Terrorist activity in North Africa poses real threat, says Cameron
Commons briefingEurope faces an “existential” terrorist threat from al-Qaeda-linked organisations in North Africa, which must be combated, British prime minister David Cameron and US defence secretary Leon Panetta have agreed.
Mr Panetta, who met Mr Cameron in London yesterday, vowed that the US would hunt down the terrorists behind the hostage-taking, wherever they sought refuge.
Briefing the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was determined to establish Sharia law across North Africa and to attack western interests “wherever it can”.
“Just as we have reduced the scale of the al-Qaeda threat in parts of the world, including in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so the threat has grown in other parts of the world,” he told MPs.
“People who believe that al-Qaeda’s threat to North Africa is a matter for the countries there and the West should somehow back off and ignore it are profoundly wrong. This is a problem for those places and for us.”
Mr Cameron, keen not to jeopardise relations with the Algerians, said he regretted prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal’s decision not to heed his request for advance notice of a strike against the terrorist, but he was careful not to use stronger language.
Each of the four telephone calls so far between Mr Cameron and his Algerian counterpart has followed contact from No 10, which is exasperated at the poor flow of information.
The prime minister has been careful to rule out direct British military involvement, bar offering RAF aircraft to the French-led operation to push back Islamic extremists in Algeria’s neighbour, Mali.
“I would very much caution against anyone who believes that if somehow we stayed out of these issues and just said, ‘This has got nothing to do with us’, that would somehow make us safer.
“I do not believe that is the case.”
More British diplomats have been sent to Algeria, along with members of intelligence agency MI6 to help with the crisis, which Mr Cameron now believes directly affects no more than 10-20 British subjects.