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West Africa Rising: Libya war boosting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb?

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West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

Eleven days ago, a firefight broke out in a remote corner of Mali, a sparsely populated desert nation in the heart of West Africa.

On one side of the battle were Mauritanian soldiers whose military has been trained by the United States. On the other: armed members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a terrorist group inspired by Al Qaeda that’s developed a reputation for abducting and sometimes killing Westerners in the region.

Seventeen people died in the fighting, which lasted for several hours on the evening of June 24. The target of the raid – a heavily fortified terrorist camp – was obliterated, officials said.

It wasn’t the first time the two sides have come head to head. Regional governments have been targeting the terrorist group, which is known by its acronym, AQIM, for more than six years. But their efforts, which some critics say are lackluster, haven’t yet managed to cripple the terrorist group. Meanwhile, tourism in the region has evaporated and violence in Libya could be making AQIM stronger.

“What worries me is what’s happening today in Libya,” said Idriss Déby, the president of Chad – another country in which AQIM operates – in an interview with the magazine Jeune Afrique in March. “Al-Qaeda Islamists have looted arsenals in the rebel zone to equip themselves with arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled to their strongholds in the desert.”

“It’s very serious,” Mr. Déby added. “AQIM is about to become a veritable army, the best equipped in the region.”

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