European official: Al Qaeda threat in northern Africa 'spreading'
A photo taken on September 21, 2012 shows a group of armed Islamists gathered in Gao, the biggest city in northern Mali now under the control of armed Islamist groups. AFP/Getty Images
October 3rd, 2012
06:20 PM ET

European official: Al Qaeda threat in northern Africa 'spreading'

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.

U.S. gathers information about possible targets in Libya
October 2nd, 2012
07:07 PM ET

U.S. gathers information about possible targets in Libya

By Barbara Starr

U.S. intelligence and the Pentagon have begun assembling preliminary information about potential targets and militant personnel in Libya that could be struck if President Barack Obama ordered such action.

A senior U.S. official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information, confirmed details to CNN, noting the United States would likely seek cooperation from Libya before launching any military strike.

Some of the details were first reported by the New York Times.

The stepped up effort is in response to the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

House GOP wants State Dept. to answer for Libya security

U.S. intelligence has said it believes the attack was "a deliberate and organized terrorist assault carried out by extremists" affiliated or sympathetic with al Qaeda.

CNN reported previously that U.S. drones have been collecting intelligence in eastern Libya for weeks, and that American intelligence agencies are eavesdropping and intercepting suspected insurgent communications. FULL POST

Intel quickly saw signs of al Qaeda links in consulate attack
September 27th, 2012
01:07 PM ET

Intel quickly saw signs of al Qaeda links in consulate attack

By Barbara Starr

Within a day or so of the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya earlier this month, the U.S. intelligence community began to gather information suggesting it was the work of extremists either affiliated with al Qaeda groups or inspired by them, a senior U.S. official told CNN Thursday.

"We started to get a strong sense of it," the official said. He declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the information.

A law enforcement source told CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend that this was the understanding of the intelligence community within 24-hours after the attack on September 11.

"The law enforcement source ... said to me, from day one we had known clearly that this was a terrorist attack," Townsend said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" Wednesday night.

The efforts by al Qaeda, especially the Mali-based al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), to extend its reach into Libya and elsewhere has been of concern to the United States. FULL POST

Lessons of the Counterterror Campaign in the Digital Age (Opinion)
Abdelmalek Droukdel, leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), with his fighters in Mali
July 4th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Lessons of the Counterterror Campaign in the Digital Age (Opinion)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of opinion articles about national security by participants in the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 25-28 in Aspen, Colorado.

Philip Mudd served as the FBI’s deputy director for national security and, prior to that, spent most of his career at the Central Intelligence Agency. He held various positions and was eventually named the deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Mudd is now a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation.

The counterterror campaign has evolved markedly during the past decade, from the centrally-directed al Qaeda plots of 9/11 through the rise of affiliated organizations in Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia and, now, to the homegrown phenomenon in the United States and elsewhere. In each of these cases, the combination of effective counterterror operations and broad rejection of al Qaedaist ideology has hollowed the threat: al Qaeda’s core is struggling; with few exceptions (the Sahel, for example), affiliates are either in remission (Indonesia) or suffering serious setbacks (Somalia and Yemen); and homegrowns are prolific in number but limited in the strategic threat they pose. Meanwhile, with economic setbacks across the world, the rise of China, and questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions, questions unrelated to the al Qaedaist threat of the first decade of this century are appropriately crowding out counterterrorism in the national security arena.

The lessons of how U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement developed tactics during this long campaign, though, likely will be more enduring. Like international terror groups, emerging threats - organized crime, drug cartels, human trafficking groups, and child pornography rings - have common characteristics. All are led by a central cadre (a leadership network) of criminals who communicate, travel, and manage finances. Increasingly, each of these elements that make up organized networks is trackable through the digital trails that we all leave behind during everyday life, from bank transactions to e-mail and other messaging traffic on the Internet. And these are the same types of trails that U.S. security entities so successfully tracked during the counterterror campaign and the effort against foreign-fighter networks in Iraq and Pakistan/Afghanistan. FULL POST

Time to declare victory:  al Qaeda is defeated (Opinion)
June 27th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Time to declare victory: al Qaeda is defeated (Opinion)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of opinion articles about national security by participants in the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 25-28 in Aspen, Colorado.

