The New Al Qaeda Menace
by Bruce Riedel
Reviewed by Brenda B. Schoonover, President, American Diplomacy Publishers
Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution, Bruce Riedel has written a timely and informative commentary on the rapidly growing presence and influence of global terror organization Al Qaeda in the West African country of Mali.
Riedel reports that the Al Qaeda group in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, which started in Algeria in 2006, is firmly ensconced in Mali. He attributes the group’s success to several maneuvers: After Mali’s military coup in the spring, AQIM partnered with Mali’s local extremists, Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), headed by a former Tuareg rebel. Together they ousted government forces from the north and then terminated ties with the Tuareg independence movement. By looting Libyan army depots after the fall of Libyan leader Qaddafi, AQIM evolved from one of Al Qaeda’s weaker franchises to its best armed in the world.
The author sees this newly formed powerful alliance with its stronghold in the northern two-thirds of Mali, as a threat to the entire region. He defines the mixture of AQIM, Ansar Dine, and Tuareg rebels as “combustible” and “very complex and dangerous.” He likens its tactics of destroying Islamic treasures in the Malian city of Timbuktu to what Al Qaeda and the Taliban did in Afghanistan before 9/11.
Algeria managed to repress AQIM within its own borders. Thus, Riedel finds it curious that Algeria seems unwilling to actively address Mali’s problem - labeling it an internal matter. By contrast, Mali’s other neighbors, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and, in particular, Morocco, have expressed grave concerns about Islamic extremists establishing a safe haven in the region.
The author reminds the reader of lessons learned from Al Qaeda’s hold in Afghanistan and Iraq – that is, once the global terror group “establishes a presence in a failing state, it becomes very difficult to root it out entirely.“