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Friday, February 1, 2013

AFRICA: Al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa said to have sights on other Western targets

SIA KAMBOU/AFP/GETTY IMAGES - Men stand on Jan. 30, 2013 in front of a billboard left by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), during a ceremony to cleanse the northern city of Gao from traces showing presence of Islamists.

New intelligence on al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa indicates that the militant group is seeking to carry out attacks on other Western targets in the region after its deadly assault on a natural gas complex in Algeria, senior U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday.
The push to mount follow-on strikes is seen as evidence that al-Qaeda was emboldened by the Jan. 16 raid and subsequent battle with Algerian security services that killed dozens of hostages and militants.
Analysts at the CIA and other agencies are piecing together information on the attack, which occurred in a remote stretch of Algeria near the border with Libya. U.S. officials said they are concerned by reports that one or more Canadian nationals took part in the raid but declined to say whether the United States has gathered intelligence confirming the involvement of operatives from North America.
Officials also acknowledged that their understanding of the attack, as well as the composition of militant networks in the region, has been impaired by a lack of U.S. intelligence assets in North Africa and limited cooperation from other governments, including Algeria.
“We simply do not have the resources, the footprint, the capabilities we have in other theaters,” the senior U.S. intelligence official said, alluding to countries, including Pakistan and Yemen, where the CIA has stationed dozens of case officers and carried out hundreds of drone strikes.
The U.S. campaign against al-Qaeda in those strongholds has driven militants, including dozens of Western Europeans, to new battlefronts such as Syria and North Africa. As a result, AQIM has drawn recruits from a dozen or more countries, including Mali, Mauritania, Libya, Sudan and Egypt.
The CIA has sought to expand its presence in North and Western Africa, including in Mali, where AQIM fighters took control of major cities in the north before being driven back by French forces over the past week.

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