Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Al-Qaeda In The Islamic Maghreb Rises To Fame

Last Wednesday, in perhaps the first significant and violent reaction to French military strikes on Islamic militants in Mali, the world was shocked to learn of a hostage crisis that ended in bloodshed. Dozens of hostages and militants were killed at a BP complex in eastern Algeria in one of the clearest examples of festering terrorist activity in the northwest African region. Violence perpetuated by the al-Qaeda offshoot in Mali and its Algerian counterpart in recent weeks has brought new urgency to addressing the growing extremism in the region and has illuminated the extent to which these groups are supported from abroad.

The British Petroleum complex in eastern Algeria. Photo by the Associated Foreign Press.

Although it didn't claim responsibility for the hostage crisis, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb--also referred to as AQIM--is largely the force behind Mali's crumbling sovereignty. AQIM's insurgency in Mali and its subsequent resistance to French military attacks have bolstered the group's divinely-inspired creed to forcefully Islamize Mali and to wage regional attacks against Western interests. Already there is talk on online chatrooms amongst extremists championing AQIM's cause in Mali, including calls to step up attacks on Western interests around the globe. As a consequence of the events in Mali and Algeria, AQIM has been glorified by other terrorist groups around the world who share similar hatred of all things Western and secular.

As delineated in a past article for the Global Atlas, modern terrorist organizations have become far more dynamic since they started using the Internet. On-line, terror groups use social media and other websites as platforms to project their ideologies to a world audience, often portraying their causes as morally imperative counterweights to Western imperialism. Most of the groups have an Islamic hue, which is carefully leveraged to masquerade as a divine calling. But the Internet isn't just a place where terrorists advance their own interests; it has become a logical medium for terrorists to both connect with other like-minded individuals and to decentralize operations, making counterterrorism efforts particularly challenging. As analysts have observed, the surge of violence in Mali and Algeria is a turning point for AQIM not because of their violence but because of their transnational reach, popularity on terrorist websites and  ability to draw weapons, manpower and resources from all over the world. 

The steps Western and regional powers have taken to stamp out this threat have been within the limits of domestic political expediency. It would be unrealistic to think that all terrorist activity in the region (and in general) can be stopped. Indeed, skepticism and hatred toward the West runs wide and deep across the Middle East and North Africa, creating the essential foundation for terrorist recruitment. As the world turns its attention to these crises, external involvement will most likely become the key to stabilizing the region. For now, French troops are greeted as liberators, and if there are any lessons to be learned from the U.S.' experience in Iraq, they should stay as long as they're welcome, for any suspicion of French neocolonial interests could revitalize AQIM's cause and energize its transnational reach and support network. At the present moment, regional participation in stabilization efforts might  be the key to robbing AQIM and its affiliates of the ability to galvanize its sympathizers against the perceived French neocolonial penetration into a region that the AQIM hopes to Islamize. 

No comments:

Post a Comment