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Al-Qaeda Seeks To Expand.

Al-Qaeda is reaching out from its base in Pakistan to turn militant Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa into franchises charged with intensifying attacks on Western targets. The development could see radical groups use al-Qaeda expertise to switch their attention from local targets to Western interests in their countries and abroad. The FT on April 21 quoted a "British official who follows terrorism" as saying: "For al-Qaeda, this is a force multiplier".

The Saudi Interior Ministry on April 27 announced the arrest of 172 suspected al-Qaeda militants, some of whom were training as pilots to carry out suicide attacks on oil facilities in the kingdom. It said police seized weapons and more than 20m riyals ($5.33m) in cash, from seven armed militant cells, adding: "Some had begun training on the use of weapons, and some were sent to other countries to study aviation in preparation to use them to carry out terrorist operations inside the kingdom... One of their main targets was to carry out suicide attacks against public figures and oil installations and to target military bases inside and outside (the country)". It said the suspects, mostly Saudis, had been "influenced by the deviant ideology", a reference to al-Qaeda's Neo-Salafism. The state TV showed agents digging in desert areas and searching inside buildings and seizing weapons, including rocket propelled grenades and computers.

Militants in February killed four French expatriates working and living in Saudi Arabia in the latest attack on foreigners in the kingdom. Riyadh in March warned foreign embassies that a group blamed for the killings could strike again. Neo-Salafi militant have said they want to drive "infidel" Westerners out of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest sites. Tough security measures and a powerful publicity campaign helped crush the violence but the underlying drives of Neo-Salafi ideology and anger at Western policy in the region remain strong.

One of the first signs in North Africa was an announcement on Sept. 11, 2006, by al-Qaeda's No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri of a merger between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Algeria's Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC). Western officials expect to see a similar merger between al-Qaeda and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a mainly exiled organisation devoted until now to the overthrow of Qadhafi. They say there are signs that similar moves are under way in Lebanon, Syria and East Africa and that there is an effort to unite militant groups across North Africa.

The Algerian merger was followed by a series of attacks, culminating in two suicide bombings recently which killed 33 and wounded 220 (see news-GasGrouping&MEexplosionsApr16-07). It is too early to say whether those attacks were influenced by al-Qaeda central. But on April 26 the Algerian authorities killed the No. 2 of al-Qaeda's local leadership, Samir Mus'ab.

The effort by al-Qaeda to reach out to radical Islamist groups, which is still at an early stage, follows the rebuilding of al-Qaeda's core in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan, near the Afghan border. Al-Qaeda was severely disrupted by US-led military actions after 9/11. But the central organisation appears to have reconstituted itself around about 20 senior figures.

The Algerian group operates small training camps in northern Mali, attracting fighters from Algeria, Mauritania, Libya, Niger, Mali and Nigeria. There is the prospect of trained Nigerian jihadis entering the UK among thousands of Nigerians who travel weekly to and from Britain. According to Andrew Black, of the US Jamestown Institute, the training would equip jihadis for Iraq, from which they would return to North Africa with operational experience.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Date:Apr 30, 2007
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