Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Terrorist groups spread in Africa through strong networks despite killing of their leaders

Sunday 07/May/2023 - 05:17 PM
The Reference
Nahla Abdel Moneim


Takfirist groups have been able to build strong networks for themselves in some regions of Africa, but with the successive targeting of their leaders, questions have arisen about the effects this left on the African branches and to what extent these branches have retreated or crystallized to be a more solid platform than threatening strongholds.

On April 30, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the killing of ISIS leader Abu al-Hussein al-Qurashi, and with every targeting of a leader of the takfirist group, some theories emerge about the possibilities of the organizations’ decline, along with the degree of influence on its branches. Nevertheless, the African branches remain in a remarkable development, and it is feared that they will turn into centers of an international threat.


History of killing terrorist leaders and the strongholds of Africa

The movement of terrorist groups towards Africa is based on several factors, such as security laxity in some regions, the instability of state systems, political and ethnic conflicts, as well as sectarianism, providing extremism a favorable environment for growth as foundations pertaining to the location itself. But with regard to the ideology of the organizations, it sees rich strongholds in the African continent, along with the ideology of geographical growth in a way that serves the project of establishing an alleged caliphate, spreading in appropriate environments, and igniting competition between organizations.

The West usually portrays the killing of terrorist leaders as a success in eliminating violence. With the killing of ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, some theses circulated about the possibility that the African branches would be affected by the imbalance of the main strongholds, but it is clear from statistics and review that the African branches have become a real danger that may outweigh the danger posed by the organization’s branches that have arisen.

The International Terrorism Index for the year 2023 issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace indicated the advanced positions of some African countries on the index as the countries whose citizens were the largest victims of violent, bloody attacks, and they were ranked from most to least as follows: Burkina Faso, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all of which are among the 15 countries in the world most affected by extremism attacks.

It also mentioned that the struggles of ISIS and al-Qaeda in these countries contributed to the decline in security and the increase in attacks and thus also the increase in the number of victims. For his part, Ali Bakr, a researcher in the file of extremist groups at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told the Reference that the competition between ISIS and al-Qaeda to expand in Africa depends on the desire of the two organizations to expand further in the region, taking advantage of the weakness of the security and military capabilities of some countries.


Al-Qaeda and jihadist visions for Africa

Al-Qaeda’s expansion in Africa has increased irrespective of its different leaders, and the organization has been able to establish strong branches in the region, most notably in Somalia, Mali and Burkina Faso, using these branches as a platform to attract new elements and train them on its ideology and fighting, as well as exploiting the wealth of the regions.

Nick Ridley, a researcher in politics and security at Britain's Metropolitan University, says in his book “Terrorism in East and West Africa: The Under-focused Dimension” that the period of Osama bin Laden's stay in Sudan before September 11, 2001, during the period from 1991 until 1996, was one of the most important stages of the organization in Africa, as it paved the way for the development of the presence of al-Qaeda in the region and the development of its regional branches that exploited the turbulent conditions of some countries of the continent.

Bin Laden took advantage of this period to establish economic activities such as trading in food commodities, building and construction work, shipping and transportation, in addition to millions of dollars in investments in Sudanese banks, through which he was able to spend on training camps to carry weapons and manufacture explosives in the region, which were used to train members of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the rebels against the Ugandan government, followed by crystallized al-Qaeda branches in Africa as a tool for spending on the organization, Ridley adds.