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Distant but dangerous

The battle between an al-Qaeda affiliate and Algerian security forces over a natural gas facility is a reminder that the acolytes of Osama bin Laden are not limited to west and south Asia.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2013 23:17 IST

The battle between an al-Qaeda affiliate and Algerian security forces over a natural gas facility is a reminder that the acolytes of Osama bin Laden are not limited to west and south Asia. The Algerian events were themselves a response to the Franco-African military attempt to avert a takeover of Mali by another coalition of Islamicist militants. On the other side of Africa, a multinational force has been fighting to dislodge another al-Qaeda affiliate, Al Shabab, from southern Somalia. This struggle, in turn, is linked to a long-standing al-Qaeda battle for control of Yemen, a country that has replaced Pakistan as the primary theatre of operations for US drones.

How close these various groups are to the original al-Qaeda is a matter of debate. The Yemen group has long been a full-fledged member. The Algerian group Signatories in Blood can claim only inspiration. What they seem to have in common is a belief in violent militancy, a political environment that gives them recruits, and ambitions to control a country - normally one that would attract the label of failing or failed. Such groups have existed before, but al-Qaeda's model has made them a lot more dangerous than before. What differentiated Osama bin Laden from his predecessors was his vision of terrorism as both messianic - in other words, not tied to any realistic political goal - and international. The Algerian terrorists seem to have had a range of nationalities in their ranks. France was alarmed by the Mali groups in part because some of its own citizens were joining their ranks.

All of this, put together, means that if these groups are able to hold territory they would automatically create havens for Islamicist terrorists of all shapes and colours. Since the fall of Afghanistan, such militants have sought other such bases for themselves. Which is why India should pay attention to these far-off events. Many of these groups, like Bin Laden, list India as among their primary targets and would welcome terrorists who had India in their sights. Somalia and Yemen are on the Indian Ocean littoral. Mali and Algeria may seem far off, but the Bin Laden legacy means they are places whose conquest by terror cannot be ignored, least of all by India.