May 14, 2009

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, examines the increasing involvement in criminal activities on the part of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and argues that “ this may signal a more—rather than less—dangerous development in the evolution of the group.”

Noting that the kidnappings-for-ransom and smuggling coincides with a shift in AQIM’s center of activity from northern Algeria to the Sahel where it is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a.k.a. Khaled Abou al-Abbas, a.k.a. Laâouar (“one-eyed”), Dr. Pham writes:

These developments suggest that the Saharan/Sahelian brigade of AQIM may be succeeding where the central leadership of the organization, notwithstanding its “rebranding” as al-Qaeda’s authorized “franchise” in North Africa, has failed: shedding an almost exclusively Algerian orientation in order to take on a broader Maghrebi identity. Moreover, the manner in which Belmokhtar has integrated himself into the social fabric of his chosen theater of operation represents a not insignificant advance from ad hoc cooperation between terrorists and criminals to a convergence, if not transformation, of the two spheres of activity. The question vexing many analysts is whether AQIM will seek to expand its reach, both criminal and terrorist, into the large North African diaspora communities in Europe. Taken together, all of these factors suggest that far from being crippled, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may be evolving into an even greater challenge to security not only in Africa, but well beyond.

To read the full text of the article, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: The Ongoing Evolution of Jihadist Terrorism in North Africa,” click here.