When terrorists strike in North or West Africa, it is not unusual for Steve Harmon to get a call.
Harmon, a professor in Pittsburg State University's Department of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences, is an internationally known expert on Africa, the Middle East, Islam and Latin America. In recent weeks he has been quoted in publications from the Los Angeles Times to Nigeria as reporters try to explain the shadowy and complex developments in this rapidly changing part of the world.
"The two groups that seem to be attracting the most attention right now are Al-Qaeda in the Islam Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram," Harmon said. "AQIM grew up in the civil war in Algeria and expanded into the Sahara. They recently affiliated with Al-Qaeda. I've argued that the Saharan branch has become more of a criminal organization with a political agenda."
Harmon said Boko Haram has its roots in Nigeria, where it formed about a decade ago and later affiliated itself with Al-Qaeda. Another group with Al-Qaeda ties is Al-Shabab, the terrorist group based in Somalia blamed for a suicide car bombing in Mogadishu in late October.
Harmon said the African terrorist groups often have a similar story. They have their roots in local issues, but have recently affiliated themselves to one degree or another with Al-Qaeda, which has then provided some level of encouragement and support.
"These groups have all announced their affiliation with Al-Qaeda," Harmon said. "The Al-Qaeda brand seems to have some appeal."
Harmon said the Arab Spring democracy movement has not been good news for Al-Qaeda or its affiliates.
"(The Arab Spring) is the worst thing that could happen to Al-Qaeda," Harmon said, because when the people topple the dictators and take control, they have little reason to listen to or tolerate the terrorists.
"The one thing they can't survive is being ignored," Harmon said.
Harmon holds a Ph.D. from UCLA. His specializations include Africa, Middle East, Islam and Latin America. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 620-235-4314.