EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

January 22, 2013

Column: U.S. can't ignore North Africa's troubles

The Islamic radicals who have conquered large tracts of Mali were not long in expressing their ultimate aims. They plan on “globalizing the conflict,” according to one of their commanders, now that they have a secure base in northern Mali to operate from.

A hurried infusion of French troops seems to have stabilized the situation, stopping the radicals’ march toward Mali’s capital and its more populated and prosperous south.

They liberated one town and surrounded another rebel-held town in central Mali.

However, the world quickly got a taste of what is in store if the radical Islamists are left unmolested to establish their own state.

A heavily armed column, loyal to a breakaway al-Qaida warlord, entered Algeria and overran a remote natural gas plant Wednesday and took a large number of hostages.

Soon enough, the demands began coming: Foreign troops were to leave Mali and the United States was to release several terrorists, including Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheikh” convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

On Thursday, the Algerian military forces retook the facility amid heavy gunfire.

Roughly 650 people were able to leave the site, according to Algeria’s state-run news agency, which has tightly controlled information. They include 573 Algerians and most of the 132 foreigners reportedly singled out as hostages.

According to preliminary reports, most of those hostages were freed but around 30 were killed in the rescue attempt. Dozens still may be in the radicals’ custody.

This hostage situation could be a one-off raid or, worse, it could be the start of a pattern from radical jihadis operating from a safe haven.

The mastermind of the Algerian raid is said to be a career Islamic radical, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who is still smarting from being passed over for the top job in al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

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