It’s being hailed as a key success in the fight against al-Qaeda: a determined Algerian clampdown that has pulled the teeth from one of the terror network’s deadliest offshoots and could be a model for elsewhere.
Six years after joining the Osama bin Laden franchise, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — known by its acronym AQIM — appears to have been neutralized in the nation where it originated and made its name, officials and experts say, corralled into a remote mountain area and reduced to occasional pinprick shootings against soldiers.
Most experts agree there remain just a few hundred combatants holed up in Algeria’s Kabylie mountains. The once-feared terror force appears further than ever from its goal of creating an Islamic state in Algeria. Its failure is even more striking compared to the success of AQIM’s southern offshoot, which recently allied itself with rebel Tuaregs in northern Mali and appears on the brink of establishing a hardline Islamic state in the little-governed wastelands of the Sahel region.
Without the Algerian military to contend with, the southern offshoot has flourished in an empty lawless region of smugglers in the Sahara desert and nearby Sahel, much the way other al-Qaeda franchises took root in the hinterlands of Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.