When it comes to the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States and other nations that preach religious tolerance there’s a new name to keep in mind, Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
The State Department reported the other day that Belmokhtar appears to have become more dangerous even as his longtime ties to Al Qaeda have apparently become more tenuous.
“We are seeing a dangerous mutation of the threat,” Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, observed. “Splinters can become even more consequential than their parent organization.”
Al Qaeda my no longer pose quite the threat it once did, but clearly the need for vigilance remains unchanged. Americans may believe that when it comes to protecting ourselves from the disciples of Osama bin Laden we’ve come a long way from 9/11, yet the United States remains despised by many jihadists who are willing and ready to back up their convictions with action.
And let’s face it, although there’s an argument to be made in their favor, the toll our side’s hated drone attacks have taken among innocent civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan has done nothing to win friends and influence people in these volatile parts of the world.
But it is in North Africa where Belmokhtar has carried out several headline-grabbing attacks against Western targets.
The New York Times reported Thursday that in the 1990s Belmokhtar joined a militant group in Mali, one of Africa’s current hot spots, and was involved in smuggling and kidnaping for ransom, including the abduction of a Canadian diplomat in 2008.
In January, he is believed to have led an attack on a gas plant in Algeria that cost 38 civilians, including three Americans, their lives. Four months later, his group carried out attacks in Niger that killed at least 20 people, the State Department said.
In August, his faction and other West African extremists announced that they were forming a new group, Al Murabitoun, which the State Department declared “concerns us more than any other in the region.”
Belmokhtar is now the leader of Al Mulathameen Battalion, which the State Department officially designated a foreign terrorist organization this week.
By designating the organization as a foreign terrorist group the United States is legally entitled to take legal action against it. For example, it could arrest individuals in this country who provide “material support” and seize the group’s assets in American-based banks.
The designation, however, does not authorize military action. Rather it functions as a form of diplomatic pressure on other nations to follow Washington’s example and take similar steps to impede the group and its supporters.
Few Americans would favor military action at this time, so the absence of such authorization is not a major concern. But every American — perhaps with the exception of any homegrown jihadists in our midst — want Washington to remain vigilant and that means we’re all expected to be aware that the threat of terrorism has become a grim constant in our 21st century lives.
And speaking of homegrown jihadists, the CBS Evening News this week aired an interview with a militant Islamist who casually — he was actually smiling — assured the network’s reporter not only that there will be further suicide attacks against chosen targets — he was referring in particular to the civil war in Syria — but that there were many young men in his group who had grown up in the United States.
Osama bin Laden may be ancient history by now, but there are no signs that the extremist elements promoting a rigid, intolerant form of Islam have put aside their bloody cause.
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