updated 1/26/2007 12:06:31 PM ET 2007-01-26T17:06:31

Algeria’s main Islamist militant group has changed its name to al-Qaida after getting the approval of Osama bin Laden, according to a statement posted on the Internet on Friday.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, often known by its initials GSPC, which has led an insurgency against Algeria’s secular government, said it was adopting the name Al-Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.

“We had wished to do this from the first day we joined (al-Qaida) but we wanted the permission of Sheik Osama, may God protect him. This obstacle has now been removed,” said the statement signed by GSPC and dated Jan. 24.

The authenticity of the statement could not be verified, but it was posted on a main Web site used by Islamists.

The group, which announced in September it had joined al-Qaida, said in the statement that the name change was proof of “the sincerity of the ties between the mujahedeen in Algeria and the rest of their brothers in al-Qaida.”

Insurgency has raged for 15 years
Algeria’s insurgency began in 1992 authorities cancelled elections an Islamist party was expected to win.

Now mainly led by the GSPC, the insurgency has only about 500 fighters compared to 30,000 in the 1990s, operates usually in remote mountains and parts of the vast southern desert, and is involved in drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.

In the past months the style of attack and the target has changed.

A bomb exploded beside a bus carrying foreign oil workers on Dec. 10 in an upscale Algiers suburb, killing two people in the first attack on expatriates in Algeria in years.

On Oct. 30 three people were killed in near-simultaneous truck bomb attacks on two Algerian police stations, the most elaborate rebel assault in years.

Both attacks were claimed by the GSPC.

Security experts say the spate of attacks is testing counter-terrorism efforts across north Africa, a region prized by al-Qaida as a potential launch pad for fresh attacks on European capitals.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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