Following a four-day long hostage crisis that ended Jan. 19 in Algeria, there are rising concerns over an increase of terrorist activity coming out of North Africa. The situation started when a group of Islamist extremists from Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Niger, Canada, Egypt and Mauritania struck a natural gas plant near the Libyan border with pickup trucks and took the employees of the plant hostage. They then planted several explosives throughout the building and placed demands in exchange for the hostages’ release which were seen as unreasonable to Algeria’s prime minister. The attack caused the death of 37 hostages from Colombia, Japan, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.
Islamist militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar has said that he is responsible for taking of the hostages, claiming the event was retaliation against the Algerian government for letting France use its airspace to launch attacks against other militants in Mali. However, most analysts believe that it is unlikely that this plan was put into place in a short period of time; rather, it was probably planned over the course of several months.
The group involved in the hostage crisis is known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and started fighting for anti-government causes in Algeria in the 1990s. Through the years, the forces expanded through Algeria and into Mali as well as other countries in North Africa. Poverty, high unemployment rates and po
litical instability due to lack of resources and raging crime has led to higher recruitments to AQIM in the past few years. Within the last two years, al-Qaida has moved from Afghanistan and Pakistan due to the many drone strikes aimed toward radical Islamists and has shifted its focus to North Africa. Furthermore, a surge in government take downs has also contributed to AQIM’s power. Egypt, Mali, Tunisia and Mauritania have all experienced coups recently.
In addition, the recent fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s tyranny in Libya is considered a “tipping point in AQIM’s emergence as a global threat,” according to MSNBC. Libya has been central to the rise of AQIM as well, due to the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi in September that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The two events have led to a weaker government, and have allowed the expansion of the militant group.
Belmokhtar, the head of the attack on the gas plant, is known for raising millions of dollars through cigarette smuggling and kidnapping. Two years ago, the AQIM earned more than $17 million in ransom money by kidnapping people from Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. AQIM has declared that a political agreement that will force French forces out of Mali will end the violence they have caused. North African governments have agreed to this, but French president Françoise Hollande refuses to leave Mali as long as Africa is plagued by terrorism. However, Belmoktar is in hiding once more and difficult to find. In fact, French officials call him “the uncatchable,” according to CNN. Overall, it is readily apparent that the violence in North Africa won’t be ending anytime soon.
Information from MSNBC was used in this article.