Al-Qaeda in North Africa seen as key Europe threat

Over the last month alone, the group has been accused of seizing five French nationals and two Africans from a mining town in Niger, part of its effort to make millions by kidnapping Europeans and getting ransoms. It is also blamed for a truck bombing last Saturday in Algeria that left five soldiers dead.


Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb effectively rules a wide, lawless swath of the Sahara and is trying to overthrow Algeria's government.

It's active online and media-savvy, and has the globally recognised al-Qaida brand name. It has also sparked arrests in Spain and France.

The question now is how far it has the will and means to turn its anger on Europe.
French and US counterintelligence officials suggest AQIM's logistics and networks aren't yet mature enough to stage an attack on a European capital, but say it's a broad and constant threat.

France's prime minister said on Friday that the group is in touch with fellow fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US military is worried enough that it trains African armies to resist AQIM.
"For years, I've said this and we've known that AQIM has capabilities to project outwards outside of Africa...It's just that no one understands the dynamics from Europe to Africa and back to Afghanistan," said Rudolph Atallah, retired from his post as Africa Counter-terrorism Director in the office of the US Secretary of Defence and who now runs private security firm White Mountain Research.

"Can AQIM carry out an attack in Europe? Yeah, I think so."For Europe, homegrown terrorists have long been a central concern. French authorities watch out for dual nationals who fall under AQIM's spell, via extremist websites or preachers in private prayer meetings in poor suburbs.

Algerian militants who blended in with Europe's large North African immigrant community were linked to the 2004 Madrid bombings and killed dozens of people in the 1990s in attacks in the Paris Metro.

"If unfortunately a terrorist operation occurs, it will come from networks within those European nations," said Mohand Berkouk, political scientist at the University of Algiers who specalises in Sahara and Sahel geostrategy.

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