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Since the Christmas Day plot in Detroit, there has been a strong focus on Al Qaeda activities in Yemen. Reports of safe havens and training camps have led many to believe that Al Qaeda members, hounded out of Afghanistan and much of Pakistan, have sought refuge in an ungoverned area of the Middle Eastern nation, using the name Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Essential though this focus may be, the global nature of the fight means that concentrating efforts in one place means neglecting enemy forces gathered in another. This is exactly the case with another branch of Al Qaeda in North Africa – one which has gone largely unnoticed and whose increased capacity to attack presents a real threat to security in Europe and the U.S.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb emerged in the early nineties, and was originally called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). The group was formed as an angry response to the Algerian government’s cancellation of the 1992 elections that would have handed victory to a coalition of Islamic moderates and militants. GSPC operated in a largely ungoverned area of the Sahara desert, along Algeria’s southern and Mali’s northern border, and launched attacks on Algerian government employees and institutions. The group then began to receive funding and training from Al Qaeda towards the end of the decade, and the alliance was made official in 2006 when Al Qaeda’s no. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, announced the “blessed union” in a video published on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Since then, the group has been known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and has claimed responsibility for its actions under its new name.

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On September 29th, the US Department of Homeland Security announced that effective immediately the Department would begin issuing short-term visas (up to 30 days) for people who are HIV positive. Under previous regulations, HIV positive people had to receive a special waiver determined by a case-by-case evaluation for entry into the USA. The new visas will not identify any traveler as HIV positive.

This is great news for microbicides advocates, considering Microbicides 2010 will take place in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania in the U.S.A. The Global Campaign for Microbicides has been lobbying hard to get the travel ban on HIV positive people repealed, and GCM Director, Lori Heise, was instrumental in focusing attention on the ban when negotiations were underway about where to host the next microbicides conference.

The US Department of Health and Human Services must still go through a formal rule making to remove HIV from the list of “communicable diseases of public health significance,” the designation that triggers the travel restrictions. But this short-term solution for HIV positive people is a welcome development.

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