It would be great if he’s right, of course. On the other hand, as this report notes, AQIM’s area of influence is growing — they may even have had a hand in a recent kidnapping in Nigeria, for example. For that matter, France and the rest of Europe have precious little idea who may be entering their countries under the cover of claiming refugee status, particularly from the political upheaval in North Africa. Indeed, for all of the hostile terrain in which AQIM has become entrenched, their exact operational capacity can likely only be estimated, at best.
AQIM has the benefit of regional roots in the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, and as a franchise of the best known brand name in global jihadist terrorism, they are not without connections. And past al-Qaeda attacks have shown how few jihadists — particularly suicide attackers — it takes to cause scores of casualties.
“AP Exclusive: al-Qaida branch won’t attack Europe,” by Jamey Keaten for the Associated Press, August 5:
PARIS (AP) “” France’s top judge in the fight against Islamic terrorism said Friday that al-Qaida’s North African wing has shown no ability to strike in Europe or elsewhere beyond its zone of operations.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, born of a former insurgent group in Algeria, remains motivated largely out of a desire to attack former colonial power France. It currently holds four French hostages, and French officials have called the group the biggest terror threat to France and its interests.
In an interview, anti-terrorism judge Marc Trevidic suggested AQIM is being forced to work hard to control parts of its traditional territory in the Sahel region along the southern Sahara.
“It’s been shown that AQIM is only able to strike in its own zone, by wanting to kill tourists “” and we have seen nothing emerge as a significant foreign operation in Europe that was really organized by AQIM,” he said.
Still, AQIM has been active in offering statements of support through the Internet to would-be terrorists in Europe, Trevidic said, citing his recent case files.
“It’s incitation without a structure behind it,” he said. The group is “holed up, and already has troubles controlling its zone … Only when a terror group is very strong in its own territory will it begin exporting.”
Many European officials are more concerned. In June, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba called AQIM a growing menace that could spread beyond its base unless Western nations step up efforts to counter it. It has rendered huge parts of Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria off-limits to foreigners.
AQIM is active online and media-savvy, and has also sparked arrests in Spain and France. French counterterrorism and intelligence officials say its main source of income comes from ransom payments from hostage-takings “” in the millions of dollars.
The 46-year-old Trevidic, member of a special unit of the French judiciary devoted to fighting terrorism, spoke at length about the changes in the global fight against Islamic radicals following the death of Osama bin Laden, 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Over the last decade, the Iraq war “shuffled the cards” in the global fight against terrorism, he said, by luring dozens of youths from France “” home to western Europe’s largest Muslim population “” to fight U.S. forces.
The global crackdown against terrorism in Europe and elsewhere has largely driven Islamic militants underground: recruiting of young fighters in mosques and open-air training camps are largely a thing of the past, he said.
The newer phenomenon is “self-radicalization” online, with Internet-savvy Islamist youths watching videos and reading inflammatory texts that are a virtual-world call to arms.
“Today, there is not a single case where group members weren’t recruited on the Internet,” Trevidic said in the interview at the Paris AP office, with two bodyguards in tow.
He said American officials, too, are “starting to discover this danger from within.”
“They’ve always reasoned in the United States that ‘you just have to monitor the movements, the airplane passengers, and make them strip their clothes off and everything will be fine.’ Well, no,” Trevidic said.
With NATO forces conducting air raids, bombing strikes and surveillance missions over Afghanistan and Pakistan, that region is no longer the training ground it once was for al-Qaida and its Taliban allies, he said.
Instead, the potential al-Qaida operational bases to watch today are the Somalia-Yemen area around the Gulf of Aden, where Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has operated, and AQIM’s zone.
“There’s always the possibility of a bombing … but something really organized, like on the scale of a Sept. 11, is a bit exaggerated,” Trevidic said. “The entire stakes are making sure that no group becomes powerful enough, because afterward, they in fact can do what they want.”…