Washington is growing increasingly concerned about groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, once considered less of a threat than other branches. Following the attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed dozens, north African militant groups are on the hunt for new Western targets, US officials tell the Washington Post. Thus far, the officials call the effort "aspirational"; intelligence hasn't pointed to an individual plot taking shape. Moreover, the threat is largely regional: "Most of these groups have no capacity" to attack in the US.
Meanwhile, officials offered a clearer picture of the gas plant attack. They fear that at least one Canadian national may have been involved, but they note that knowledge is limited in the area—compared to, say, Pakistan or Yemen. "We simply do not have the resources, the footprint, the capabilities we have in other theaters," says an official. But steps like a new drone base in Niger could help change that. Militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar headed the gas plant attack; he runs a group that recently broke from AQIM and is "very focused on attacking Western interests," says another US official.