Islamic militants armed with weapons from Libya seized parts of Mali following a military coup there earlier this year that left a power vacuum.
The group, known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, originated from “desert bandits and smugglers,” to become an al-Qaida-affiliated group that primarily funds itself through kidnapping and ransom, said Garry Reid, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.
“They have not posed a trans-national threat, per se, to attack the United States homeland, but they are a growing concern to our interests in the region,” Reid said Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s national convention.
Still, al-Qaida has had limited success proselytizing the group’s members, he said.
“They may not have the strongest ideological ties, but they have the advantage of ungoverned spaces in northern Mali, the central Sahara – the most desolate place on earth,” Reid said. “So it’s not as if there is a police station on every corner – there aren’t any corners.”