As the United States and its NATO allies begin the process of the 2014 pull out of troops from Afghanistan, President Obama and his counterparts in Europe should turn their attention to North Africa, where terrorist activity by Islamic extremists is on the rise.
Not only are western economic interests at stake, but the extremists are be drawn from around the world, as last week’s violent takeover of the Ain Amenas gas plant in Algeria revealed.
The 32 militants from around the world, including two from Canada, took hundreds of foreign and Algerian workers hostage, according to the McClatchy-Tribune news service.
One group of terrorists traveled hundreds of miles from Mali, where the government is battling radical Islamists with the help of French military.
At least 37 people were killed during a full-scale military operation ordered by Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal after the extremists threatened to blow up the gas plant. Twenty-nine terrorists were also killed and three were captured.
The Islamists came from Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, the prime minister said in a televised address.
Among the victims were three Americans, Victor Lynn Lovelady, Gordon Lee Rowan and Frederick Buttaccio; three Britons, with four others missing; and others from Japan, Norway, the Philippines, France, Malaysia and Colombia.
In other words, the extremists’ were striking a blow against the international community, and not just trying to punish Algeria for allowing French military aircraft to fly through its airspace on their way to Mali.
Algeria’s military response was necessary because it had become clear the hostage-takers had no intention of letting anyone live. Their goal was to strike a blow for the terror movement, which they did.
The Algerian government conducted negotiations, but the extremists, who had booby-trapped the gas plant in the desert, “went wild with their demands … which caused the military to intervene,” the prime minister said.
The Algerian government is being criticized by some countries whose citizens were held hostage for launching the attack without notifying and consulting with them.
However, given Algeria’s bloody history with terrorists, Prime Minister Sellal took the only action that could have prevented the wholesale slaughter of the hostages.
Rather than being criticized for taking on the terrorists, the Algerian government should be praised for its aggressive stance against this scourge.
The U.S. and its allies need to recognize that al-Qaida cells still exist throughout the world, even though the terror group’s top leadership, including Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 1, 2001, terrorist attack on America’s homeland, has been eliminated.
The military invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 which topped the Taliban extremist government, along with America’s drone attacks aimed at terrorists hiding in the mountain region of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, have made that part of the world uncomfortable for groups like al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Africa, on the other hand, is an easy target. Industrialized nations, including the U.S., have a lot at stake, given their financial interests in the vast oil and gas reserves and in other natural resources.
The West must not permit Islamic extremists to operate at will in north Africa. To do so would open the door to many more attacks on facilities with large contingents of foreign workers, including Americans.