WASHINGTON – An international panel of experts issued a new report and their 13th annual review on terrorism at the National Press Club yesterday, concluding that al-Qaeda has suffered significant losses in its leadership in Pakistan, but has extended its reach to other parts of the world and continues to pose a very dangerous threat to the US and Europe in 2011. The annual seminar, by the International Center for Terrorism Studies (ICTS), Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, brought together US intelligence experts and Ambassadors from Spain and Morocco to examine the growing threat and changing face of international terrorism
“Of grave concern,” says the new report, authored by Prof. Yonah Alexander, Director, ICTS, is that “al-Qaeda has established a safe haven and breeding ground” in the failed/fragile states of Africa that border the Sahara, tracing an “arc of instability that stretches from the Red Sea and is poised to reach to the Atlantic.” The report is a one-year update of a January 2010 ICTS study documenting the chronology since 9/11 of the rising threat from al-Qaeda and other terrorists in the Maghreb and Sahel of North and West/Central Africa.
Key report highlights:
* Al-Qaeda is poised to take advantage of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt “to destabilize the region.”
* Since 9/11, attacks from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other terrorist groups in the Maghreb and Sahel jumped 558% from their low in the period to reach a new high in 2009, and remained at dangerously high levels in 2010.
* There is “growing evidence” that AQIM, local traffickers, and possibly Polisario members have linked with Latin cartels to traffic drugs across the Atlantic into Europe.
* AQIM is taking advantage of the 35-year-old Western Sahara conflict for “expansion and also recruitment of hard-core Polisario members among the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria.”
Panelist Charles Allen, former Assistant Director of Central Intelligence, CIA, said, “Al-Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan is under heavy attack and has suffered key losses. But Al-Qaeda in North and East Africa is a problem. They are determined to press their attacks, kidnappings, and ransoms on foreign nationals and countries in the region. We have to watch AQIM very closely in Tunisia.”
Morocco’s Ambassador to the US, Aziz Mekouar, said, “No country is immune. Terrorism can happen here in the US. It can happen in Morocco.” Ambassador Mekouar detailed Morocco’s comprehensive two-track approach following terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003. “First, we passed new laws and increased our focus on security and intelligence. Then we addressed the underlying conditions that feed extremism: working to reduce poverty, increase economic growth and investment, broaden democratic participation by individuals and civil society, and teach the real Islam, which is against violence.”
Asked about the recent uprising in Egypt, Allen said he is “concerned about radical elements taking advantage of that nation’s unrest,” but would have to wait and see how events play out. He noted that for all countries addressing terrorism, “there has to be a balance between security and freedom of expression.”
Prof. Alexander added that to effectively combat terrorism, countries need to work together and share intelligence. He said that one of the most urgent needs for enhanced cooperation is to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, which puts an obstacle between Morocco and Algeria.
* The report, “Consequences of Terrorism: Update on al-Qaeda, other terrorist threats in the Sahel & Maghreb,” is at: