-Eulmi, who professed his opposition to political pluralism. Lax internal security resulted in a systemic infiltration by Algerian security forces at this time. Consequently, several successive GIA leaders were killed in the early 1990s, including Cherif Gousmi, who was gunned down in September 1994 and Djamel Zitouni in July 1996.

After 1992, GIA principals issued death threats against several FIS and MIA members, and called for the killing of anyone ostensibly collaborating with the military government in Algiers. All government employees, including teachers and civil servants, became legitimate targets. Prominent journalists and intellectuals, among others, were assassinated.

As the killings multiplied after 1993, and were generously reciprocated by government personnel, leading FIS sympathizers joined the GIA. Mohammed Saʿid, Anwar Haddam, and Saʿid Makhloufi—ironically wanted by the GIA for egregious shortcomings—left the FIS to declare, on August 26, 1994, that a Caliphate was established in Algeria under Cherif Gousmi. Mohammed Saʿid was declared the prime minister of this short-lived Islamic government of Algeria; Haddam, then living in exile in the United States, was made foreign minister; and Makhloufi became a provisional interior minister. The latter was the first to withdraw—less than 24 hours after his appointment—because the GIA deviated from Islam. Makhloufi insisted that the “Caliphate” was nothing more than Mohammed Saʿid's scheme to gain control over the GIA, although informed Algerian military sources claimed several years later that the idea was, in fact, a clever counter-espionage invention by security services.

At the height of this epochal reassessment, and under Zitouni, the GIA exported its actions to France. On December 24, 1994 an Air France flight from Algiers to Paris was hijacked. French commandoes stormed the plane on December 26, killing all of the hijackers, because authorities feared they would crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower.

Bombings and killings in Algeria continued throughout the ensuing years, justified by fatwās issued by Abū Qatada al-Falastini and others. Angered by negotiations with Algiers, GIA constituents assassinated the FIS co-founder, ʿAbdelbaki Sahraoui, in Paris on July 11, 1995. An internecine conflict emerged as GIA and FIS elements targeted each other throughout 1995 when new parliamentary elections were scheduled. The GIA threatened to kill anyone who participated, using the slogan “one vote, one bullet,” although intra-GIA disputes and murders were so frequent that few citizens were deterred by the threats. After Zitouni was murdered in July 1996, his successor, ʿAntar Zouabri, asserted that an Algerian who refused to join the GIA was impious. He served for six years, as the GIA was slowly transformed into a takfīrī group. Calls to purify Algerian society became regular pronouncements as the country's military officers accepted the appointment, and eventual election, of the affable foreign minister, ʿAbdelaziz Bouteflika, as President. After Zouabri was murdered in February 2002, the group's leadership passed to Rachid Abou Tourab, who in turn was killed in July 2004, and Boulenouar Oukil. Oukil was arrested on April 29, 2004, with his successor, Nourredine Boudiafi, also apprehended in late 2005.

According to the Algerian government, the GIA was no longer a viable organization after 2006, although that was probably due to attrition among the rank-and-file Islamist community, rather than an ideological reconciliation with the military-dominated government.

See also ALGERIA and ISLAMIC SALVATION FRONT.

Bibliography

  • Aggoun, Lounis and Jean-baptiste Rivoire. Françalgérie crimes et mensonges dʿétats: Histoire secrète, de la guerre dʿindépendence a la “troisième guerre” dʿAlgérie.Paris: Discovery Editions, 2005. Alleges that after 1980 Algerian generals launched a “third war,” and blamed it on Islamists to retain power with the complicity of rogue French officials.
  • Fisk, Robert. “Anything to Wipe Out a Devil…” In The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. New York: Vintage, 2005. Rare insights on GIA killings in the 1990s.
  • Labat, Séverine. Les islamistes algériens: entres les urnes et le maquis. Paris: Seuil, 1995. A first-rate scholarly assessment.
  • Martinez, Luis and John Entelis. The Algerian Civil War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Contains useful information on the GIA's interaction with the Islamic Salvation Front.
  • Souaïda, Habib. La sale guerre. Paris: Gallimard-Jeunesse, 2001. A dissident Algerian officer's account of the war describing the military's goal to “terrorize the terrorists.”
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