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Hunt Continues for Fugitive Salafist Terrorists in Pan-Sahel Region - 2004-04-02


The top American general overseeing military operations in sub-Saharan Africa says the hunt is continuing for fugitive members of the Salafist terrorist group in the Pan-Sahel region of north-central Africa.

General Charles Wald says he does not know whether the accused Salafist terrorist leader known as the "Para" escaped from a recent shootout between his fighters and government troops in Chad.

But in a VOA interview at the Pentagon, the general acknowledges there are still members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat the loose in the Sahel region. The Muslim extremist group, originally based in Algeria, is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations and has been linked to al Qaida.

General Wald vows they will be pursued until they are killed or captured.

"But there are other Salafist people in that area that we're still pursuing and we'll pursue until we get all of them," he said.

Government troops in Chad killed more than 40 Salafists in a recent shootout that came after the suspected terrorists were driven from hideouts in the Algeria-Mali border area, forced across Niger and into Chad.

The U.S. military is understood to have supported the pursuit with aerial surveillance and other intelligence information along with communications.

But General Wald, a four-star Air Force General who is deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, gives credit to regional authorities for stepping forward to work together and take the fight to the terrorists.

"Mali, Niger and Chad and Mauritania to a certain extent and certainly Algeria and even Tunisia to a little bit now have really stepped up to show in regional way that they're not going to let their sovereign countries be abused by terrorists," said Gen. Wald.

U.S. Army Special Forces troops recently concluded a counterterrorism training program with military units in Mali and Mauritania. Forces in Chad and Niger are scheduled to receive similar training later this year under the program, a State Department sponsored plan called the Pan-Sahel initiative. U.S. officials have indicated North Africa countries may eventually be brought into the training effort.

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