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Professor: Mali at the heart of worldwide struggle with terrorism

January 28, 2013 12:00AM

PSU Professor Steve Harmon said Monday he wasn’t surprised to see al-Qaeda-linked terrorists flee into the desert without firing a shot as French troops advanced northward in Mali.

Steve Harmon mug shot“The Islamists are good at bullying and terrorizing civilians, but they will not stand and face a disciplined force that shoots back,” Harmon said.

Instead, Harmon predicted, the terrorists will look for safety across porous borders and in the desert and wait for another opportunity to attack.

“The Islamists will retreat to the far north, and, if necessary, to Algeria and Mauritania,” Harmon said. “Some of them will be able to hold out in the far north. They will definitely try to come back to the major cities, like Gao and Timbuktu, if they feel they can.”

Harmon, a professor history and an expert on Mali and terrorism in northern Africa, said the relatively easy rout of extremists shouldn’t lull anyone into thinking the battle is won.

“This isn't over. It will require a commitment of Malian and international forces over the long haul to hold them at bay,” Harmon said. “Think Afghanistan.”

Harmon is back in the classroom at PSU following a four-month visit to Mali, where conducted research for an upcoming book, “Terrorism and Insurrection in North and West Africa.” It was his fifth visit to the country.

Since his return to the U.S. and the involvement of international forces in the struggle in Mali, Harmon said, he has fielded requests for comment and information from news sources around the world. Most recently, he participated in a live panel discussion for the English Language Service of China Radio International.

Harmon said the global attention being paid to the battle with extremists in Mali is well placed. He noted that terrorist attacks frequently have their roots in terrorist hideouts in uncontrolled spaces like Afghanistan, Somalia and now, northern Mali.

He also bemoaned the toll the occupation by the extreme Islamists takes on the civilian population.

“The people (of Mali) are very welcoming and very kind to foreigners,” Harmon said. “They want what most of us want -- education for their children, a chance to make a living.”

©2013 Pittsburg State University

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