EU police, experts to counter al Qaeda in Africa - UK

Mon Nov 28, 2011 9:37pm GMT

By Adrian Croft

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Union plans to send a team of police and security experts to the region on the southern edge of Africa's Sahara desert to help governments there combat a growing threat from al Qaeda, Britain's foreign minister said on Monday.

The North African branch of al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), originated in Algeria but has expanded into Mali, Niger and Mauritania in recent years, worrying Western governments.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said resulting instability in the Sahel region could have a "profoundly destabilising effect on countries in North Africa and the Gulf" already rocked by the Arab Spring uprisings.

"Operating largely from northern Mali, this organisation (AQIM) presents an increased threat to our security," he told parliament, referring to last Friday's kidnapping of a group of visitors in the northern Mali town of Timbuktu.

Three of those seized by gunmen were from South Africa, the Netherlands and Sweden, their governments said, while a fourth person, believed to be German, was killed.

"We are stepping up our efforts to counter terrorism in the Sahel region and to support economic and political development," said Hague, who last month became the first British minister to visit Mauritania.

Britain is working with France and other European allies to develop an effective EU approach to security and development in the Sahel, he said.

Plans were at an early stage for a small EU mission in the Sahel region, focussing on policing, security, infrastructure development and regional training, he said.   Continued...

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London November 15, 2011.    REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
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