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More Western Help Urged to Fight Al-Qaida Threat in Africa

FILE - A girl walks past a wall with graffiti about the al-Qaida network in a Muslim area of the northern city of Kano, Nigeria.

An Africa expert said Sunday’s attack on Ivory Coast should be viewed as an attempt by al-Qaida to undermine that country’s emerging political stability and economic growth.

J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the US-based Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank, said it would be a tragedy if all the progress that Cote d’Ivoire has made over the last four years is derailed by al-Qaida. He said the United States and Ivory Coast’s former colonial power France should do everything they can to come to the assistance of those African countries that are trying to help themselves.

“The attack certainly is horrific and should be condemned. It shows both the brutality of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and its allies and how ruthless they are mowing down innocent people who are trying to escape the heat of Abidjan for a weekend on the beach,” he said.

On the other hand, Pham said the attack did not surprise him because ever since the French intervention in Mali in 2013, there has been concern in the international community that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and its allies were seeking to attack stable countries beyond the Sahel to show their reach.

FILE - French troops stand at attention during a handover ceremony of the Timbuktu mission from France to Burkina Faso at Timbuktu airport, April 23, 2013
FILE - French troops stand at attention during a handover ceremony of the Timbuktu mission from France to Burkina Faso at Timbuktu airport, April 23, 2013

He said the attack on Ivory Coast is not because of political instability and ethnic tensions stemming from that country’s disputed 2010 presidential election. On the contrary, Pham said, Ivory Coast has been performing well in the last four years.

“If one looks at the fact that the country went from the last months of Laurent Gbagbo’s regime when it defaulted on its international bond to its position just four short years later where the country is experiencing one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, and president [Alassane] Ouattara trounced the opposition this past year in October, wining a second term in office with 83 percent of the vote. So, I think it’s actually the stability, the democracy, and the economic growth that al-Qaida is seeking to undermine rather than necessarily exploiting tensions,” Pham said.

Pham said a U.S. strategy for Africa promulgated by President Barack Obama in 2012 recognized that an al-Qaida threat is a threat to not just the security and prosperity of Africa but the international community as a whole.

“And so this is a challenge really for the international system as a while, and all the more so because the victims in this particular attack were primarily non-Africans. They were expatriates helping build the economy of Cote d’Ivoire and they were targeted by the terrorists,” Pham said.

The United States condemned the "heinous attack," and praised "Ivorian and French" forces for preventing more people from dying.
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. is prepared to assist Ivory Coast in its investigation. He also reiterated U.S. commitment to working with others in West Africa to fight terrorists who want to undermine efforts to "build tolerant and inclusive societies."