Clinton warns against letting Mali become terrorist safe haven

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Mali is in danger of becoming a terrorist safe haven, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Jan. 23 during testimony before separate House and Senate international relations committee hearings.

"If you look at the size of northern Mali, if you look at the topography, it's not only desert, it's caves--sounds reminiscent. We are in for a struggle," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

French troops with U.S. logistical support are fighting Islamist militants in northern Mali; the United States is also "trying to help put together an African force" from the Economic Community of West African States, an association of 16 countries, Clinton said.

Mali has suffered instability since a March 2012 coup after which a "loose alliance of predominantly ethnic Tuareg separatists and Islamist extremists" seized control of the north, the Congressional Research Service notes (.pdf). Since then, the insurgency has fragmented with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Islamist extremist groups outmaneuvering Malian separatists for predominance.

Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Clinton said North African Islamist extremists may currently lack "the interest or the ability to attack our homeland," but added that the United States possesses "a lot of assets in North Africa."

Terrorists seized a natural gas complex in Algeria coming into the country from Mali, Algerian Prime Minister Abdul Malek Sallal said Jan 23, CNN reports. At least 37 hostages and 29 militants died after Algerian special forces stormed the complex following a 4 day standoff. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the attack. "We don't have any reason to doubt AQIM's involvement in this attack," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a Jan. 22 press briefing.

For more:
- go to the Senate hearing webpage (archived webcast and prepared testimonies available)
- go to the House hearing webpage (archived webcast and prepared testimonies also available)

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