Here's an interesting piece by Bruce Riedel of Brookings Institution, arguing that "One of Al Qaeda's top priotities in the last year has been to create a franchise in Algeria to serve as a node for jihad in North Africa and throughout the Maghrebi disapora in Europe." I've blogged previously about al-Qaida (my preferred spelling, though I'm in a decided minority there) setting up shop (actuially recruiting an existing organization, the Algerian Salafist Group for Peraching and Combat) in Algeria, and especially about sending young Algerians to Iraq to gain training and experience and get "blooded" in guerrilla and terrorist activity. Riedel says jihadist Websites have predicted an attack on France since Nicholas Sarkozy's victory in France's presidential race. (The fact that Sarkozy's coalition got a smaller majority than expected in subsequent parliamentary elections will probably have an impact mainly on domestic issues. France's socialists won't impede his anti-terrorist moves.)
This notion that al-Qaida might be planning more dramatic attacks fits with recent news reports and with a recent piece by Michael Scheuer, who headed up the CIA's al-Qaida shop for years. He says the U.S. has barely disrupted al-Qaida's central command (though it has done some damage), but that with the Iraq war inflaming Muslim antagonism and aiding recruiting, al-Qaida may be more dangerous than ever.
This is part of the tragedy of the war in Iraq. By starting a war instead of actually going after al-Qaida in various ways -- including intelligence, what is essentially police work, and perhaps the occasional special operation -- the U.S. diverted resources and attention from the clearer danger -- and aided al-Qaida in the process, offering a target for recruiters and a place where al-Qaida recruits and operatives could get real-world experience with very little risk to the organization -- or, rather, the widely distributed network. Resisting the urge to intervene militarily in the Muslim world in so public and provocative a fashion would have done much more to weaken al-Qaida and its appeal among disaffected Muslims.