Al Qaeda increasing scope and reach in North Africa

Due to increased presence and military retaliation from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somali, Al Qaeda is going west. North West Africa to be more precise. There has been a steady increase and the kidnapping of westerners in the region. Time magazine article about the topic states that

In the three years since allying itself with Osama bin Laden, North Africa’s al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militant group has worked hard to align its terror activities and communications with those of its radical parent organization. Topping the list of the techniques AQIM has borrowed from its brothers in the Middle East and South Asia is kidnapping Westerners to net big-money ransoms — or carefully choreographing their executions to shock the world. As the fates of several hostages hang in the balance in Mali and Mauritania, Western governments are grappling with how to deal with the growing problem: should they pony up hefty ransoms time and again to save their citizens, or stand by the time-worn policy of refusing to negotiate with hostage takers?

First, this should not surprise security agencies around the world. From a strategic point this makes sense for Al Qaeda. The region has a substantial but not huge Muslim population where the can draw upon recruits and logistics support.

AQIM has also carefully constructed religious and ideological arguments for its actions so local Muslim populations see kidnapping as part of the group’s holy work, analysts say. “It’s essential that jihadists believe they can credibly justify horrible criminal acts as righteous before they undertake them to both themselves, the victims and the world,” says another French counter-terrorism official. “That has allowed AQIM to embrace something it had regarded as the lowly work of vulgar crooks and Mafia types before.”

The region does not have US warships patrolling the area like off the coast of Yemen, Somalia or Iraq. No drone fly overs as in Afghanistan-Pakistan(that we know of). Second in an ironic way, the region doesn’t get much media attention which works in Al Qaeda’s favor. More media attention = more military presence and oversight.

On the question whether to start giving into demands and paying ransoms should be easy. Don’t. Take a look at what is happening to Somali. The pirates had an incentive to continue their daring acts because they knew once successful, they were guaranteed a huge pay day. That plus, since there was a grey area for the law, whether Somali or international law, they cunningly exploited it while rest of world debated. African leaders aren’t going to let the region become lawless like Somali.

despite the gruesome executions that sometimes happen when ransoms aren’t paid, African officials have urged Western governments not to encourage hostage taking by rewarding it. Last September, Algerian President Abellaziz Bouteflika asked the United Nations to adopt an international ban on paying ransoms, which he called “the biggest source of terror financing today.” Still, with the clock ticking for the hostages now in AQIM’s hands, the decision for Western leaders grows more difficult by the day

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