Al-Qaida is growing and gaining support in Africa by supplying food and medical aid to local communities.
It is raising concerns among Western governments, which fear the terror group poses new threats to global security.
The news comes one week after U.S. lawmakers issued a warning that Islamist terror sects in western Africa pose a realistic threat to national security.
The warning also clarified that terror sects in Africa do not likely possess the means to carry out any plots on U.S. soil or its assets.
While al-Qaida continues to be flushed out of the Middle East, nations in the Sahara like Niger, Sudan, Libya and especially Mali are becoming hotbeds for al-Qaida operatives.
The new evolution of the international terror group is called Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM carries out suicide bombings and attacks just as the previous incarnation of al-Qaida did, but operates in an area that cultivates growth.
That growth is cultivated in the form of fair trade and aid. Though many Muslims in the region reject the fundamental Islam practiced by AQIM, many communities accept gifts, medical aid and payment from the group.
In Mali, residents told reporters that AQIM members arrive in rural communities in Land Rovers and ask for water or other goods. Children are sometimes given candy bars and adults are sometimes given up to $20 – about half of an average Malian’s monthly paycheck – in exchange.
AQIM members are known to arrive in town with medical supplies and ask if anyone is sick.
AQIM officials do not bring up the topic of religion when it first meets rural communities. According to residents, it is not until at least the third meeting between AQIM members and any one person before the group introduces fundamentalist ideas.
If a townsperson refuses to hear the words of an AQIM member, he or she is free to walk away unmolested.
The group reportedly follows the advice of former al-Qaida head Osama bin Laden, who told members to be “like oxygen” to townspeople, a message that includes offering top price for livestock and feed, practicing non-violence and taking only what is offered.
The relative benevolence towards rural communities should not muddy international perception of the terror sect, the U.S. warned in a Congressional report.
In Mali, where AQIM is arguably at its healthiest, concerns that the government is aiding the terror sect are growing. After AQIM was tipped off to a potential attack planned by Mali and neighboring Mauritania, the Mauritian government claimed Mali had warned the terrorists.
Mali, of course, denied the claim, citing a steadfast commitment to snuff out the rising influence of AQIM.
The Canadian government sent forces to train Malian soldiers last week in what the country is calling a global fight against AQIM. The deployment comes after months of kidnappings executed by AQIM in the area – a tactic employed to secure large sums of money from Western governments.
More than $130 million has been raised by kidnapping 50 Westerners since 2006.
The greatest indicator that AQIM will continue to gain influence is the inability to supply aid to large parts of countries in the Saharan region.
While Western governments target regimes that support terrorists, Islamist terror groups like AQIM and Nigeria’s Boko Haram are targeting rural communities over a large area of land that are often neglected by advocacy groups and their own governments.
The neglect is the result of a combination of remoteness and the danger to Westerners and government officials presented by AQIM and other terror sects.