Africa: Terror Territory
Alexander MEZYAEV | 13.06.2013 | WORLD / Africa

Africa: Terror Territory

Until the late 1990s, Africa was a terror-free zone. Terror raged in various places throughout the world, but the African continent was unfamiliar with this phenomenon. The situation changed in 1998 after large-scale simultaneous terrorist attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, when the U.S. embassies in both Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were attacked. The embassy buildings were destroyed, over two hundred people were killed, and over four thousand were injured. (1) Out of these, only twelve were Americans.

Today Africa has become the main arena for international terrorism. Currently, dozens of large international terrorist organizations are active there: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad and Ansar Dine in the Sahel region; Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (Boko Haram) in Nigeria; Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen in Somalia; Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya in Egypt; the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda; pirate terrorism in the Gulfs of Aden and Guinea... Today the African continent is firmly in the grip of an entire network of terrorist organizations.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is an Islamist organization which aims to overthrow the Algerian government and establish an Islamic state. The organization's members are mainly Algerians, Tuaregs and Moroccans. AQIM was the main force behind the seizure of northern Mali and an attack on Bamako in January 2013. AQIM first announced its creation in January 2007, when it emerged from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. As a result of its illegal activities, international organizations (the UN and the EU) and several countries (the U.S., Great Britain, France and Spain) have added it to their lists of terrorist organizations. AQIM's main goals are spreading the ideology of global jihad and uniting all the extremist groups of North Africa to overthrow existing regimes and establish Islamic states. AQIM's fighters organize and carry out armed attacks and terrorist acts against authorities and government agencies, energy infrastructure sites, and representatives of national and foreign companies. AQIM's activities have affected Russia as well. For example, in March 2007 in the Algerian province of Ain Defla, a Russian citizen and three local residents were killed when AQIM blew up a bus belonging to the Russian company Stroytransgaz. In December 2007 in the province of Medea, another vehicle in which Russian specialists were traveling was blown up.

Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI) is an Egyptian Sunnite Islamist movement which aims to overthrow the Egyptian government and create an Islamic state. Over the course of five years, around 800 police and military personnel have become the victims of GI fighters. After the so-called «revolution» of 2011, GI was transformed into a political party which received 13 seats in the country's parliament. In Russia, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya is officially deemed a terrorist organization. 

Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen, better known as Al-Shabaab, is a Somali militant group which controls a significant territory in southern Somalia. A strict form of sharia law is enforced on this territory. Al-Shabaab's official goal is jihad against the «enemies of Islam». However, in reality the organization is fighting with African Union troops in Somalia.

Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram (BH), officially protests secular laws and the «westernization» of society. BH was created in 1991 and aims to establish sharia law throughout the territory of Nigeria. However, there are serious reasons to believe that the official aims are not BH's main goal. For example, in northern Nigeria, where the main part of BH is based, sharia law has long been the official law of the states, although it only applies to Muslims. Trying to apply sharia law to Christians is pure terrorism and has no relation to Islam. The sultan of Sokoto State, Sa'adu Abubakar, who is the spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslims, has called BH an «anti-Islamic sect» and a «disgrace to Islam». According to some figures, around ten thousand people have fallen victim to BH since 2001. In addition to Christians, who are the main victims of BH's terror, they kill Muslims as well, including clergymen who dare to criticize the sect. 

The list of organizations recognized by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation as terrorist organizations contains several based in Africa. These are mostly Egyptian organizations: Holy War (al-Jihad or Egyptian Islamic Jihad), the Islamic Group (al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya) and the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun). (2) As for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Supreme Court of Russia recognized it as a terrorist organization in November 2008. (3) In this regard, the decision of the Supreme Court of the RF states: «...The materials examined at the court session...testify to the fact that terrorists linked with the organization in question participated in illegal paramilitary groups (article 208, Crim. Code of the RF) operating on the territory of the Northern Caucasus»...

