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Qaeda presence a new threat to Europe

While Europe's latest terror threat stems from militants in Pakistan, a potentially greater menace lies just across the Mediterranean: Well-organised and financed Islamic terrorists from al-Qaeda’s North African offshoot.

world Updated: Oct 11, 2010 01:52 IST

While Europe's latest terror threat stems from militants in Pakistan, a potentially greater menace lies just across the Mediterranean: Well-organised and financed Islamic terrorists from al-Qaeda’s North African offshoot.

Over the last month alone, the group has been accused of seizing five French nationals and two Africans from a mining town in Niger, part of its effort to make millions by kidnapping Europeans and getting ransoms. It is also blamed for a truck bombing last Saturday in Algeria that left five soldiers dead.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) effectively rules a wide, lawless swath of the Sahara and is trying to overthrow Algeria's government. It's active online and media-savvy, and has the globally recognised al-Qaeda brand name. It has also sparked arrests in Spain and France.

The question now is how far it has the will and means to turn its anger on Europe.

French and US counterintelligence officials suggest AQIM's logistics and networks aren’t yet mature enough to stage an attack on a European capital, but say it's a broad and constant threat. France's prime minister said Friday the group is in touch with fellow fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US military is worried enough that it trains African armies to resist AQIM.

"For years, I've said this — and we've known — that AQIM has capabilities to project outwards outside of Africa. ... It's just that no one understands the dynamics from Europe to Africa and back to Afghanistan," said Rudolph Atallah, retired from his post as Africa Counterterrorism Director in the office of the US Secretary of Defense. “Can AQIM carry out an attack in Europe? Yeah, I think so."