May 8, 2008

HARRISONBURG—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, takes another look at al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a group which, amid is the vast expanse of the Sahara Desert and the Sahel, he says is “likely to play an increasingly significant role in the overall struggle against extremism.”

Dr. Pham notes that “ beyond the Maghreb itself, AQIM has considerable reach to émigré communities in Western Europe” and that the group’s alignment with al-Qaeda not only elevates its status, but gives the latter access to its “extensive networks of cells throughout Western Europe, some of which were involved in raising funds for them through the smuggling of drugs and immigrants, while others provided support for recruitment, training, and other logistical activities.” The article goes on to explore the threat presented by AQIM to countries in the region as well as Western Europe—especially Spain which has been especially singled out by the Islamist terrorists for historical and ideological reasons—and the United States, concluding:

The marriage of convenience between Islamist extremists in the Maghreb and the Sahel and the leadership of al-Qaeda does not by itself increase the risk of attack on America and its allies. However, the access that al-Qaeda now gains to North African and European communities and the more universal status which AQIM now acquires does raise the expectations among their constituents that together they will strike more effectively against enemies, both near and far, thus heightening the danger that they will be impelled by internal pressure to mount some sort of an assault. Consequently, the United States needs to continue its modest, but effective, strategic investment in this vast and hitherto largely overlooked geopolitical space.

To read the full text of the article, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: An Evolving Challenge in the War on Terror,” click here.