Al-Qaeda finds three safe havens for terror training

The core al-Qaeda headquarters in the tribal areas of Pakistan pose the gravest threat to the United Kingdom

Michael Evans, Defence Editor

Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organisation, driven out of Afghanistan and defeated in Iraq, is re-emerging in strength in three alternative safe havens for training, operational planning and recruiting – Pakistan, Somalia and Algeria – according to Western intelligence and defence sources.

The core al-Qaeda headquarters in the tribal areas of Pakistan pose the gravest threat to the United Kingdom. But in Somalia and in Algeria, where the so-called al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was set up in 2004 as a powerful bin Laden offshoot, the organisation is recruiting energetically and its leaders are believed to have aspirations to hit Western targets.

There has been increasing evidence of bin Laden’s network rebuilding in Pakistan. The main figures are now well entrenched in the tribal areas, and although American Predator and Reaper surveillance drones, armed with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs, remain in the region to eliminate al-Qaeda commanders, it seems the terrorist leaders can still communicate with each other.

The 38 countries with troops based in Afghanistan are fighting to prevent al-Qaeda ever again using the country as a safe haven, but the core al-Qaeda leaders have settled down in Pakistan and, from there, keep in contact with their main franchises in Somalia and Algeria. Two al-Qaeda leaders have been killed this year by Predator attacks, and another, Abu Ubaida al-Masri, head of external relations, died of natural causes. But one American estimate is that up to 2,000 militants, many of them foreigners, are in training compounds in Pakistan.

Al-Qaeda also appears not to be short of experienced operational commanders. One senior figure who was responsible for carrying out research into nuclear, chemical and biological systems when the organisation was in Afghanistan, is believed to be involved in trying to produce unconventional weapons to target the West. That is known to be al-Qaeda’s top ambition.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has moved to the front line of terrorist operations, including suicide truck bombings and the murder of European tourists. The nationalist Algerian terrorist group has been converted into an organisation posing a threat beyond Algeria’s borders. American officials estimate that there are between 300 and 400 terrorists in the mountains east of Algiers and another 200 elsewhere in the country.

The same transformation is occurring in Somalia, particularly in the south. A large number of radicalised Somalis are living in Britain and it is feared that instead of going to Pakistan for jihad training, they are travelling to Somalia.

Al-Qaeda finds three safe havens for terror training - Times Online