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst

To end World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin demanded an unconditional surrender from the Nazis.  But there will be no such surrender from al Qaeda. The group is not a state that is capable of entering into such an agreement, even if it wanted to do so, which seems highly unlikely.

So we are left with a choice:  We can continue fighting al Qaeda indefinitely and remain in a permanent state of quasi-war, as has already been the case for more than a decade now.

Or we can declare victory against the group and move on to focus on the essential challenges now facing America, notably the country's sputtering economy, but also containing a rising China, managing the rogue regime in North Korea, continuing to delay Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, and - to the extent feasible - helping to direct the maturation of the Arab Spring. FULL POST

May 3rd, 2012
10:42 AM ET

The Osama bin Laden documents

Scores of pages of al Qaeda documents seized in last year's U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden were released Thursday.

They comprise 175 pages in the original Arabic of letters and drafts from bin Laden and other key al Qaeda figures, including the American Adam Gadahn and Abu Yahya al-Libi.

Throughout the day, Security Clearance will be posting new stories here

The Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, published the papers on its website.  Here are the center's brief description of the documents. You can click the links for the English translations: FULL POST

Al Qaeda in northern Africa an "afterthought" no more
Armed youth in AQIM video released in 2011
February 1st, 2012
07:34 PM ET

Al Qaeda in northern Africa an "afterthought" no more

By Joe Sterling

A terrorist peril that's notorious in Africa and Europe but less publicly well known in the United States may wreak havoc in the coming year, warns the top senator on intelligence matters.

The terror group, an al Qaeda affiliate in northern Africa known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was singled out by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who chairs the Senate's intelligence committee.

"For the past few years, AQIM has been almost an afterthought when discussing the terrorist threat. This may be about to change," she said on Tuesday during a hearing.

A report issued by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ahead of the intelligence committee hearing made brief reference to AQIM when discussing al Qaeda's regional affiliates. Feinstein said the intelligence community needs to be ready to tackle the militant movement.

January 20th, 2012
10:41 AM ET

What might Boko Haram do?

From Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Raffaello Pantucci is an associate fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming "We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen" (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

After an explosive festive season that spilled into the New Year and growing stories of increased connections to other regional networks, Nigerian group Boko Haram is likely to be one of the main focuses of attention for counter terrorism experts in this coming year.

While definitively predicting whether it is going to metastasize into a global threat, or remain a regional one, is something dependent on many variable factors, some lessons from other regional violent Islamist networks can be drawn to understand better the general direction Boko Haram is going in.

Three groups are particularly useful to look at: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, al Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). All three are groups that have a clear globalist violent Islamist rhetoric and varying degrees of connectivity with al Qaeda core in Pakistan. FULL POST

Al Qaeda links to Nigerian terror group
Rescue workers evacuate injured from U.N. building bombed in Abuja, Nigeria Photo By: AFP/Getty Images
September 23rd, 2011
05:06 PM ET

Al Qaeda links to Nigerian terror group

By Sr. National Security Producer Pam Benson

A deadly bombing in Abuja has launched a little-known Islamic extremist group onto the terrorism radar, raising U.S. officials' concern about the spread of the influence of al Qaeda.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack at a U.N. facility in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, that killed 23 people last month.

It was a departure from the group's recent campaign of assassinations and bombings aimed at government targets. The group's stated goal is the implementation of a strict form of Islamic law - sharia - in the predominantly Muslim states of Northern Nigeria.

Now some U.S. military officials are looking at the car bombing as a possible new calling card.

"We're seeing some degree of cross-pollination" between al Qaeda affiliates, said one of two U.S. defense officials who recently briefed reporters at the Pentagon. "When you see a group like Boko Haram, which is focused internally, use a car bomb the way they did, it's a capability they clearly got from (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)." Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, commonly referred to as AQIM, is based in North Africa.

Officials also point to statements made by the group indicating some of its people were trained in Somalia, where the terrorist group al-Shabaab operates. One of the suspects in the U.N. attack had reportedly been in Somalia.

Although the attack against the United Nations is the first time Boko Haram has hit a Western target, U.S. officials are worried the group could be aided by al Qaeda in a quest to threaten other Western interests in Nigeria and beyond.

Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, recently told reporters that there is evidence that Boko Haram, AQIM and al-Shabaab are trying to form an alliance to coordinate attacks against the West. FULL POST

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