Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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Al Qaeda's Growing Danger in Northern Africa
As noted recently by the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock, the formal merger of the Algerian-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) is an enormously important development of the jihadist plans for northern and western Africa.

As Zawahiri stated in his address last month announcing the formal alliance of the two groups, the GSPC "will be a thorn in the necks of the American and French crusaders and their allies, and a dagger in the hearts of the French traitors and apostates."

This is even more important when combined with the growing f al Qaeda presence and interest in Darfur, the jihadi rallying point to the east. According to folks who have recently spent time in Darfur, the janjaweed, protected and aided by the Sudanese government, are allowing al Qaeda training camps. Bin Laden and Zawahiri have singled out Darfur as a key area of jihadi expansion, along with Somalia and Yemen to the east.

As I reported on July 10, intelligence reports have recently found "al Qaeda operatives in Sudan are providing training to troops under the control of Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal."

In Somalia, the Islamic Courts continue to consolidate, faced with little opposition except from Ethiopia.

And to the west, bordering the desert stretches of Mali, Niger, Maurtiania and Chad, the heralding of a new alliance that formalizes al Qaeda's presence, if only by proxy, in a region of the world that is seeing a rapid rise in Salafist mosques, charities and al Qaeda recruiters.

"Al-Qaeda's objective is to have a base in the region of the Sahel," Chakib Benmoussa, the Moroccan interior minister, told the Post.

To me, this points to a concerted strategic push by the traditional al Qaeda leadership, to build alliances with existing groups to move toward an area they clearly consider to be a high priority.

Africa, including West Africa, have been a point of great interest to bin Laden personally, according to the writings and debriefings of al Qaeda leaders. Somalia was the site of al Qaeda's first military foray, when bin Laden lived in Sudan. Yemen is bin Laden's ancestoral home, and he was meddling there in the mid-1990s. Sudan in general, and the janjaweed offer strong ideological and military support for the jihadist agenda.

These developments lead me to question the conventional wisdom that the core al Qaeda group is essentially incapable of exercising command and control over the different groups now in its orbit.

Clearly there are decentralized, self-starting groups inspired by al Qaeda. But, given the recent al Qaeda documents that are being translated and circulated, and this development, along with the new alliance with Egyptian groups, I am becoming far less sure that the core al Qaeda group is as marginalized as often portrayed. Perhaps they still have a plan, and, while adapting, are still able to push it toward implementation.

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