Middle East expert Walid Phares charged in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV that al-Qaida has not been weakened by the death of Osama bin laden, and in fact has “opened up more battlefields than ever before in Africa” and is “spreading” elsewhere.
“To say that the killing of bin Laden has weakened al-Qaida is not correct,” declared Phares, who is a special advisor on foreign policy and national security to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, though he was not speaking for the candidate in Monday’s interview. “On the ground, we see that al-Qaida is expanding in Yemen. Al-Qaida is growing much faster in Somalia. And it has opened more battlefields than ever before in Africa.”
Phares, who also is an advisor to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus of the U.S. Congress and to members of the European Parliament, pointed to al-Qaida activities in northern Nigeria and in northern Mali, where a militia has been operating with close ties to the terrorist organization.
Watch the exclusive interview here.
“Al-Qaida cells are spreading,” he insisted. “Al-Qaida is up and running. We don’t have a strategy yet to defend those societies from the most important weapon of al-Qaida — the ideology of al-Qaida.”
The author of “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East,” Phares’ also predicted that the election of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate as the next president of Egypt will “eventually” lead to the disintegration of the Camp David accords, which ended 30 years of hostilities between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
“That is going to cause a problem for United States foreign policy in the region at a time when we see the rise of Islamist militias in Libya, in Tunisia, but also in Gaza and the midst of a civil war in Syria,” explained Phares. “It’s going to be very complex, very difficult for the current administration — or for any new administration coming to Washington next year.”
Phares, who predicted many of the uprisings in the Middle East, accused the Obama administration of missing an opportunity to intervene in Syria.
“The Obama administration did not really address strategically the situation in Syria in 2011 when there was an opportunity — when the Assad regime was pretty much isolated, where there was a worldwide move on behalf of the international community to bring down the authoritarian regime,” he insisted.
“Now that we are in an election year in America it’s going to be very difficult for any president — including for the Obama administration — to wage a campaign a la Libya because the Iranian regime, the Hezbollah in Lebanon and many Iran/Iraqi leaders are going to be supportive of Assad.”
As in the case of Egypt, the Syrian people are mostly moderate, but they are being squeezed politically.
“It seems that as in Egypt, the liberal democracy supporters in Syria are now smashed between the Iranian Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Phares asserted, noting that Islamists are also part of the insurgency that has challenged the authoritarian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Partly due to the slow response of the United States and other western nations, Islamist militias and jihadists have now spread into Libya and Tunisia, he explained.
“What has happened specifically in Libya and in Tunisia — as we see it right now — is that in Libya the Islamist militias are taking over, are clashing with other armed groups inside Libya, and in Tunisia — the Islamic Ennahda Party and to the right — or to the extreme if I may say — you have Salafists — very extreme fundamentalist jihadists, are also making inroads.”
Phares predicted the continued rise of Islamists in Northern Africa. “Within the next weeks — I’d say even a few months from now — we’re going to see a very different landscape in North Africa, whereby Islamists are on the right, and civil society secular forces will be suppressed,” he said.
He believes that only a “strategic change” in U.S. policy may stop the spread of al-Qaida and other extremists in the region.
“It is going to be very difficult to fight the ideology of al-Qaida — and therefore fight al-Qaida — without having a massive change in United States foreign policy,” he charged.
Phares said that the U.S. must reach out to the youth, women, ethnic minorities, and intellectuals who oppose jihadism in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria.
“Unfortunately what we see right now is instead of partnering with them, we are going to be welcoming the Muslim Brotherhood,” he observed.
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