In April 2009, the Pakistani government launched its largest offensive yet against Islamist militants in the region known as Swat Valley.

A few hours drive north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, Swat was once Pakistan’s most appealing tourist destination. Residents lived under a mix of tribal and sharia law augmented with rudimentary military control that was first established by the British. The leading member of the valley’s most powerful family was effectively a regional tribal king that enjoyed the title of Wali. Wali rule ended at the time of Pakistani independence in 1947, when Swat acquiesced to Pakistan. However, Swat didn’t become completely integrated into Pakistan until 1969 when the last Wali officially retired his authority.

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Al Qaeda’s Growing Reach

January 11, 2010

An al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a passenger plane en route to the United States from Amsterdam. In a statement posted on several online forums, the group said it planned the attack “to avenge U.S. attacks on al Qaeda in Yemen.” The group known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula boasted of supplying Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab with explosives. The Yemeni group and its failed attack over American soil has drawn worldwide attention to the spread of al Qaeda.

The ongoing threat of terrorism by al Qaeda presents a different pattern from what has been seen in the past. Leadership of the network appears to have evolved from a centralized body to being a loose aggregation of groups. Plots are now emanating from African countries such as Yemen whereas before they exclusively emerged out of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq. One reason for this new development is that al Qaeda relies heavily on geographical safe havens. These are areas of the world where al Qaeda has the ability to set up training camps and meeting places without fear of interference or interruption.

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