- Washington Guardian - Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Haidara Aissata, the lone woman in Mali’s parliament, picked up the phone earlier this month to the anguished cries of a young mother who just learned her husband had sold the couple’s 9-year-old son to al Qaeda fighters for $40.

The boy was taken to a training camp where he would be indoctrinated into Shariah law and fight against French troops seeking to repel the terrorists’ grip on the West African nation.

Ms. Aissata — who stands out in Mali’s male-dominated politics as much for her beauty-queen looks as her impassioned oratory — tells the story frequently as she travels the globe these days trying to dispel the notion — fanned by some Obama administration officials — that al Qaeda is weakened and on the decline.

SEE ALSO: Terror in Timbuktu: A trip through the heart of Mali

To the contrary, the terror network has inspired and trained al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb throughout northwest Africa, along with its Mali offshoot, Ansar Dine, and both are gaining strength and “infecting the continent like a cancer,” Ms. Aissata told The Washington Guardian.

Al Qaeda is still a threat to the national security of the United States, just as it was when Osama bin Laden trained young fighters in Afghanistan. This is what is happening in Mali and other parts of Africa,” she said in an interview where she warned about the growing number of al Qaeda training camps sprouting across Africa.

“In those training camps, future terror leaders are born,” she said. “Terrorism is spreading. Al Qaeda is becoming stronger. The extremists don’t stay in Africa. They travel to Europe and the U.S.”

Ms. Aissata just finished a tour of Europe to call attention to the rise of al Qaeda in Africa, and she plans to make a similar trip to the United States next month.

Contradicting the White House

Her message will contrast with some in U.S. government who have tried to argue in recent months that al Qaeda’s reach and capability have been substantially diminished.

Ms. Aissata will be greeted warmly in Washington, which so far is content staying on the sidelines of the Mali conflict and leaving the fighting to French forces.

The United States “has repeatedly affirmed our support for the French operation in northern Mali, the African forces deploying to Mali and regional efforts to counter terrorist groups in the region,” said Hilary Renner, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs.

Ms. Renner said the administration “will continue to evaluate all requests for assistance from our partners to counter the mutual threat of terrorism” the region.

Ms. Aissata’s message is that al Qaeda threatens the very democracy that has burgeoned in some parts of Africa.

Mali is only months away from its first elections since a military coup last year toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure. However, Malian politicians are split as to whether July’s elections can safely take place while al Qaeda remains lurking in its shadow.

The burgeoning civil unrest and war is not endemic to Mali, but al Qaeda’s “ideology is reaching deep into Africa’s youth,” Ms. Aissata said in a phone interview while she was in Paris earlier this month.

Story Continues →