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The result, the analysis says, is that “the affiliates are increasingly setting their own goals and specifying their own targets.”

Spread into Africa

Recent months have seen a growing number of analysts suggest terrorism inspired by al Qaeda, if not materially linked, is now stabbing deeper into the heart of Africa than the Obama administration and U.S. intelligence community leaders have been willing to acknowledge.

While the State Department analysis makes repeated mention of the flow of Islamist fighters across “porous borders” in Africa, it takes care to characterize most of the terrorist activity reaching south of the Sahel as being focused locally rather than internationally.

The analysis does, however, characterize the activity as “terrorism,” particularly with regard to Nigeria. Over the past year, the State Department has designated three leaders of the shadowy Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram as “global terrorists” with “close links” to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Throughout 2012 “indigenous terrorist attacks increased” in Nigeria, where the “violent extremist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for some of these attacks,” the analysis states. “Of particular concern to the United States is the emergence of the BH faction known as ‘Ansaru,’ which has close ties to [al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] and has prioritized targeting Westerners — including Americans — in Nigeria.”

The analysis also hones in on nearby Mali, where recent months saw a deployment of French military forces dislodge al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operatives who had seized control of nearly half the West African nation during 2012.

“Alongside regional efforts to contain and marginalize [al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] and its allies in northern Mali, the international community urged Mali’s interim government to restore an elected government to Mali, negotiate with groups in northern Mali that reject terrorism and accept Mali’s territorial integrity, and respond to the humanitarian crisis,” the analysis states.

Libya and the Middle East

The State Department analysis describes an evolving threat in the Middle East and North Africa, saying that “tumultuous events” there “have complicated the counterterrorism picture,” and particularly citing a “security vacuum” created during the aftermath of the 2011 revolution in Libya.

“This vacuum, combined with the weakness of Libya’s nascent security institutions, allowed violent extremists to act,” the analysis states in reference to the September attacks in Benghazi.

Similar instability in Iraq, along with Syria’s civil war, have also fostered a wave of ongoing terrorist activity. While al Qaeda in Iraq “continued to conduct attacks” after U.S. military forces left the nation, it also “took advantage of a significantly depleted security situation in Syria,” the analysis states.

“Operating under its alias, al-Nusrah Front, the group sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition and attempted to hijack Syria’s struggle for democracy,” the State Department document says. “The United States designated al-Nusra as an alias of [al Qaeda in Iraq] in December 2012.”

The analysis does, however, cite some positive developments, particularly in Yemen, where “with the help of armed residents, regained government control over territory in the south that [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] has seized and occupied since 2011.”

There was also progress in Somalia against the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, which has even had some success recruiting Somalis living in the U.S. to return to their homeland as suicide bombers.

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