Merchant of Death
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Evidence that Africa Matters for al Qaeda
Recently, two people on whom I did extensive reporting because of their ties to al Qaeda in West Africa have again surfaced in the news, a useful reminder that sub-Saharan Africa was and is a target of opportunity for radical Islamist movements.

In Kenya, there is an an intense manhunt underway for Fazul Adallah, one of the masterminds of 1998 East Africa embassy bombings.

Fazul was also active in Liberia and Sierra Leone immediately after the embassy bombings. While several of his suspected cohorts have been rounded up, he has again, it seems, managed to escape.

This indicates that senior al Qaeda operatives continue to operate in East Africa, where they have carried out successful attacks in the past. There are increasing reports of efforts by _wahhabi_ groups to radicalize East African Muslim, who have traditionally been tolerant of other beliefs.

The second is Aafia Siddiqui, who may have been involved in the West African diamond trade as well. She is expected in a New York court today on charges of attempted murder.

As my colleague Andrew Cochran has noted, Siddiqui is said by the Special Court for Sierra Leone to have been in Liberia receiving al Qaeda diamonds.

My own research showed that a woman had arrived to collect diamonds from al Qaeda operatives in Monrovia, and had returned, with two men, to Karachi, Pakistan, and then moved on to Quetta, where police and intelligence lost her trace. It was not clear to me at the time of the reporting that the woman was Siddiqui. Perhaps the New York trial will help clarify the issue.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains a high-risk area because of its vast, ungoverned spaces, ample resource base, rampant corruption and the presence of several states that operate as criminal syndicates.

This combination of factors, as I argued in my testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade last week, that is one of the premier challenges of fighting the war on terrorism.

While there is some recognition of this now in senior government circles, the response remains largely muted and limited to occasional training exercises with militaries and police forces widely feared for their brutality and corruption. It is hardly a strategy that can lead to success.

Fazul and others remain in the region because they feel safe enough to operate there, and there is work to be done. Otherwise, senior operatives would not hang around, but would move on to the next job.

Siddiqui's possible role will be more difficult to decipher, but prosecutors should press her on her possible ties to al Qaeda in Liberia. If the woman in question is her, it will open a whole new line of inquiry into the role of West Africa in the al Qaeda worldview.

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