The beginning of 2013 was marked by an increase in the activity of terrorist groups in Africa. Recent weeks have brought news of more and more new terrorist attacks... In April a UN special rapporteur on human rights and fighting terrorism called for urgent assistance to Burkina Faso in dealing with the critical situation it is facing in connection with terrorist attacks. In early May, Boko Haram executed a new simultaneous attack in three places at once (an army barracks, a police station and a prison) in Bama, Nigeria. In late May a double attack took place in Niger at the uranium mines in the city of Arlit. The scale of the attacks and the number of people killed caused the government to declare a three-day mourning period. The radical Islamist group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa took responsibility for the attack. (4) 

A peculiarity of the activities of terrorist organizations in Africa is their great mobility, which in turn is connected with the state of African borders; they are practically transparent, especially in the Sahel. For example, the successful suppression of terrorism in Algeria in the late 1990s was in fact to a great degree due to the migration of terrorists from Algeria to northern Mali across the completely transparent borders in the Sahara.

Terrorist organizations in Africa are more and more often presenting a united front. For example, during the movement of Nigerian troops to the territory of Mali, Boko Haram fighters engaged with them, attempting to prevent them from entering Mali. At the most recent session of the UN Security Council on terrorism, the Republic of Togo, which had encountered the threat of the new African terror first-hand, reported that individual terrorist groups are beginning to form a «terrorist international» by putting down roots in several countries at once; as a result, it is now difficult to differentiate international terrorism from local terrorism. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the activities of such terrorist groups create a serious threat to the efforts of the international community toward keeping the peace. (5)

Several peculiarities of the activities of terrorist organizations in Africa may be pointed out. First, as was already mentioned, terrorist groups hinder the work of UN and African Union peacekeeping missions. Second, the terrorist threat in Africa is the product of a merger between political and religious extremism and organized crime. Africa could turn into a pool for the recruitment, training and financing of terrorists outside the Black Continent as well. Finally, terrorists could seize control of such strategic resources as oil, uranium, diamonds, etc. The activities of terrorist organizations in Africa are now being discussed in the UN Security Council (Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine and the Lord's Resistance Army) and the International Criminal Court (the Lord's Resistance Army and Boko Haram), but there have been no results. For example, despite the fact that the government of Uganda, the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council are all fighting against the Lord's Resistance Army, they still have not been able to arrest a single one of the organization's leaders, for whom international arrest warrants have been issued.

It is impossible not to notice that practically all major terrorist attacks have served as a basis for the West's interference in the affairs of African states. The attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 led to the American bombing of Sudan. The Lockerbie bombing became the basis for air strikes against Libya. Terrorism in Mali was the basis for an invasion by France. It is also apparent that African terrorist organizations, which officially are each fighting for their own cause, also have a common goal: fighting against the peacekeeping operations conducted by the African Union. Thus one can infer that the spread of terror is someone's way of not allowing Africans to take the resolution of conflicts on the Black Continent into their own hands.

(1) Cf. UN Security Council Resolution 1189, passed August 13, 1998 in connection with these terrorist attacks.
(2) Federal list of organizations recognized as terrorist organizations on the official site of the National Antiterrorist Committee of the RF: /document /832/ edinyi-federalnyi –spisok –organizatsii –priznannykh –terroristicheskimi –verkhovnym -sudom-r.html
(3) Decision GKPI 08-1956 of the Supreme Court of the RF dated November 13, 2008 states: «The international organization 'Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb' is recognized as a terrorist organization and its operation is prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation». (The full text of this decision may be found at:
(4) Cf. the commentary of the Department of Information and Press of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the double terrorist attack in Niger on the official site of the MFA RF: brp_4.nsf/newsline/ 9B00B 034004 E85F0 44257 B7800 54FBF D.
(5) The concept note of the Permanent Representative of Togo to the UN for a briefing at the UN Security Council on the issue of fighting terrorism in Africa in the context of supporting international peace and security, dated May 13, 2013. UN document S/2013/264.