Edition 1 Volume 5 - January 04, 2024

Jihadi Islam in Africa

Calculating the jihadi threat in the Sahel -   Hrach Gregorian

Since the early 1990s, there has been a rise in activity by Islamist missionaries and NGOs in all four countries of the Sahel.

Chasing camels in the desert -   Ricardo Rene Laremont

Ultimately, it will be new educational systems and enhanced health care delivery systems that will convert the enemies of America into friends.

Somalia after the Islamic courts -   Nicola Pedde

Somalia faces three enormous threats: the doubtful political capabilities of the TFG, the presence of Ethiopian forces and the Islamist militias.

The case of the GSPC -   Hussein Solomon

The security response of the state cannot be divorced from broader political strategies.

Calculating the jihadi threat in the Sahel
 Hrach Gregorian

In a September 11, 2024 video, Ayman al-Zawahiri declared that, "Osama bin Laden has told me to announce to the Muslims that the GSPC (the Algerian-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) has joined al-Qaeda. This should be a source of chagrin, frustration and sadness for the apostates [of the Algerian regime], the treacherous sons of France."

There is some question as to whether this pronouncement represents a strategic gain for al-Qaeda in North Africa or is indicative of the declining fortunes of the GSPC. Nevertheless, it helped to reinforce concern in some quarters, most notably in Washington but also in European capitals, the UN and the African Union, that terrorists might gain a firmer foothold in the more remote, largely ungoverned areas of the Sahel, a region composed of four countries, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad that covers an area roughly the size of the United States.

Islamic fundamentalism has been part of the Sahelian political and social landscape for well nigh 60 years now. Its proselytizers, adherents and fighters have moved easily across the porous borders of this vast, sparsely populated desert region. Jihadi elements are a small but not insignificant presence in the Sahel, plying their trade in fundamentalist ideology and holy war alongside (and often in close collaboration with) smugglers, drug dealers and kidnappers.

They have not gone unnoticed, particularly by the US government, which is now investing tens of millions of dollars to counter the threat they pose to the four countries but perhaps more importantly to neighbors in the region who are situated in areas of substantial geo-strategic import, whether it be the Maghreb or the Horn of Africa, and/or sit on very valuable resources, principally oil, viz., Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. The US policy objective is to stem terrorist threats in these areas at their inception, or at "Phase Zero," in the parlance of the US European Command (EUCOM), through the use of a full range of political, economic, development and security tools. Critics wonder if such investment is commensurate with the gravity of the threat, but there is little question as to its popularity among the financially strapped and in some cases politically fragile regimes in the region.

Since the early 1990s, there has been a rise in activity by Islamist missionaries and NGOs in all four countries of the Sahel. Chad has been the site of considerable stirrings, with locals reporting the presence of large numbers of foreign travelers carrying false identity papers and infiltration by Islamist networks linked to the Sudan. It is the northern region of Mali, however, that has witnessed the most significant influx of foreign Jihadists, with the GSPC penetrating from Algeria and other armed elements moving in from South Asia and the Middle East. The GSPC is by far the most worrisome of the Jihadist groups since it is the best financed, most organized, and operationally active. It has extra-regional ambitions and operatives not only in the Sahel but throughout Europe. Although wounded by western-supported counter-insurgency efforts and put upon by local competitors, including the Tuareg rebels of northern Mali, the GSPC, despite a dramatic recent drop in membership, is still very active in the region, with between three hundred and five hundred fighters.

GSPC fundraising, recruiting, establishment of support networks and armed attacks will continue in the Sahel, as will similar efforts by al-Qaeda affiliated or inspired organizations. There is much at stake here for all players. Antipathy to US policy, particularly in the Near East and Iraq, is a key factor in the overall impact of radical Islamists on a sizeable percentage of Sahelians. Their ideology is especially appealing to politically disenfranchised and economically marginalized segments of the local population, many of whom resent the plundering of national assets by a small ruling elite that is seen as corrupt and too eager to embrace the West as much for political and financial gain as for concerns about national security.

