The growing strength of extremist groups across the Middle East and Africa has led the Obama Administration to begin a classified review of just who it can go after under its targeted killing program.
The current congressional authorization to use military force, allows the President to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against any persons or organizations involved in planning or carrying out the September 11th attacks–its been interpreted to include al Qaeda affiliates.
But emerging terrorist groups sympathetic to al Qaeda do not necessarily have a direct link to the core Al Qaeda network responsible for the September 11th attack, CNN's Barbara Starr reports.
By Barbara Starr
The Obama administration is still searching through incoming intelligence reports to look for specific evidence to confirm that jihadist Moktar Belmoktar was killed in a raid by Chad military on a jihadist base in northeastern Mali, a senior U.S. official tells CNN.
"We don't have enough evidence to support the claim" made by Chad, the official said. But he emphasized the U.S. is taking it seriously and "not dismissing it out of hand."
"We want to have a level of certainty about it before we say it’s true, and we are not there yet," the official said.
He emphasized the U.S. will be looking at the broadest range of intelligence information it can to try to verify Belmoktar's death. "We'll be looking at things you can't even think of," he said. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr
U.S. officials believe extremists across northern Africa, emboldened by the terror attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria, are growing more daring.
A senior American intelligence official tells CNN that "what we have seen is intelligence suggesting a desire to carry out more attacks" against western and U.S. interests in the region.
The United States is not aware of any specific threats, the official said.
But one of those believed to be plotting is Moktar Belmoktar, a veteran militant who has claimed responsibility for the attack this month on the BP facility in eastern Algeria that left at least 37 hostages dead.
By Paul Cruickshank
The deadly attack on the In Amenas gas facility in southern Algeria could herald a power struggle within al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which is fast becoming one of the most dangerous branches of the organization.
The attack was claimed by veteran Algerian jihadist Moktar Belmoktar, who last year was forced out of AQIM's leadership by its emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel. Their rivalry has been aggravated by geographic distance, disagreement over jihadist doctrine, and - above all - personal ambition. At one point, Droukdel tried to have Belmoktar assassinated, a former jihadist from the region told CNN.
The rift between them not only led Belmoktar to mastermind one of the most serious terrorist attacks in North Africa in years, but may also dictate the future course of jihad in the region, the sources say.
In September, Droukdel "fired" Belmoktar from the AQIM leadership, and he responded by setting up what one of his close associates described as a new trans-Saharan franchise of al Qaeda. Nearly all the men under his command were said to have followed Belmoktar out of AQIM.
In December, Belmoktar announced the formation of a new commando unit called "We Sign with Blood," and he promised attacks against Western interests in the region and the home soil of Western countries if an operation was launched against jihadists in northern Mali.
The name of the new commando unit was first used by a unit of an Algerian militant outfit that hijacked a French airliner in 1994, according to Camille Tawil, a Lebanese expert on al Qaeda. FULL POST
By Tim Lister
Much of the focus of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday was on whether her department failed to appreciate and respond to the risks that led to the Benghazi attack - and whether it had the resources to confront such risks.
And, of course, on whether in the immediate aftermath, the administration characterized the attack candidly and accurately.
But the hearings also illustrated how the United States is scrambling to catch up with new realities in North Africa – and how it faces a long struggle in a new arena of instability.
Clinton acknowledged that “the Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region.”
Looking back to her confirmation as secretary of state four years ago, Clinton said, “I don’t think anybody thought [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak would be gone, [Libya’s Moammar] Gadhafi would be gone, [Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali would be gone.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
By Raffaello Pantucci, Special for CNN
At this still inconclusive stage it is difficult to know exactly what the aim of the groups involved in the attack on the gas installation in Algeria was. Did they truly want to ransom the hostages they took or massacre them, and was money or punishment to the Algerian or French government’s the driving motivation? What is clear is that the incident has immediately captured international attention, highlighting again how terrorism continues to be a tool that can be used by groups to bring focus to their causes. The deadly operation itself further highlights the direction that we are likely to see Islamist terrorism continue to go in over the next few years.
What seems clear is that the operation was conducted by a group of jihadist fighters under the command of Moktar Belmokhtar, a longtime fighter-criminal who had recently broken away from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to form a separate unit that was aligned with the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). Reports seem to suggest that Belmokhtar is likely somewhere in the region of Gao, a city in eastern Mali that has recently been targeted by French forces as they seek to reclaim the country from Islamist extremists.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. remains "deeply concerned" about the hostages still in danger at a gas field in Algeria. And she's already expressed her condolences to the families of those who have died.
But how many are dead and how many survived still isn't known, CNN’s Jill Dougherty reports.
By Barbara Starr
The post-Benghazi controversy over who was responsible for that attack in Libya is now reaching into internal Obama administration deliberations over how much to say about the terrorist attack in Algeria.
U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, were quick to call the kidnapping a terrorist attack, but the administration has resisted discussing details about what elements are directly involved.
A senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest intelligence tells CNN that although "intelligence is streaming in" from Algeria, the administration will not come to a firm conclusion what specific elements of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are responsible until it has a higher level of certainty than currently exists.
Just how gun-shy is the U.S. intelligence community about stating its conclusions on Algeria?
By Chris Lawrence
The United States military could provide logistical and intelligence support in the French effort against Islamist rebels in Mali, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.
The U.S. will "provide whatever assistance it can" as part of what Panetta said was the U.S. global efforts against al Qaeda.
"We have a responsibility to go after Al Qaida wherever they are. And we've gone after them in the FATA. We're going after them in Yemen and Somalia. And we have a responsibility to make sure that Al Qaida does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali," Panetta told reporters traveling with him to Europe.
By Jill Dougherty
Al Qaeda is determined to make the fragile African nation of Mali a safe haven, and the terrorist threat from the network's affiliate in that country, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, "is spreading while we speak," a senior European official said Wednesday.
"We know the hard way that if al Qaeda fighters have a free zone they'll try to attack us all over the place," the official said. "We consider AQIM the growing, and maybe the leading, threat against us."
The official's concerns echoed worries of American national security officials. The al Qaeda affiliate has gotten increased scrutiny after the recent deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. officials have said there are signs extremists responsible for the attack were affiliated with or inspired by AQIM.
The official, who spoke to reporters in Washington, compared Mali to Afghanistan under the Taliban, describing Mali as a "failed state." The official spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.