First, we had an Al Qaeda linked-group storming the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, leaving four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Now, we have Al Qaeda's North African branch engineering a bloody hostage crisis in Algeria's Sahara Desert that has left several Americans held in jihadist captivity and a Texas man feared dead.
Yes, Mr. President, Al Qaeda sure is "on the run."
From Fox News:
Fox News has confirmed that one American has died in the hostage standoff at an Algerian gas complex. Officials told the Associated Press the deceased American is Texas resident, Frederick Buttaccio. It is unclear how he died.
The officials say Buttaccio's remains have been recovered and his family has been notified. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Earlier Friday, the State Department confirmed there are still American hostages being held by an Al Qaeda-linked group at the gas plant, deep in the Saharan desert. When asked about a report that the group wants to trade hostages for terror figures jailed in the United States, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”
A Mauritanian news site that often reports news from North African extremists received a statement Friday about the Al Qaeda-linked group offering to trade two Americans being held for two terror figures jailed in the United States. One of the two, Omar Abdel Rahman, masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Nuland said the U.S. is working with Algeria and other governments to try to secure the release of the hostages. She did not confirm the supposed trade but repeatedly told reporters, “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press says Algerian state news service is reporting nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from the gas plant in the Saharan Desert. That number of hostages at the remote desert facility was significantly higher than any previous report, and still meant that the fate of over 30 foreign energy workers was unclear.
The truth is, as I've discussed many times in this space and on my show, Al Qaeda is not nearing defeat. The organization has taken some major hits for sure, including the death of Osama bin Laden and many other top leaders. But AQ has simply evolved and adjusted, shifting its focus geographically from its traditional power base in the tribal regions of Pakistan to other hotspots like Yemen, Somalia, the Sahara, Libya, Sinai, Iraq (once again), and yes, even Europe.
There has also been a tactical shift to smaller scale attacks that, while not comparing to the horrifying carnage of 9/11, still cause plenty of psychological terror, expose the weakness of Western security, and capture international headlines (think the Underwear Bomber, the Yemen cargo plane plot, and the Benghazi assault).
So Al Qaeda circa 2013 is not dead, just different. And still very dangerous.
By the way, the Al Qaeda hostage takers in Algeria are reportedly calling for the release of the notorious Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman. Guess who else wants to see the Sheikh freed? Hint: he's an Obama administration favorite.