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US Anti-Terror Report Cites Potential Al-Qaida Link to African Insurgencies

The State Department’s annual terrorism report, issued Wednesday, says al-Qaida operatives pose serious regional threats to African countries. It points out that in 2007, rebel insurgencies in North Africa and the Horn of Africa were ripe targets for recruitment by al-Qaida-affiliated groups. The report also cites an al-Qaida call for jihad against UN forces in Sudan’s Darfur region, and it continues to list Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, despite what it calls Khartoum’s cooperation with US government anti-terrorism initiatives. Andrew McGregor is director of Aberfoyle International Security Analysis in Toronto, Canada and editor of global terrorism publications for the Washington, DC-based Jamestown Foundation. He says that African nations now can obtain support to combat anti-terrorism threats from a new funding source, the US Africa Command, known as AFRICOM.

“There’s a lot of money and supplies coming down the pipe from the United States. They’ve set up a new command to center on Africa. Counterterrorism assistance is available to African nations that desire it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that terrorism is one of the major problems in Africa at the moment. Certain nations have very specific and very real problems with terrorism, such as Algeria and to a lesser degree, a few countries like Mauritania. But then, you’ve seen other countries like Egypt that manage to deal with the problem on their own,” he said.

In those countries where insurgencies pose significant threats to US interests, McGregor says opportunities become available for adopting al-Qaida training methods and violent military tactics. But he notes those techniques fail to enhance the popularity of their cause.

“You do have groups that are causing the biggest problems in those countries right now affiliated with al-Qaida. That’s not to say they are receiving direct commands from bin Laden or his associates. But they have decided to sign on to what you might call the al-Qaida project. This has not necessarily been to their advantage. It has not resulted in any supplies of weapons or money or trainers or any of that thing. On the contrary, it has caused a lot of divisions within the Islamist insurgents there and generally had the result of weakening the movement. At the same time, by adopting some of al-Qaida’s more notorious tactics, such as mass assaults on civilians, and in mass casualties, they’ve driven a lot of support away from their own movement,” he noted.

The al-Qaida connection continues to draw much publicity from such appalling attacks as the 1998 twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and reports of terrorist-style maneuvers of Islamic insurgents in Somalia. But McGregor says al-Qaida ties are limited to the magnitude of the act and fail to have a lasting impact.

”Al-Qaida has the potential in Africa to cause all kinds of disruption. They do not have the potential to overthrow a state or to establish any kind of base for themselves,” he says.

Despite these reservations, counterterrorism analyst Andrew McGregor says US concerns about al-Qaida must be focused on the part of the world where its operations are based.

“Al-Qaida has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed at its core, and that’s in northwest Pakistan. Until that’s done, you can fling arms and money in military equipment to the four corners of the earth, but you’re really continuing to fight this war on its periphery rather than at the center. So I don’t see much of a future in continuing that kind of a strategy,” he notes.