Osama bin Laden, thankfully, is history. But now we’re told that when it comes to the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies there’s a new name to keep in mind: Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
According to the State Department, Belmokhtar — he is also called Laaouar, or the One-Eyed, because he lost an eye while fighting against a Soviet-installed government in Afghanistan — appears to have become more dangerous even as his longtime ties to al- al-Qaida may have become more tenuous.
“We are seeing a dangerous mutation of the threat,” warned Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. “Splinters can become even more consequential than their parent organization.”
In short, although al-Qaida my no longer pose quite the threat it once did, the need for vigilance remains unchanged — something to be considered as the National Security Agency is being pressured to scale back its surveillance efforts.
That would be dangerous.
Americans may feel, with justification, that we’ve come a long way from 9/11. But the fact is the United States continues to be despised by many jihadists who are willing and ready to back up their convictions with action.
According to The New York Times, Belmokhtar left Afghanistan and returned to Algeria in the 1990s then joined a militant group in Mali, where he was involved in smuggling and kidnapping for ransom, including the abduction of a Canadian diplomat in 2008.
Last year, he left that group to become the leader of the Al Mulathameen Battalion, which the State Department designated a foreign terrorist organization on Dec. 18.
Belmokhtar has carried out several headline-grabbing attacks against Western interests.
For example, in January he led an attack on a gas plant in Algeria that cost 38 civilians, including three Americans, their lives. Four months later, his group was involved in attacks in Niger that killed at least 20 people, the State Department said.
In August, his faction and other West African extremists announced that they were forming a new group, Al Murabitoun, which the State Department declared “concerns us more than any other in the region.”
By designating Belmokhtar’s organization as a foreign terrorist group, the United States can take legal action against it. For example, it could arrest individuals in this country who provide “material support” and seize the group’s assets in American-based banks.
The designation, however, does not authorize military action. Rather, it functions as a form of diplomatic pressure on other nations to follow Washington’s example and take steps to crack down on the group and its supporters.
Few Americans would favor military action at this time, so the absence of such authorization is not a major concern. But every American — with the exception of any homegrown jihadists that may be in our midst — wants Washington to remain vigilant and that means we must all be aware that the threat of terrorism has become a grim constant in our 21st century lives.