Since the military coup in Mali earlier this year, al-Qaeda's influence in the African nation has increased—to the point that northern Mali, the largest territory held by the terror group, is now basically al-Qaeda's own country. The AP takes an extensive look, describing the elaborate series of tunnels, trenches, and other defenses erected by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its allies, Ansar Dine and MUJAO. The Islamist extremists are preparing for a war they say will be worse than Afghanistan, and have been stockpiling weapons, supplies, and fuel as well as training forces there.
"Al-Qaeda never owned Afghanistan," says a former UN diplomat who was kidnapped and held for 130 days by an al-Qaeda chapter. "They do own northern Mali." But, though other African nations have agreed to intervene and take back the area—and though the UN Security Council has authorized that intervention—no action is likely to be taken until at least September, diplomats say. The territory is so large—about the size of Afghanistan—and home to such hostile terrain that rooting out terrorists will be difficult, experts add. And as more time passes without military intervention, says one local mayor, the extremists are getting less anxious and "more prepared."