HomeNewsGrowth of jihadism in Africa

Growth of jihadism in Africa

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Islamist radicalism is leading Africa into an era of violence, poverty and economic decline

The Malian government acknowledged last week that jihadists killed at least 132 civilians in central Mali. The government in Bamako accuses the Salafist group Macina Liberation Front (FLM) of perpetrating a series of indiscriminate attacks in various localities in the Bankass area over the weekend. In the last three months, more than 400 civilians have been killed by terrorist groups in the Sahel region, which is losing stability and gaining in violence with each passing day.

In the latest issue of al-Naba’ (a monthly magazine issued by the Islamic State), ISIS praised its fighters in Africa and called on Asian Muslims to migrate to the continent to join the fighting. The seven African affiliates of the Islamic State have perpetrated nearly half of the attacks attributed to the terrorist organization this year, while African and Western governments warn of a serious deterioration of the situation. In the last 15 years, more than 30,000 people have died in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of jihadist violence.

While jihadist actions in 2000 were confined to Algeria and Somalia, the cancer of religious violence was affecting Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Egypt and Mozambique by 2020. The problem is real, growing and worrying. The incorrect strategies implemented by African governments (two weeks ago the Malian army sent a helicopter attack to the border region with Burkina Faso… two hours after the battle that took place…) have led to the destruction of the country’s borders. two hours after the battle between ground forces), the added ethnic motives (the Fulani ethnic group has increased its participation in jihadism to unprecedented levels) and the lack of foreign aid (neither Chad, Nigeria, Mozambique nor Burkina Faso receive hardly any foreign military aid) encourage the development of terrorist activities, leading the situation of these states towards points of difficult return. And to the scarce knowledge that the population of the West has on this matter is added the lack of knowledge of the jihadist groups that operate here and the minimal media coverage offered by the European media.

Islamic State

There are currently seven Islamic State affiliates in Africa, the most deadly being the Islamic State of Central Africa (operating in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo) and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger). These groups penetrated the continent after the death of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, coming mostly from Maghreb countries and other unstable regions of the Middle East, although the stalemate in the Syrian war (with the consequent migration of jihadists to more profitable combat camps) and the accession of African fighters to their ranks have significantly expanded their field of action.

The Salafist and fundamentalist ideology of these groups and their extreme radicalism make their methods very violent. While the Islamist jihadist groups “limit” themselves to taking control of the territories and offer the locals to accept the Sharia or flee to areas not controlled by them, ISIS forces the locals to stay and abide by the Sharia.

Boko Haram

Although the Nigerian terrorist group swore allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015, being considered by experts as just another ISIS affiliate in Africa, it certainly deserves a separate analysis. This group of fundamentalist cut founded in 2002 has provoked a long conflict in the north of Nigeria and resulting in the death of more than 350,000 civilians until 2021. They are blamed for the kidnapping of almost 2,000 girls who have subsequently been used as sex slaves, if not forced to marry the same jihadist fighters. Their goal is the implementation of Sharia law in Nigeria and the creation of an Islamic State in West Africa. In fact, there is another branch of ISIS known as the Islamic State of West Africa Province, which was born out of a split from Boko Haram in 2016 and whose lethality is also very high.

The level of ruthlessness that characterizes Boko Haram makes the rest of the jihadist groups in Nigeria look like sisters of charity, despite the fact that they too claim thousands of lives a year (with special mention to the Fulani Jihad operating in the center of the country). The country’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, announced in a message broadcast on television last July 12 that he had failed in his work to rid the country of armed groups such as Boko Haram, referring to the promises of peace he made to his constituents after being elected president in 2015. In his remarks he claimed that during his tenure he had faced problems “capable of destroying entire nations.”

Al-Shabaab

Although its range of action has led it to commit terrorist acts in Yemen, Kenya and Uganda, its main focus is on Somalia, where it controls large fertile territories in the south of the country. Like other jihadist groups on the continent, Al-Shabaab members offer herders to live within their territory as long as they accept the rigid rules of Sharia. The herders are then faced with three choices: flee from Al-Shabaab, accept their rules and oppression, or die. It seems more and more sensible to accept the second option, if flight also means death and the thirst of drought.

Twenty-five percent of Somali territory is desert, while meat is the country’s second largest export, behind only gold. Al-Shabaab is not only guilty of causing enormous instability in the Horn of Africa, but is also a direct cause of the growing famine currently afflicting Somalia. The latest count stipulates that al-Shabaab has nearly 10,000 fighters, whose primary goal is to establish an Islamic State in Somalia. Its links to al-Qaeda are recognized, making al-Shabaab a strong opponent of the Islamic State in Africa. It is so: some of the most violent jihadist-related fighting on the African continent (whether in the Sahel or in Somalia) comes from clashes between different groups that fail to agree on a common ideology.

Islamic and Muslim Support Group (JNIM)

Among the lower-ranking jihadist groups, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) stands out. This Al-Qaeda affiliate, made up of a group of minor katibas and with a Salafist-jihadist ideology, has multiplied its attacks fourfold since its foundation. Among its most notorious actions is the kidnapping of a Colombian nun who was finally released in 2021 after the payment of five million euros for her ransom, which caused a serious scandal in the Vatican. One usually hears the names of the usual suspects, al-Qaeda, ISIS, the ghost of Osama bin Laden, while within the amalgam of jihadist factions infecting Africa, one hardly knows this group that in 2019 counted more than 2,000 members and is responsible for some of the fiercest clashes against French troops stationed in the Sahel.

JNIM has particular influence in central Mali and the border with Niger and Burkina Faso, where it comes to permanently control several territories governed by its katibas in the manner of small “caliphates,” as reported by some experts. This is made possible by its integration tactics with the locals and significant support from the ethnic Fulani population. The major source of funding for JNIM comes from arms trafficking in the region. The wars in Libya, Central African Republic, Sudan, Ivory Coast, etc., have meant that an AK-47 costs less in the region than a sack of corn. In this affair, France has been accused by African governments of having failed to manage the flow of weapons that escaped from Libya after the death of Gaddafi, weapons now wielded by bandits, frightened Malian herdsmen and, of course, jihadists.

 

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