The al-Qaida affiliate in North Africa seeks to carry out more attacks on other Western targets in the region — emboldened by its attack this month on a natural gas complex in Algeria that killed 38 employees, including three Americans, senior U.S. intelligence officials said on Thursday.
A senior U.S. intelligence official said that information obtained since the Jan. 16 Algerian raid indicated that “what we have seen is intelligence suggesting a desire to carry out more attacks,” The Washington Post reports
But the official told The Post that no specific, credible attack was being planned — saying only that the al-Qaida activity was broad and “aspirational.”
However, Fox News reports that other senior intelligence officials said that such planning involved “hardened” targets like diplomatic and military operations, as well as “soft” ones that could include American citizens working in North Africa.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) wants “to carry out more attacks against western interests,” officials told Fox.
Those officials also emphasized that no evidence of a definitive attack existed.
AQIM is among several militant groups in North Africa. It had been considered by U.S. counterterrorism officials as among the network’s weakest links, Fox reports.
U.S. officials told Fox that despite their focus on Western targets, the North Africa networks remain mainly a regional threat.
They could be prodded by al-Qaeda to seek ways to carry out attacks in the United States, but “most of these groups have no capacity to do that,” the senior U.S. intelligence official said.
The assessments by the U.S. intelligence officials were the most detailed provided to date on the attack in Algeria at the natural gas plant operated in part by BP, Fox reports. Three American workers were among the 38 hostages taken — all of whom were later killed.
Meanwhile, senior U.S. intelligence officials told The Post that they were “taking very seriously reports of two Canadians” who participated in the Algerian raid.
If confirmed, the reports would provide evidence that extremist groups in the region were able to attract foreigners — as Afghanistan did before 9/11, and as Iraq did after Saddam Hussein fell, The Post reports.
In her congressional testimony on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to hint at such, The Post reports.
“Yes, we now face a spreading jihadist threat,” she said in her testimony. “We have driven a lot of the [al-Qaida] operatives out of . . . Afghanistan, Pakistan. Killed a lot of them, including of course, bin Laden. But we have to recognize this is a global movement.”
However, the senior intelligence officials told The Post that Mokhtar Belmokhtar — who was thought to have split from AQIM in December by organizing his own group — is the regional operative “most closely associated with the al-Qaida global brand.”
The officials told The Post that Belmokhtar was “deeply involved in the planning” of the Algerian crisis.
The raid is still under investigation, but intelligence information suggests that “weeks” of planning were involved, including reconnaissance and obtaining familiarity with the plant’s security operations, The Post reports.
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