Last night’s attack on Nigerian students in an agricultural college in the middle of the night is only the latest violence committed by Islamic extremists in the region. With bodies still being recovered, the death toll has risen to over 50 in this newest terrorist attack in Africa. The group responsible, Boko Haram, is a militant group allied with al-Qadea, and has become more active with violent reprisals in the region since the beginning of this year. The spider web of terrorist groups with ties to al-Qadea is growing in Africa, and this is where intelligence organizations believe the next big battleground against Islamic extremists will take place.
Many of the recent terrorist attacks, including the recent mall shooting by al-Shabab, stem from a brand of Islamic extremism established on a global scale by al-Qadea. The increasing violence is often done as a reprisal against the local populations for working with Western powers. Al-Shabab leader, Mukhtaar Abdirahman Abu Zubeyr, sent a message to Kenyans after he perpetrated the carnage at the Westgate shopping center. In it, he explains the terrorist group’s reasons behind the attack. He thanked the shooters for their actions and said that the violence was a reprisal against Kenya for sending troops into Somalia.
Al-Shabab grew out of the Somalian civil war, becoming a full-blown Islamist insurgency in the region by taking control of major bases of operations from the Somali government back in 2008. Both Ethiopia and Kenya sent troops to help rid the region of the hardline Islamist groups who were implementing strict interpretations of shari’a law on the populace of their controlled areas, such as publicly flogging women for wearing “deceptive bras” and whipping men for shaving their beards. Kenya contributed troops to the African Union mission that ousted al-Shabab from the region in 2012. Ethiopia also participated in the mission and should have their guard up for reprisal attacks from al-Shabab in the near future.
Boko Haram has been ordered to step up the violence in their area as well. Back in January this year, a splinter group taking orders directly from al-Qaeda called Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladis- Sudan (JAMBS), was called on to increase attacks in the region because Nigeria deployed troops into northern Mali with the mission to flush out al-Qaeda Islamist extremist groups controlling the region. Last night’s attack on defenseless Nigerian students by Boko Haram is another in a long line of violence being committed by terrorist sects in Nigeria. These Islamic extremists’ acts are establishing the grounds for a big upcoming battle against terrorism in Africa.
Behind all of this is the terrorist organization, al-Qaeda. In June, 2012, General Carter Ham, the USAFRICOM commander, addressed a meeting of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies naming al-Shabab, Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda in the land of Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Somalia, Nigeria, and Mali area, respectively, as the three major groups posing a growing threat in Africa. “What really concerns me are the indications that the three organizations are seeking to coordinate and synchronize their efforts, in other words, to establish a cooperative effort amongst the three most violent organizations. And I think that’s a problem for America and for African security in general.“
Why are these hardline Islamist extremist flourishing in Africa? For one, they survive best in areas where government forces are weaker and don’t have a lot of control. These groups can take over regions where villages and settlements are more secluded and scattered, where their victims have little to no police force or local government troops to protect them. By setting up in these remote areas, the terrorists can force their own brand of law and order on the local populations where little existed before, and they can hide better from any military opposition that comes their way.
Given the U.S. establishment of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007, an organization responsible for U.S. military operations in Africa, the Western world is well aware of the upcoming battleground in Africa against Islamic extremism and terrorism. The only question remaining is, how effective Western and African governments’ responses will be against these emergent threats?
Written By: Danyelle C. Overbo