February 14, 2007

HARRISONBURG—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, was interviewed yesterday on a Voice of America (VOA) news segment on possible terrorist links to rising violence in the semi-desert Sahel region of West Africa.

Dr. Pham told Dakar, Senegal-based VOA correspondent Nico Colombant that he thought that there is reason for concern that such remote areas where insurgencies often take place—last week a nomadic rebel group in northern Niger killed three government soldiers—could also foster terrorist activity: “We have in recent months evidence of groups from one or other countries in the region using third party countries to enter into and set up bases, the classic example being the Algerian group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which has been operating several bases in Mauritania for example.”

Pointing to a Nigerian court case which he recently discussed in his “Strategic Interests” column distributed by World Defense Review, Dr. Pham observed that “a Nigerian received money from Sudan, and that part of the record is fairly well established, to send young Nigerians from radical groups in northern Nigeria to Mauritania, specifically for terrorist training.”

Countering the viewpoint advanced by another analyst quoted in the report who minimized the terrorist threat, Dr. Pham argued that despite the complexities involved he believes the overall terror threat is still there, especially with numerous insurgencies starting up: “Groups that have what I would call purely local grievances some of which I might add are also legitimate but in their desperation, in an asymmetric combat, will take help from anywhere they can receive it and these groups have received input from outside groups that do not necessarily share their immediate concerns but have an interest in creating havoc and chaos in whatever region.”

Nonetheless, noting last week’s decision by the United States to establish a unified combatant command for Africa, Dr. Pham concluded that it should be easier to contain the extremist Islamic threat in sub-Saharan Africa than in the Middle East or South Asia: “I think there is more fertile ground on which to build a comprehensive strategy but the key is to get the resources in there and to do it now because the other side, the terrorist side, has already recognized this particular area as a strategic asset and I would say in the last several years moved considerable resources into the region.”

To read a transcript of or to listen to an audio stream from the VOA segment, click here.