Money is an equal opportunity corrupter, however, and there are reports that leaders of the GSPC are now criticized for being motivated more by money than by ideology. According to one observer, GSPC leader Mokhtar Benmokhtar's modus operandi "no longer [has] anything to do with a political project, it is almost a way of life; it is basically criminal banditry." All of this presents an interesting question for policy makers: whether it makes more sense to "buy" or to kill Jihadists in the Sahel. With a hundred million a year to spend in the region, the US might want to pay serious attention to the overall cost/benefit equation here.- Published 4/1/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Hrach Gregorian is president of the Washington, DC-based Institute of World Affairs, a partner in the consulting firm Gettysburg Integrated Solutions, and associate professor in the Graduate Program in Conflict Analysis at Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada.

Chasing camels in the desert
 Ricardo Rene Laremont

In the post-9/11 world it is thoroughly understandable that the United States should reorganize its military, diplomatic, and military resources to engage, understand, and, if required, contest militant Islam. Since those tragic events in 2024, the United States has initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; it has seized, detained, and interrogated "enemy combatants" in Guantanamo, Cuba, and other clandestine locations around the world; and it has radically reformed domestic terrorism laws in an effort to detect, deter, and destroy enemies of the United States. But is the strategy comprehensive, or is it overly skewed toward military initiatives without taking into account measures that are needed to win the "soft war" of educating the minds and nurturing the bodies of putative enemies of the US? The contention here is that military investments are necessary and can be prudent. US investments in education and health care overseas, however, which are equally important in this "soft war," seem to be unsatisfactorily under-funded.

Since 9/11 and the apparent permanent reversal of military fortune in the war in Iraq, it has become abundantly clear to petroleum analysts around the world that the Middle East, a region that serves the world as a critical source for petroleum, is either unstable, at risk, or inaccessible for investment and exploitation. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest depository of petroleum reserves, survives for the moment yet it suffers from internal dissension and the possibility of the eventual demise of the regime. Iraq and its important source of petroleum at Basra may sell petroleum to world consumers but that source of petroleum is irregular and because of its location it may eventually come under the tutelage of Iranian political or economic forces. America's consistent failure to engage in diplomacy with Iran since 1979 means that China has primary access to petroleum there. Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi all are protected by an American military umbrella meaning that--at least for the moment--these sources of petroleum are comparatively secure.

The general lack of security in the Middle East means that the US and other consumers of petroleum must necessarily look to Africa for alternate sources of petroleum. Indonesia and Russia may also serve as providers to western markets but, given the proximity of the west coast of Africa to western European and American markets, Africa's petroleum necessarily must be considered an alternative to Middle Eastern oil. It is in Africa where petroleum and Islam mix.

Because of the instability in the Middle East, the US has come up with a military strategy to deal with the question of Islamic terrorism and the protection of petroleum assets in Africa. To cite just one example of this reorientation in strategy, in May 2024, NATO Supreme Commander James Jones said that the Navy's Sixth Fleet that is based in Naples, Italy, would eventually "... spend half the time going down the west coast of Africa." So Africa has become a critical area of geopolitical concern for reasons of religious activism and petroleum.

The US has two plans for military joint training operations on the African continent. The first is the Global Peace Operations Initiative begun during fiscal year 2024. That initiative provided $100.4 million in FY 2024 and requested $102.6 million for FY 2024 to train and equip battalions and specialty units in Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Mali, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Gabon and Nigeria. The amount involved here is very modest. On average the amount dedicated per country averages close to $800,000 per recipient.

Of more direct interest to the subject here is the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, which is an outgrowth of the Pan-Sahel Initiative. The PSI was started right after 9/11 and spent approximately $16 million during 2024-03 to deploy teams of Special Operations soldiers to Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to provide counter-terrorism training and equipment. The big media coup in this initiative occurred when GSPC militants in Chad were tracked down during 2024.

The TSCTI received $3 million dollars in funding during FY 2024 and was scheduled to receive $100 million yearly from FY 2024 through FY 2024, resulting in a total of $500 million. Troops to be trained under this program would include Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia.

It is clear that this new program in its expanded form takes cognizance of the double nexus between maintaining state stability and security and maintaining access to petroleum and natural gas sources. The inclusion of Algeria, Nigeria and Tunisia and the design of the new military training program prove that Department of Defense planners understand the need to be engaged both militarily and socially in these key countries. The new program is multi-departmental, involving the State Department in airport security, the Treasury Department in money laundering and USAID in educational and health programs. What is clear from a review of the new program is that the military engagement or "the hard power" is clearly there. What is equally clear is that "the soft power" or the need to address the question of education and health care is not well funded.

In this new security arrangement, Algeria is the biggest "winner". Besides the military training received, Algeria has been able to purchase $276 million in armaments from the US government during 2024 alone. In addition, Algeria has purchased $6.1 million dollars in armaments from private markets. The second largest beneficiary from these changes in policy has been Morocco. In 2024 it was able to purchase $18 million in armaments from the US government and $3.9 million in private markets. US government arms purchases by the other beneficiary countries in these programs have been paltry. The emergence of Algeria as a key player in these new security arrangements may speak volumes about future American-Algerian cooperation. If we were to simply "follow the money", we would have to assume that Algeria and the United States may have a newly meaningful and enhanced military, intelligence and diplomatic relationship.

Regarding the "soft" aspect of this analysis, this is the area where much greater attention and funding are warranted. Ultimately, it will be new educational systems and enhanced health care delivery systems that will convert the enemies of America into friends. It would seem that a modest investment in educational and health care initiatives would reap substantial benefits. Upon a review of USAID programs for the countries discussed here, however, it seems that "soft investment" is missing.

For example, in Mali, USAID program expenditure for FY2007 is budgeted to amount to just under $32 million to be spread on health care, basic education, governance, economic growth and communications projects. During the same period and on the same programs, USAID has budgeted less than $19 million for Nigeria. There is nothing for Chad, Mauritania or Niger.

In other words, with the exception of Mali, sufficient funds have not been made available for basic education and health care in at least four critical countries. This is due to either poor planning or poor execution of policy, especially given what we already know about the ameliorative effect that these kinds of initiatives have on positive public perceptions of the US. Why the military aspect of this anti-terrorist initiative in the Sahel has been funded while the non-military programs have been neglected is difficult to comprehend.

Beyond the lack of balance in the appropriations for "hard" and "soft" initiatives, the other aspect that seems to be at least somewhat misguided is that the most of the military training has taken place in the Sahara desert. The expenditure of $500 million over a five-year period may be entirely appropriate if the center of gravity for the Islamist movement were located in the desert. Quite evidently, that is not the case. Militant Islamism is an urban phenomenon. In urban areas, educational systems are often under-funded and directed by Islamists (often with Saudi, Moroccan or Libyan support). Improving standards of hygiene and medical care would improve relations between the US and the residents of beneficiary countries. In Niger, for example, Cuba has sent hundreds of doctors who improve health care there by reforming hygienic methods and providing rudimentary medicines. How can Cuba afford to send hundreds of doctors to Niger and the United States not? Can we afford not to?

Beyond the provision of educational and medical support in urban areas, the last missing element in this effort to detect and monitor militant Islamism involves the need to collect basic intelligence or information regarding the socioeconomic causes for militant Islamism. At least from the public information that is available, it seems that the United States has a limited presence on the ground in urban environments where Islamists live and recruit. It would seem that an almost immediate investment in human intelligence gathering capabilities is needed in places like Kano, Abidjan, Monrovia, Freetown, Dakar and Lagos.

