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The Continuing Instability in North Africa Severely Threatens U.S. National Security Interests, And the Administration Has Yet to Develop a Coherent Strategy to Deal with These Threats, Says Ros-Lehtinen

Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement during a joint subcommittee hearing titled: "The Terrorist Threat in North Africa: Before and After Benghazi." Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

"Thank you Judge Poe -- I am pleased that both of our subcommittees are convening this important hearing.

I would also like to express my deepest condolences to Michael Lovelady for the loss of his brother, Victor Lovelady, who was killed during the horrendous attack by al-Qaeda linked terrorists in Algeria earlier this year.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, and they are with Victor's wife, Maureen and their two children, Erin and Grant.

With growing instability in North Africa, it's necessary to examine the security threats posed by rising extremism and deteriorating stability in the Middle East and North Africa region, how we got there, and where are we going.

Sadly, this threat is not new.

For nearly 20 years I have been trying to raise awareness of this very real and growing threat to the United States.

In April 1995 I was -- at the time -- Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee and I convened a hearing entitled The Threat of Islamic Extremism in Africa and stated that Islamic extremism was on the rise and that militant groups posed a growing threat to regional stability, to the fragile democracies in the region, and to U.S. national security interests.

Almost two decades later and not much has changed.

The wave of radical Islam continues to spread and the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other foreign terrorist organizations is due to the establishment of base of operations in North Africa by taking advantage of the lack of security, political will and the capability of the governments in the region.

To illustrate the expansion of narco-terrorism activities in the region, this year we learned that the DEA led investigation leading to the arrests of individuals connected to Guinea-Bissau and the FARC who were indicted for narco-trafficking and terrorism offenses.

It is alarming that the individuals indicted were charged with conspiring to sell weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, which could be used against U.S. military personnel in the region.

This is why I believe that the DEA should have a larger footprint in North Africa to help dismantle linkages between drug traffickers and terrorist organizations that promote and finance these nefarious activities.

However, we cannot concentrate only on the security front.

We must also commit resources and attention to help build civil society and strengthen institutions in North Africa.

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia with the self-immolation of a disparaged street vendor, and Tunisia was believed to be the most likely to undergo democratic change.

Unfortunately, the assassination of one of Tunisia's opposition leader was a detrimental blow to the moderate and secular forces in that country.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government under Morsi failed to demonstrate a commitment to democratic principles and hopes for a truly democratic society that respected human rights remains in jeopardy.

In Libya, the Obama administration has yet to hold anyone accountable for the terrorist attack on September 11.

The individuals at the State Department who were responsible for the security failures in Benghazi continue to operate in different capacities without any real consequences, and the terrorist perpetrators who were behind the Benghazi attack are still at large.

What is being done to capture them?

Prior to the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, which left four brave Americans dead, it was already clear that the security situation in Libya had been far from secure.

The Administration should have been more aware of these threats and taken steps to increase security measures to ensure the safety of our embassy personnel.

They did not.

Unfortunately, it's clear that those steps were not taken.

We also know that Libya was used as a staging ground for the January 16, 2013 hostage standoff in the gas plant attack in Algeria, which resulted in the deaths of more than 80 people.

As Secretary Clinton said when she testified in Congress in January, there is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya.

There is no doubt that the remnants of AQIM in Mali have weapons from Libya.

Yet -- we seem to not learn from our mistakes as the Administration seeks to interject even more arms into the region by arming the Syrian rebels.

Our strategy in the region needs to be aimed at disrupting extremist networks and denying safe havens to these groups.

However, in order to do that, we must first get a real understanding of the nature of the problem and increase our attention to these threats;

Because so far we have been woefully lacking in our understanding of these threats, and I think that it is evident in our lack of a coherent foreign policy to these issues.

Thank you."

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