A new report on terrorism in North Africa warns of a new al-Qaeda hub for jihadi recruits and a potential launching pad for terrorist attacks much closer to US and European shores, along an “Arc of Instability” stretching across Africa’s Sahara/Sahel region.

The study, Terrorism in North Africa & the Sahel in 2012: Global Reach and Implications, authored by Yonah Alexander, Director of the Inter-University Center on Terrorism Studies (IUCTS), was announced at the 15th Annual Terrorism Review by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and made available online today.


The report says al-Qaeda-led extremists’ attempted seizure of Mali’s capital and their deadly attack in Algeria that killed 37 foreign hostages resulted from a regional terrorism threat that has been rising since September 11, 2001. In just a matter of weeks, the report says, “what many considered only a regional problem, metastasized into a crisis of global implications.”


According to the study, ‘Arc of Instability’ is emerging across Africa’s Sahel which has opened a path for al-Qaeda to shift its center of gravity from Afghanistan and Pakistan to a new sanctuary and has created a potential launching pad much closer to US and European shores.”


The report says “al-Qaeda’s new regional hub in northern Mali” poses “tactical and strategic challenges,” including risk of kidnapping, piracy, drug trafficking, and terrorist attacks in the region and beyond. It notes intelligence reports have confirmed that al-Qaeda has established links with Latin cartels for ‘drugs-for-arms’ smuggling through terrorist-trafficking networks that include members of the Polisario Front” in Algeria.


The study expresses alarm about growing ties among key regional al-Qaeda-linked groups-al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Shabaab in Somalia, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. It warns they “have expanded their reach and recruiting to other militants and groups across the Maghreb and Sahel,” and are emboldened by an “increased flow” of “weapons through the vast unguarded porous and national borders.”


To address the threat, the report makes a number of recommendations, including:


•   International support for France’s military intervention in Mali and negotiations with non-jihadist forces, particularly Tuareg leaders, to achieve an agreement on autonomy for the region.


•   Application of “soft power” by accelerating national and regional economic development through reduced barriers to foreign and domestic trade and investment, and increased aid programs.


• Increased intelligence-sharing and resolution of old conflicts impeding regional economic and security cooperation, such as the Western Sahara dispute.


•   Improved control of national borders to reduce the flow of recruits and arms to criminal and terrorist groups.


•   Long-term solutions to reduce the potential for criminal and terrorist recruiting in the refugee camps run by the Polisario Front in Algeria.


Middle East Online