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FACTBOX: Key facts on al Qaeda N.Africa wing
(Reuters) - Al Qaeda's North Africa wing said on Wednesday it had carried out a threat to kill a British hostage being held in the Sahara.
Here are some key facts on the group, which is based in Algeria and was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).
* In late January 2007 the group changed its name from the GSPC to Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb after gaining the approval of Osama bin Laden.
* The GSPC, as it was known by its French acronym, aimed to establish an Islamic state within OPEC-member Algeria. The name change was accompanied by a more regional strategy and closer coordination with like-minded groups in neighboring countries.
* Founded in 1998, the GSPC eclipsed the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) to become the most effective armed group in Algeria. In October 2003, it offered its support to the al Qaeda network.
* GSPC's strength was thought to be about 500. It is not clear how many of its members have joined Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.
* In 2003 the GSPC kidnapped 32 European tourists in the Sahara. All were freed apart from one who died of heatstroke.
* In April 2007, 33 people were killed in Algiers in a triple suicide bombing.
* On Dec 11 2007, a twin suicide bombing claimed by al Qaeda at U.N. offices and a court building in Algiers killed at least 41 people.
* In February 2008, al Qaeda gunmen attacked the Israeli embassy in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, highlighting Mauritania's status as one of the few Arab countries with diplomatic ties to the Jewish state.
* In February 2008, Austrian tourists Andrea Kloiber, 43, and Wolfgang Ebner, 51, disappeared while on holiday in Tunisia and were held hostage by al Qaeda's North African wing for eight months in a remote desert area of Mali. The group had demanded the release of Islamic militants held in jail in Algeria and Tunisia. The Austrians were freed unharmed eight months later.
* In September 2008, Mauritania said 12 of its soldiers abducted in an attack claimed by al Qaeda were found with their heads cut off, and it appealed for international support to fight terrorism.
* In April 2009 two Canadian diplomats and two European tourists held hostage by al Qaeda's north African wing in the Sahara were released after several months in captivity. The group had demanded 20 of its members be freed from detention in Mali and other countries as a condition for releasing the hostages.
Sources: Reuters, Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism, FAS - Federation of American Scientists, Global Security.
(For full story please click on [nL3270195])
(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by William Maclean)
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