Despite the confidence of France’s top counter-terror judge, who only last month said he did not think the group would attack Europe, its expanding reach only increases its ability to carry out operations across the Mediterranean when (not if) it chooses.
Of course, AQIM now also has a windfall of Libyan weapons, including surface-to-air missiles that can threaten air travel. “EU official warns of spreading al-Qaida offshoot,” by Aomar Ouali and Paul Schemm for the Associated Press, September 8:
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) “” The European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator warned Thursday that al-Qaida’s North African offshoot is extending its footprint around Africa and said local governments need more help fighting it.
Dealing with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which stages regular deadly attacks in Algeria and has kidnapped more than a dozen foreigners around the vast Sahel region, was central to a two-day conference in Algeria’s capital this week on security challenges.
Officials from Saharan countries pledged to continue working together in the fight against terrorism. But Niger’s foreign minister told a local newspaper that cooperation so far has been ineffective.
EU counterterrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove offered European assistance, according to Algeria’s state news agency APS.
He was quoted by APS as saying Algeria was in good shape to fight AQIM, because “it has a powerful army. However the other countries of the region, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, need help.”
He warned that AQIM is working with terrorist groups elsewhere in Africa.
“This is something that the intelligence services are following very closely. There is still nothing structural. There are efforts at contacts, and small transfers of money,” he was quoted as saying. “It seems that some members of Boko Haram (in Nigeria) and al-Shabaab (in Somalia) were trained by AQIM.”
Niger’s foreign minister, Mohamed Bazoum, noted that to date a four-country joint military body based in the Algerian town of Tamanrasset has been ineffective.
“So far, we have not seen it execute a single concrete operation. We would like CEMOC to carry out concrete actions,” he told the independent daily newspaper Liberte, referring to the Committee of Joint Chiefs of the four countries “” Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania “” founded in 2010.
Bazoum added that he now hoped to see a much more vigorous joint military presence patrolling in the 3 million square miles (8 million square kilometers) of desert shared by the four countries.
“The Algiers conference lets the countries of the region show their partners abroad that they possess a true strategy and unified vision for their struggle against terrorism, organized crime and poverty,” Algeria’s minister for North African affairs, Abdelkader Messahel, said at the event’s conclusion.
Officials from the four countries were quick to say that their strategy included measures to fight poverty and develop the remote and cash-strapped regions where al-Qaida militants and smugglers reigned supreme.
A French intelligence official in Paris dismissed the conference as “diplomatic posturing,” saying that the four are not cooperating in the fight against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb nearly as well as they could….