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Expert: War on terror at 'critical' point as al-Qaida looks to regroup in Africa

The war against al-Qaida is at a “critical moment” as the “much weaker” terrorist group looks to regroup in Africa, according to the author of a new report.

Valentina Soria, a counterterrorism research analyst at U.K. think-tank RUSI, told msnbc.com by telephone that the network had been damaged by the death of Osama bin Laden and other leading figures.

Her report, titled “Global Jihad Sustained Through Africa,” which was published at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, said al-Qaida’s leadership was looking for partnerships with like-minded organizations in parts of Africa – such as al-Shabab and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb -- to “regroup and re-energize itself.”

West 'unsighted' by shift
Soria told msnbc.com that the war on terror was at a key point, as while al-Qaida was weaker, Western counterterrorism officials had been “unsighted” by the apparent shift to Africa.

“I think it’s certainly an important junction, a critical moment because obviously counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan … and Yemen have been quite successful in decapitating the organization [al-Qaida], a lot of important figures have been removed,” Soria said.

“There is no doubt the organization is much weaker than it was a few years ago,” she added.

The report said that “despite greater co-operation, there seems to be an unresolved tension between transnational aims of al-Qaida-core and the local grievances of African partners.”

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It added it was unclear whether al-Qaida was making a “conscious effort” to regroup in the Horn of Africa and sub-Saharan Africa or if this was the result of “displacement” and cooperation on an “ad hoc basis.”

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'Arc of regional instability'
The report noted that U.S. counterterrorism officials had been voicing concern about the prospect of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is based in Algeria, using local instability and weak or absent government to expand its zone of influence.

“If correct, this assessment would raise the worrying prospect of an arc of regional instability encompassing the whole Sahara-Sahel strip and extending to east Africa, which the now weakened al-Qaida-core could well exploit to regroup, reorganize and reinvigorate its terrorist campaign in the West,” the report said.

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 “[Al-Qaida] appears to be adopting a strategy of ‘going native,’ which implies seizing upon and exploiting local grievances with the ultimate aim of securing a stable foothold in volatile countries,” the report said.

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The report said that counterterrorism officials “privately acknowledge that they are unsighted” and are “working hard to understand how far the jihadist challenge may be migrating” to Somalia, Kenya, north Nigeria and parts of West Africa.

“From West to East Africa, across the Sub-Saharan region, we may well be witnessing a new phase of decisive developments that could trigger further turmoil,” the report said.

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