Routed Elsewhere, al-Qaeda Thrives in Sahara

Terror group's move into Africa mirrors old Afghanistan strategy
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2011 6:29 AM CST
A nomad from the Tuareg tribe of the Sahara Desert brings his herd for vaccination to a team of US Special Forces in the Sahara Desert in Mali. With almost no resistance, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb...   (AP Photo/Alfred de Montesquiou, File)

(Newser) – Al-Qaeda may be on its last legs in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but the extremist group is doing better than ever in Africa, growing steadily since 2006—thanks to good community relations and steady handouts of cash, candy, medical aid, and other necessities, reports the AP. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, in particular is flourishing, having raised $130 million from kidnapping at least 50 Western citizens around the region, and today has grown from its origins in Algeria to stretch across the Sahara.

With its enormous geography, extreme poverty, and weak central government, security experts say that Mali has many similarities with Afghanistan, and AQIM is moving in the same way al-Qaeda entered that country. Representatives never pressure locals or haggle over prices, just paying the full amount asked, only bringing up religion after establishing a relationship. "The situation in Mali is they have become locals—they are not foreigners," said one analyst. "This is really, really very, very difficult to do, and it makes it very hard to get rid of them." (Read more AQIM stories.)

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