EUCOM Deputy: Al Qaeda 'Has An Interest In North Africa'
By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, March 9, 2004 – Al Qaeda operatives flushed out of Afghanistan and other locales have likely cast their eyes on the continent of Africa as a source for new recruits and funding, a senior U.S. military officer said March 8.
"There has, without a doubt, been some al Qaeda presence in portions of North Africa," Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald told reporters during a roundtable discussion at the State Department's Foreign Press Center here.
Wald, the deputy commander for U.S. European Command, noted to reporters he'd recently returned from an 11-nation trip to Africa. EUCOM's area of responsibility extends from the North Cape of Norway, through the waters of the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, most of Europe, parts of the Middle East, to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Wald pointed to Algeria as a potential terrorist hot spot, noting that that nation has been fighting terrorist insurgents for years.
For example, he related that an Algerian terrorist group had announced about four months ago that it was associated with al Qaeda. "Now, whether al Qaeda has agreed to that or not, we don't know," Wald remarked. But, he pointed out, the Algerian group "made the statement they want to be associated with al Qaeda."
Successful U.S.-coalition military, financial and other campaigns waged against al Qaeda have taken their toll, Wald pointed out, noting the terrorist network "has been disrupted quite a bit."
However, he emphasized that al Qaeda isn't dead.
"They're not gone. We know that," the four-star general acknowledged. "But," he added, "it's been more difficult for them to operate."
Having been kicked out of previous havens like Afghanistan, Wald said al Qaeda is probably marketing itself to disaffected elements in the world community – to include those in Africa.
"They're out franchising different organizations" to help them bolster their numbers, Wald pointed out.
Al Qaeda, Wald said, also has an interest in other parts of Africa. Some West African nations, he pointed out, have limited ability to govern isolated areas, or to monitor and stop gun-running and drug and people trafficking. Profits derived from those illicit activities, he noted, can be used to fund terrorist organizations. The terror organization also has been interested in African diamond smuggling "as a funding source," the general noted.
Wald said Al Qaeda is simply looking "for other places that are conducive for them to operate in." North Africa is a huge area that's very difficult to control militarily, he pointed out, noting the United States -- in partnership with its African allies -- can "help with that."
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