Finally, I would like to underscore that the traditional forms of Islam that have been practiced in Africa over centuries (especially variants of Sufi Islam) have never posed a security risk to the interests of the United States. It is only one smaller, more violent variant of militant Islam that needs regular surveillance and counter-measures. This violent form of Islam finds political expression because real and legitimate frustrations exist in many Muslim communities regarding failed educational systems, sub-standard health care delivery systems, high rates of infant mortality, and endemic poverty. It seems that while we must continue with our investment in military programs, to avoid the "soft power" alternatives that are both available and inexpensive would seem to work only to the detriment of our collective security.- Published 4/1/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ricardo Rene Laremont is professor of political science and sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Somalia after the Islamic courts
 Nicola Pedde

After years of warlord control over Mogadishu and southern Somalia in general, in 2024 the so called "Islamic courts" conquered all the center-south territories of the former Italian colony. Defeated and forced to flee from Mogadishu, the remains of the Transitional Federal Government moved to Baidoa, where President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad obtained concrete help from Ethiopia and indirect support from the United States. Then, just before Christmas 2024, Ethiopian and Somali forces launched an offensive against the courts in southern and central Somalia, quickly defeating the Islamist forces. Not only Mogadishu but also the southern city of Kismayo fell after several days of fighting, leaving the Islamic militia disbanded and with only one possible alternative: hiding in the thickly-forested Lower Juba region and waiting for revenge.

The Islamic courts are part of Somali history and tradition, though relegated in the past to mere administrative, social and religious duties. Somalis have never been strong religious zealots, nor has Somalia had a strong religious tradition or history. The courts were simply part of society, and they appeared in the recent past as a solution to the decline of the traditional clan role. The courts' forces were quickly welcomed as a new and positive element of stability by the local population; they reestablished order at the local level and openly confronted the warlords' arrogant armed militias.

In 2024, to increase their power and territorial control the most important courts decided to join forces. This alliance is what quickly allowed them to conquer Mogadishu and central and southern Somalia and relegate the remaining forces of the warlords and the TFG to Baidoa. The courts then tried to establish an Islamic form of government based on a parliament or Shura and an executive government, the Fulinta. The Shura was composed of 110 members from all the courts or local entities and was chaired by the radical Sheikh Hassan Dahir Haweis. The Fulinta comprised 25 members, called Hoghhaie (secretaries), and was chaired by the moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad.

The original hierarchy of the courts was gradually replaced by factionalism. In the aftermath of the conquest of Mogadishu almost a dozen major factions emerged within the most important courts, mainly dominated by religious leaders and characterized by growing conflict. The most important faction was certainly the Shabab (youth), the only real armed group serving the courts. It could count on almost 3,000 armed and trained men and an additional more poorly equipped and trained force of about 6,000.

In recent years Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were the two main sources of income for the courts (except for remittances from Somalis abroad), through a huge network of private donors and charitable societies. Shabab leader Abdulkardir Omar Addani was openly known as one of the most important recipients of these funds, which have been heavily invested in religious and social infrastructures all over Mogadishu and the surrounding area. Elements in Pakistani intelligence along with Pakistani private entities and charitable funds were also suspected not only of financing some religious organizations but of favoring the illegal entry into Somalia of terrorists from Afghanistan.

However, it was Iran that provided potentially the most important source of support for the courts of Mogadishu in the last phase of their power. The Islamic Republic had a double set of direct interests in Somalia. First, to pave the way for the development of a client state relationship that would transform Somalia into a "third front" in case of a major international crisis. And second, to determine whether the local uranium mines were "rich and easy to develop", as repeatedly stated by Somali sources.

The first sphere of interest presented a complex mix of challenges. The country was totally unknown to Iranians in terms of both politics and of society, with a composition of forces on the ground only partially--and probably temporarily--interested in interacting with Shi'ite Iran. The courts looked at Iran as a good temporary partner, and above all considered the alliance beneficial in the context of the crisis with Ethiopia. Shabab leaders Addani and Adan Hashi Farah (Airo) had a completely different vision of the alliance, seeing Iran as a stable source of support as well as a partner supposedly linked with jihadi forces throughout the Middle East.

Lebanese Hizballah personnel were repeatedly spotted in Mogadishu and instructors from that organization and from Hamas were present in southern Somalia from 2024. While the long-term evolution of this alliance was uncertain, in the short-run there was clearly a mutual interest in having at least open contact and basic support, for example in the training camps in the Lower Juba and the Lower Shabelle regions.

