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Algeria prisoner swap shows how Al Qaeda won't leave US alone

As Al Qaeda-affiliated group proposed exchanging two US hostages in Algeria for two Islamist extremists jailed in the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged stepped-up US support for counterterror efforts in North Africa.


Unidentified rescued hostages pose for the media in Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days.

Canal Algerie via Associated Press TV/AP

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The United States has proceeded cautiously – and behind the scenes – toward France’s Mali intervention, hoping to deny radical Islamists the West-versus-Islam recruiting message that an overt American role in the effort to oust militant Islamists from northern Mali would offer.

But reports Friday that the Al Qaeda-affiliated group that carried out the Algeria hostage taking wants to exchange two American hostages for two Islamist extremists and convicted terrorists jailed in the US suggests that America can’t help but be at the center of the global battle with Al Qaeda and associated Islamist radicals.

Commenting Friday on the still-unfolding Algeria hostage crisis, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged stepped-up US support for counterterror efforts in North Africa.

The proposed exchange from the “Signers of Blood,” an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was relayed through a Mauritanian news service and underscores how radical Islamist groups have learned a cardinal lesson of Al Qaeda’s masterminds: that it serves the organization’s purposes to provoke the US and make it part of the anti-Western fight.

The group proposed exchanging its American hostages for the release of Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, serving a sentence in North Carolina for plotting to bomb New York landmarks; and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison for attempted murder of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

The US was quick to affirm Friday that it would not pursue any kind of deal with the hostage-takers. “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

But this position would not be news to the Algerian hostage-takers of AQIM, regional analysts point out. That means that the goal of those publicly proposing such a deal, they add, was really aimed at something else.


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