Middle East Notes and Comment: Al Qaeda's Offspring
March 14, 2013
Even after the death of Osama bin Laden, jihadists in North Africa have stayed in the news. In May 2012, jihadists declared an Islamic state in northern Mali, ultimately prompting a French military intervention in January 2013. In the same month, a high-profile attack at an Algerian gas plant killed nearly 40 foreign workers. Jihadists continue to draw vulnerable young men and will pose a challenge for the foreseeable future.
Yet, the more strategic threat facing North Africa is not headline-grabbing atrocities of isolated groups of extremist militants. Rather, it is the emergence of groups that blend violent Islamism with social activism. This approach is only sporadically violent, and it is finding broad appeal. Such activists are woven into society and can be quickly mobilized. They threaten to undermine fragile governments and radicalize publics. A large mass of adherents that occasionally use violence is ultimately more destabilizing to states than a hardened group of militants camped out in the desert.