From The Washington Post
President Obama and his critics agree that North Africa has become a hot spot for terrorism. In a region awash with weapons, human and drug trafficking and political unrest, al-Qaeda’s local affiliates, especially al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are flourishing. Throw into the mix the violent separatist Polisario Front, which seeks independence for the Western Sahara while maintaining squalid refugee camps in Algeria, and you have a breeding ground for new generations of terrorists.
Two scholars from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have just published a new book, “Perilous Desert: Insecurity in the Sahara.” On Carnegie’s website, the authors explain: “The geopolitical significance of the Sahara is becoming painfully clear. Islamist militant groups and transnational criminal networks are operating in the region’s most fragile states, exploiting widespread corruption, weak government capacity, crushing poverty, and entrenched social and ethnic tensions. The unrest spills over borders and aggravates protracted regional crises.”
One of the authors, Anouar Boukhars, agreed to answer some questions:
Why is AQIM on the upswing?
In North Africa, AQIM benefits from fragmented politics and security vacuums created by the Arab spring. Tunisian authorities, for instance, are struggling to reform their dysfunctional security services and develop the capacities of the police and gendarme to counter the threats from radical Islamists. The country is quickly becoming a smuggling corridor for arm dealers between Libya and Mali. Seizures of large arms caches are frequent. And Tunisia could become more than just a transit route as Tunisians fighting alongside AQIM and other extremist groups return home from Mali and Syria.
The risks of cross-border militancy are also real. The attack on the gas field in Algeria was hatched in northern Mali and executed by a multinational group of militants who crossed through Niger and Libya. Even in countries with strong security forces, danger looms. Since the launch of France’s intervention in Mali, Morocco has, for example, been on high alert. Several Moroccans are known to have joined militant groups in Mali.
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