PARIS: France's top judge in the fight against terrorism said Friday that al-Qaida's North African wing has shown no ability to strike in Europe or elsewhere beyond its zone of operations.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, born of a former insurgent group in Algeria, remains motivated largely out of a desire to attack former colonial power France. It currently holds four French hostages, and French officials have called the group the biggest terror threat to France and its interests.
In an interview, anti-terrorism judge Marc Trevidic suggested AQIM is being forced to work hard to control parts of its traditional territory in the Sahel region along the southern Sahara.
''It's been shown that AQIM is only able to strike in its own zone, by wanting to kill tourists, and we have seen nothing emerge as a significant foreign operation in Europe that was really organized by AQIM,'' he said.
Still, AQIM has been active in offering statements of support through the Internet to would-be terrorists in Europe, Trevidic said, citing his recent case files.
''It's incitation without a structure behind it,'' he said. The group is ''holed up, and already has troubles controlling its zone ... Only when a terror group is very strong in its own territory will it begin exporting.''
Many European officials are more concerned. In June, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba called AQIM a growing menace that could spread beyond its base unless Western nations step up efforts to counter it. It has rendered huge parts of Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria off-limits to foreigners.