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Intelligence reports coming from North Africa say al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the North Africa affiliate of al-Qaida, is seeking more “Western” targets.
Analysts also say the target search includes Western diplomatic facilities as well as other soft targets such as refineries and natural gas plants.
American Enterprise Institute Middle East analyst Michael Rubin says he’s not surprised by the reports. Rubin says more AQIM attacks like the recent attack on the Amenas gas plant in Algeria are inevitable.
“Of course they will. The gas plant attack was neither AQIM’s first and it certainly won’t be their last. And what better target for a terrorist than a soft one?” Rubin said.
News of al-Qaida’s plans for more attacks on Western targets was announced at the same time the group that took responsibility for the raid on Benghazi, Ansar al-Shariah, called on Muslims to resist Western military operations in Mali.
The announcement released on an Egyptian website called on all Muslims to “quickly offer material and moral support for the Muslim Mali people.”
The announcement was written by Egyptian Salafist Jalaluddin Abu al Fotouh, who claimed France’s motive for their intervention was to prevent the spread of Shariah law.
In responding to Ansar al-Shariah’s call for jihad, Center for Security Policy Senior Fellow Clare Lopez said the French government needs to be concerned about a new wave of terrorist attacks on French soil in response to their assistance to the government in Mali.
Lopez said the Algerian gas-plant attack and Western intervention in Mali have only emboldened jihadists.
“I am concerned this is just the beginning for jihadist forces in Africa,” Lopez said.
“U.S. and NATO intervention in the Libyan revolt on the side of al-Qaida and also U. S. support for the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt, tore the lid off the situation across the region,” Lopez said.
Lopez says that news of AQIM’s call for more attacks and Fotouh’s call for jihad should come as no surprise. However Lopez believes the call for more attacks has a very focused purpose.
“They are determined to achieve the blind sheikh’s release, which I do not think is completely out of the question for this administration of ours,” Lopez said referring to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.
“The whole raid was specifically geared to obtaining the release of the blind sheikh, which I still think was the original al-Qaida-Muslim Brotherhood plan for last September 11,” Lopez said.
“Recall the permanent protest encampment outside the U. S. Embassy in Cairo and the interview Nicholas Kristof did with al-Zawahiri’s brother, and the online demands from the main groups until the YouTube video fell into their laps and changed their focus, if only temporarily,” Lopez said.
“However, the blind sheikh remains in a U.S. prison,” Lopez said.
Lopez added that the Amenas natural gas plant was chosen for its economic and political value.
“Think how many Westerners work at all the various isolated gas and oil plants scattered all over the North African desert,” Lopez said.
While the Amenas natural gas plant operation resulted in the deaths of the 29 terrorists involved, Rubin said al-Qaida believes the raid was a success.
“Even if their initial goal was to collect ransom and have a weeks-long hostage crisis to draw out the media, they became the top story internationally, and they crave publicity,” Rubin said.
“In addition, the terror leaders didn’t conduct the attack themselves: It’s always easy to claim success when someone else dies besides you,” Rubin said.
Lopez believes that while the raid and hostage situation didn’t achieve the blind sheikh’s release, it emboldened AQIM.
“So, while the Algerian operation was not successful in transporting many hostages away from the gas plant in order to hold them to ransom or trade for the blind sheikh, they certainly did capture global attention and focus it on their demands and their capabilities,” Lopez said.
“They showed the world their formidable training, pre-planning, and infiltration of the BP gas plant that preceded the operation, even though they didn’t achieve the release of the blind sheikh,” Lopez said.
A former CIA station chief who asked not to be identified for security reasons says that the terrorists achieved one major objective.
“Muslims believe if they try they are successful, whether their objective is achieved or not. It is the fact of trying that is important, not in actually succeeding,” the former station chief said.
“That (success) is up to Allah, however, it was hugely successful from the Muslim point of view,” the former station chief said.
The former station chief says that when evaluating any Islamic terrorist operation, whether it’s a natural gas plant or attempts to capture a whole nation, one major point needs to be remembered.
“The whole reason for the existence of Islam is to conquer the world. Al-Qaida and all of the other armed Islamic groups are simply the Ummah’s military,” the former station chief said.