Transcript: Hillary Clinton on Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and jihadist militant groups in North Africa. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was held on Jan. 23, 2013:

I think if you’re just focusing on North Africa, Al Qaeda is a brand name as much as an organization. People wake up. They form these jihadist groups. They’re then claimed to be associated with, somehow affiliated with Al Qaeda in order to gain some credibility with local people as well as beyond. I think we have to take seriously all of these terrorist groups – whatever they call themselves.

Now, at the moment, they don’t necessarily have either the interest or the ability to attack our homeland but we have a lot of facilities, we have a lot assets in North Africa. We just saw Americans killed and held hostage at a gas facility because we do business all over that continent. So I think we have to take a hard look at all of them and constantly be upping our military, intelligence, and diplomatic assets to deal with them.

I am well aware that there were people claiming to be associated with Al Qaeda that were attempting to influence militias, attempting to exercise more authority along with a number of other groups that didn’t necessarily work under that flag but had the same militant jihadist mentality. So yes, I was certainly aware of that. So was Chris Stevens. So was our team in Libya.

I’m conscious of the fact that talking about FBI investigations is something you have to be extremely careful about for obvious reasons. I think it’s clear – or I hope it’s clear – that President Obama when he says we’re going to bring people to justice even if it takes some time, he means what he says. Obviously, the FBI is conducting an investigation. What actions are taken will be determined in the future.

Again, I’m not going to prejudge what the FBI determines. We know that there are Al Qaeda-related organizations as we saw from the pictures that were held up throughout the region, including in Libya. We know that people – like we saw in the recent attacks in Algeria – like to associate themselves with Al Qaeda. But we’ve got to be careful about what that means. Core Al Qaeda has been severely depleted coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan. What we’re dealing with now is the jihadist who have been associated with Al Qaeda who gained, unfortunately, very serious combat experience coming back to the countries they have left in order to go wage jihad in Central Asia. So whether they call themselves Al Qaeda or Boko Haram or Ansar al Sharia, they are all part of the same global jihadist movement. And there may be differences between them but their goals are unfortunately similar and pose threats to us and our partners.

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