Washington: Senior US intelligence officials have confirmed that al Qaeda affiliate in North Africa is aspiring to strike more US and other western targets in Mali.
The officials said that terrorists could strike ‘hardened’ targets such as diplomatic and military facilities, as well as ‘soft’ targets, such as American citizens working in North Africa.
The warning comes after the deadly terrorist strike on an Algeria gas plant in which dozens of hostages, including three Americans, were killed, Fox News reports.
Senior US intelligence officials said that in the aftermath of the Algeria crisis, the intelligence suggests al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb wants ‘to carry out more attacks against western interests’.
According to the report, senior US intelligence officials also said they are ‘taking very seriously reports of two Canadians’ participating in the Algeria hostage crisis because, if confirmed, it would show extremists in the region were successfully attracting foreigners in the same way Afghanistan did before 9/11, and Iraq did after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Available intelligence suggests, according to senior US intelligence officials, that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who seemed to split from Qaeda in North Africa in December when he set up his own group, is the regional operative ‘most closely associated with the Qaeda global brand,’ the report said.
Belmokhtar was characterized as ‘deeply involved in the planning’ of the hostage crisis at the Amenas gas facility that left 38 workers dead earlier this month.
While the attack is still being investigated, the Algerian operation suggested ‘weeks’ of planning was involved, including reconnaissance and familiarity with the security footprint in the plant.
At the same time al Qaeda in North Africa seems to be gaining momentum, senior US intelligence officials said that striking strong counterterrorism partnerships in the region is challenging, as the US is facing an arc of instability stretching from Somalia in the east to Mali in West Africa, the report added.