GIA (Armed Islamic Group)

The Armed Islamic Group, the most radical and violent of Algerian organisations claiming to be Islamic integrists, came into being a couple of months before the Algerian parliamentary elections of December 1991. A keen supporter of the armed struggle to establish an Islamic republic, it has, since the interruption of the electoral process in January 1992, declared total war on the government. Opposed to any cease-fire or dialogue with the government in power, the GIA has also claimed responsibility for most of the assassinations of journalists, intellectuals, political activists opposed to its point of view and foreigners living in Algeria. The GIA also claims responsibility regularly for the massacres of ordinary civilians.

It is difficult to evaluate precisely the structure and size of the GIA (estimated at about 10 thousand men) because it is composed of so many more or less autonomous groups controlled by as many « emirs » (although a single command unit exists). Like the FIS, there is a split within the GIA between « Salafists » – who speak in terms of a world Islamic revolution – and « Djazarists » – who seek power in Algeria only.

The GIA mainly recruits among former Algerian volunteers trained in guerilla tactics by the Afghan freedom fighters (see Afghans), and others who fought in Bosnia, as well as among young men from the most disadvantaged social groups. Many members of the dissolved FIS joined its ranks and local gangs of petty criminals and dealers are also said to be mixed up in its activities. A large part of its membership is said to be of Kabyle or Berber origin.

Although their objectives are identical and their methods similar for the greater part, relations between the GIA and the Army of Islamic Salvation (AIS, the armed branch of the FIS) are riddled with personal animosity and rivalry between leaders and regions. The AIS even condemned certain of the GIA’s bloody activities. On the other hand, rapprochement with the moderate wing of the FIS seems excluded: FIS leaders who support dialogue with the government have been « condemned to death » by the GIA.

Some observers claim that the Algerian military supported GIA violence, sanctioning it to a certain extent in order to legitimate its own use of repression. Others were speaking of direct involvement of certain Algerian security services in the escalation of violence. Similarly, there were questions about an objective alliance between the Islamic guerilla and certain corrupt circles such as the « political-financial mafia » (which includes former FLN members, the former single party) in the murder of intellectuals who dared condemn the corruption which is corroding Algerian society.

The election of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as President of Algeria in April 1999, has been a turning point in the civil war which started in January 1992. After the cease-fire proclaimed by the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) in June, the President pardonned 2,300 jailed Islamists and presented to Parliament the « National Harmony Law » providing mainly for an amnesty for members and supporters of the AIS. The proposals contained in the law were submitted to a referendum on 16 September 1999 and got a massive support in the population (98% of Yes). The announcement of the referendum led to a surge of violence from the GIA in the weeks before it took place but it seems that the GIA is more and more isolated. Nevertheless, through cruel massacres perpetrated now and then it remind people that the civil war is not yet totally over.

See also: Islamism.