- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The State Department issued a fresh warning against travel to Algeria on Tuesday, one month after Islamic militants killed dozens of hostages at a natural gas plant, including three Americans, in the North African nation.

“Al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is active and operates throughout Algeria,” the State Department said in the travel warning, which asserts that an “AQIM-linked organization” known as “Those Who Sign in Blood” was responsible for last month’s gas plant attack and hostage killings.

“There is a high threat of terrorism and kidnappings in Algeria,” the State Department warning said. “Although major cities are heavily policed, attacks could still potentially take place. The majority of terrorist attacks, including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, and ambushes occur in areas of the country east and south of [the capital] Algiers.”

The specter of AQIM, meanwhile, loomed over a congressional hearing in Washington last week, where senior State and Pentagon officials told lawmakers that the threat posed by the organization is regional.

The hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs focused on the activities of AQIM-linked groups in Mali, which is situated just south of Algeria.

French military forces entered Mali last month in an effort to drive out Islamist rebels who had seized control of a vast stretch of territory after the nation’s government fell in a military coup last year. Recent weeks also have seen a movement of African Union peacekeeping forces into Mali to bolster the French operation.

While the U.S. assisted the French invasion by airlifting equipment and troops and sharing intelligence, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told lawmakers that Washington must be prepared to focus attention and resources toward the long-term effort of helping Mali prop up a sustainable government.