People around the globe breathed a collective sigh of relief after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, America’s most wanted man. Under the Obama administration, al-Qaeda’s influence in Asia and the Middle East has been decimated, mostly due to American interventions in Pakistan, and at least in some part, to American successes in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the world press has focused on al-Queda’s influence in African nations. I wrote last year about al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia. With brutal force, they took over southern Somalia and blocked humanitarian aid that could have saved thousands of children from starvation. According to conservative United Nations estimates, al-Shabaab was responsible for the deaths of over 30,000 civilians in the region.
al-Qaeda-backed militants in Somalia have since taken Westerners hostage, killing a French national.
The most covered news story last week came from Algeria, where al-Qaeda recently took hundreds of people hostage, many of them Americans. The hostage site was a Norwegian oil field that they conquered by military force. al-Queda killed Americans, Japanese, British, French, Filipino, Colombian and many other international civilians in the bloody hostage siege that also killed dozens of al-Queda members.
In Mali, al-Qaeda affiliates are fighting a war against France, taking over metropolitan areas and killing French pilots. However, France is making progress in the war, with funding coming in some part from the U.S. and U.K.
Al-Qaeda is growing inside Africa like never before. In Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, Algeria, Mali, and several other African nations, they are causing major problems. What makes them so dangerous is their belief that they will be rewarded by Allah for killing civilians who disagree with their ideology. It is a backwards, fundamentalist twisting of Sunni Islam that poses a global threat to civilians around the world.
In the last twelve years, al-Qaeda has been responsible not only for the deaths of thousands of Americans, but for the deaths of thousands around the world, from Yemen to England, from India to Pakistan, from Spain to Indonesia. And now, they are wreaking havoc across the countries of Africa.
What the hostage situation in Algeria reminds us is that if there is any group of people on Earth with no morality, it’s al-Qaeda. Their tactics are unconscionably evil. One survivor described how a Briton was forced to call out to colleagues to lure them out of hiding, then shot dead. Another spoke of having explosives strapped to his friends and being forced to detonate the explosives. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an extremist linked to al-Qaeda, released a video on Sunday taking responsibility for what he called a “blessed operation.”
James Kirkup, the Political Editor for the London Telegraph reported this week that Western intelligence agencies have warned for several years that al-Qaeda-inspired groups are spreading in Africa as it becomes harder for extremists to operate in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. David Cameron, Prime Minister of England, said that the mission to eradicate al Qaeda from Africa will be “painstaking” and take “decades” to complete.
Al-Qaeda poses a threat to the African lives, with victims in Algeria, Kenya, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan, to name a few. It also poses a threat to their way of life. Al-Qaeda oppresses women, executes gays, and mutilates those who challenge them. They will stop at nothing to get their way.
They also pose a threat to the Western world on our soil. Several terrorist attacks plotted by al-Qaeda leaders in Africa have been foiled in America and France.
Of course, they pose a significant threat to Westerners living or working in Africa, as evidenced in Algeria. These people are, as French President François Hollande put it, the number one target of Africa’s al-Qaeda militants.
The new reality is clear. Al-Qaeda is growing out of control throughout the continent. They may not be capable of pulling off another massacre of thousands in the Western world’s largest city, but they are certainly capable of terrorism.
Islamic extremism, as the New York Times put it, has been “the ugly side of the Arab spring.” Militants have seized control where they can, and al-Qaeda has taken special advantage of their newfound mobility. They must be confronted, for the safety of civilians around the world. If action is not taken, it will only be a matter of time before we have another hostage crisis on our hands.