Though poverty is mentioned several times in the article, an official notes that “the terrorism problem shows up differently in North and Western Africa in comparison with other parts of the world. In the Sahel, for instance, extremists are not always the poorest of the poor, but rather “” as is the case in northern Nigeria “” educated young people…”
“Al-Qaida’s new African alliance watched,” by Katherine Shrader for the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON – U.S. counterterrorism officials are paying renewed attention to an increasingly dangerous incubator for extremism: a swath of northern and sub-Saharan West
Africa, from the Atlantic coast of Morocco and Mauritania to the harsh deserts of Chad.
One senior U.S. intelligence official said the new al-Qaida-focused GSPC is more dangerous than its predecessor because its links to bin Laden boosted morale and its new focus on government buildings and suicide attacks is a shift in targeting.
“We should be worried about it. It hasn’t really blossomed yet,” the official
While the group probably could not attack the U.S. homeland yet, the official said, it could attack U.S. targets in North Africa such as embassies, tourists and people on business.
The U.S. focus on the group comes as the Bush administration finalizes plans to
create a new military command in Africa, called AFRICOM. The continent now falls under the
direction of three different military commands.
Officials from the Defense and State departments toured six Africa countries in
April, trying to ease concerns about feared increases in U.S. troops and resources. Pentagon officials say the new command does not mean a dramatic boost in either. A recent Congressional Research Service report found that the command raises questions for Congress,
including how to ensure that military activities do not overshadow U.S. diplomatic
U.S. officials say GPSC support cells have been dismantled in Spain, Italy,
Morocco, and Mali, and the group maintains training camps across the Sahel grasslands.
After linking up with al-Qaida, the group carried out a suicide bombing in Algiers last month targeting a high-profile Government Palace and a police station. Thirty-three people died in the first suicide attacks in Algeria in a decade. The group has promised to target non-Muslim foreigners who it deems to have exploited Muslim lands “” specifically diplomats, business people and tourists in North Africa.
Analysts do not yet consider North and Western Africa a safe haven for terrorists in the way Afghanistan was under Taliban rule.
In a recent examination of current and future safe havens, not discussed publicly before, counterterrorism officials concluded that al-Qaida’s main organization does not have many options outside of the Afghan-Pakistani border region. It is unlikely to lose that base soon, the senior U.S. intelligence official said.
While the region lacks population, accessibility and hospitable living conditions, officials said the area still makes sense as an al-Qaida location in the Islamic Maghreb because of its porous borders, lax government oversight, poverty and
Officials say such concerns are complicated by other factors, including:
– Money from Persian Gulf and Middle East. U.S. officials say private Saudi
donors have funneled money to Sunni Muslim schools and mosques in the region. But one
intelligence official noted much of the money is intended to counter the influence of Iran, which also funds Shiite interests in the region.
– A sizable population of potentially impressionable young people. West Africa
is roughly half Muslim, with higher concentrations in the Sahel. With its extensive links to the Middle East, the region is fertile ground for radical ideas.
– Areas of instability. Morocco and Algerian-backed Polisario Front rebels have
disputed desert lands of the largely Muslim Western Sahara for decades, forcing 100,000
people into refugee camps in Algeria. In Nigeria, which has a large Muslim population in
the north, elections last month have been largely discredited. The issue has been overlooked greatly, even though the country is Africa’s largest oil producer and is on the brink of becoming a failed state, especially in its southern Delta region, the official added.
This official noted that the terrorism problem shows up differently in North and Western Africa in comparison with other parts of the world.
In the Sahel, for instance, extremists are not always the poorest of the poor, but rather “” as is the case in northern Nigeria “” educated young people, the official said.
And, of course, they’re not all al-Qaeda, either.
Rep. Jane Harman, who as a member of the House Homeland Security Committee has traveled often to Africa, said she once thought North Africa was a fragile place from which extremists could threaten Europe. Harman, D-Calif., said she now thinks it could be a staging ground for attacks worldwide.
For years, she said, Africa got too little attention. “I think we have underestimated the capabilities of al-Qaida to get a beachhead there,” Harman said.