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North Africa's Menace: AQIM's Evolution and the U.S. Policy Response

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Since the 911 attacks, America s understanding of Al Qaeda has evolved along with the organization itself. In recent years, attention to Al Qaeda s so-called affiliates in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and most recently Syria has overtaken concern about Al Qaeda s core in Pakistan. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb AQIM is one such affiliate. Many Americans first became familiar with AQIM when media reports linked it loosely to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, on 91112 that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. The horrific hostage crisis at the Algerian In Amenas gas facility in January 2013, which was far more closely linked to the group, further increased concern about the threat it posed and played into anxieties about what many viewed as a resurgent Al Qaeda threat. Because both the Benghazi and the In Amenas attacks came after the death of Osama Bin Laden, at a moment when core Al Qaeda appeared to be waning, some analysts cited them as evidence that Al Qaeda was actually growing stronger simply shifting its center of gravity to new parts of the world. Timbuktu may sound far away, but it s only two plane rides from Manhattan, wrote former UN ambassador John Bolton in the New York Post. Even observers less ideological than Bolton saw the attacks as evidence of a resurgent Al Qaeda threat in Africa, concluding that this now familiar enemy had opened up yet another front with the United States.1 The broader counterterrorism implications of both the Benghazi and the Algeria attacks, however, are less clearcut than they were often made to be in contemporaneous media reports. A possible link with little evidence of command or foreknowledge between the Benghazi attackers and AQIM hardly equates to a direct link between Benghazi and Bin Laden or his successors however much core Al Qaeda members may have welcomed the carnage.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Unconventional Warfare

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