U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said he does not yet know whether there is a link between the attack on a natural gas plant. in Algeria and the French operation in Mali, American Forces Press Service reported Jan. 16. Panetta said the United States has always been concerned about the presence of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali because they could use it as a base of operations to do exactly what happened in Algeria. The defense secretary said he has spoken with European government and defense leaders in Portugal, Spain and Italy about the way ahead in Mali. “I believe that there is a consensus that France took the right step here to…deter al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb from taking even further action there," he said. France spearheaded the intervention in Mali because it could not tolerate an unfettered jihadist base of operations that could threaten its economic interests in surrounding countries.