November 12, 2007

HARRISONBURG— Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, is featured in a story on al-Qaeda’s newest base in North Africa which is published in the current issue of Maclean’s, the largest weekly news magazine in Canada.

The feature article, “Out of Africa,” by veteran journalist Michael Petrou describes how al-Qaeda is “seeking a new stronghold at the very gates of Europe” in North Africa. Dr. Pham is among those quoted in the article, along with Emily Hunt, formerly with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “a confidential source with ties to U.S. intelligence agencies,” and “an American military officer” serving with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Petrou, an Oxford University-educated historian-turned-journalist who has covered the war on terror in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, interviewed Dr. Pham and cites him a number of times in the report:

J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., says the relationship between al-Qaeda and its latest franchise in North Africa is loose but valuable to both parties. “It works both ways,” he told Maclean’s. “Al-Qaeda gets to claim credit for actions in a theatre where it previously didn’t have an operational presence. And this local group now has an international brand. I don’t think there’s direct control. No one is sending orders from the tribal regions of Pakistan telling these guys what to hit. But it’s a mutually symbiotic relationship.”

Pham says al-Qaeda has much to gain from an alliance with a local jihadist group in North Africa because of the access North African Islamists provide to Europe. “French and Spanish intelligence have long noted that they have much better reach into the immigrant communities in western Europe than al-Qaeda itself does. So there’s a whole new opening.”…

The United States is also working to build the counter-terrorism capacities of local governments and militaries, often through training programs run by U.S. Special Forces…According to Pham, who consults for both the Pentagon and the Department of State, these programs have been successful in part because they don’t involve a large or disruptive American military presence. “The goal is to improve these countries’ capacities in self-governance. It’s not an American agenda. It just so happens that it also benefits America’s interests, and those of its Western allies,” he says.

The full text of the article can be accessed online by clicking here.