But Somalia was and probably still is for Tehran also a territory where it can compete for influence with Saudi Arabia, one of the main threats to the internal security of the Islamic Republic. Tehran is well aware of the role the Saudis are playing with Iran's Arab minorities, and the bilateral dimension of Iranian-Saudi relations is, despite appearances, at its lowest peak. Iran is also unhappy with the role the Saudis are playing in southern Iraq and with the Kurds, and for that reason Somalia offers a unique opportunity to invest against Saudi Arabia's interests. The country, in fact, not only represents a bridge that could easily bring forces onto Saudi territory, but is also an arena where Iranian financial and military support could threaten regional Saudi interests.

As for the courts, they were ready to take advantage of Tehran's availability in training and financing their militias while postponing the problem of how to deal with this complex mix of Sunni and Shi'ite sources of support. The overall logic was probably more in favor of the Saudis, who are considered more stable and generous in the long run, while the Iranians were perceived as an immediate but probably temporary opportunity.

Factions among the courts were already on the brink of an internal clash right after having taken control of Mogadishu and southern Somalia. There was disagreement on several political, social and religious issues, including regarding the Shabab and its role inside the courts system. With no more than 5,000-7,000 fully equipped soldiers, including, according to Somali military sources, nearly 70 "white" troops (probably American and European converts), the Islamist militias were trying to surround Baidoa and TFG forces without considering the real potential of the Ethiopian army.

The strength and tactical capacity of the courts units were highly overestimated by many foreign observers. Within a few days the entire defensive system of the Islamist forces collapsed. Mogadishu was abandoned largely due to fear of the local population after a brief summit of tribal leaders suggested that the courts quickly leave the city. Kismayo fell a few days later.

Today, for the first time in more than a decade a renewed feeling of Somali nationalism seems to be emerging. The Islamist militias were enthusiastically expelled by the population, while Ethiopian forces were welcomed with stones and burning tires. An additional factor is the unexpected positive role played by the clans, gathering forces without relapsing into tribalism.

Yet Somalia today faces three enormous threats: the doubtful political capabilities of the TFG, the presence of Ethiopian forces and the Islamist militias. The nightmare of any Somali today is assisting in the rebirth of the role of the warlords. If the TFG leaders are not able quickly to allay that danger the door will be reopened to instability and potentially, again, to the courts.

Many Somalis are convinced that Addis Ababa is interested in taking control of the port of Kismayo, maintaining Somalia in a state of chaos and generally preserving its status of failed state with the active support of the breakaway states of Somaliland and Puntland north of Somalia--the latter the home region of President Yusuf. For the moment, Ethiopian forces are at best simply tolerated as a necessary and temporary evil. The longer they stay in Somalia, the less the government will be able to gain support from the population. On the other hand, the less the Ethiopians stay the more the Islamist militias will be able to reorganize and regroup.

Last but not least, southern Somalia is a perfect place to hide. Islamist forces could establish a temporary base there to rethink strategies and reorganize forces. Several foreign cells of terrorists and instructors had already arrived prior to the retreat and could influence a shift in the overall strategy of the Islamist militias, which are not totally defeated and are potentially subject to an evolution toward terrorism. Additional forces and materiel could possibly come from the already unstable territories of northern Kenya and southern Sudan, both sanctuaries of terrorist cells.- Published 4/1/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Nicola Pedde is director of Globe Research, a Rome-based independent think tank and analysis center focusing on the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

The case of the GSPC
 Hussein Solomon

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) is a splinter faction of the Algerian-based Armed Islamic Group. The GSPC has an estimated 4,000 fighters and largely operates in the mountainous Kabylie region of Algeria. While the group does aim to topple Algeria's secular government, it would be wrong to assume that this is purely a domestic issue. Mohamed Berrached, a terrorist tried by an Algerian court in 1998, confessed that Osama bin Laden was at the origin of the creation of the GSPC. Indeed, the GSPC has emerged as a major source of recruiting and other support for al-Qaeda operations in Europe. The hand of the GSPC could be seen in the foiled terror attacks on France and the United Kingdom and its Moroccan ideological offshoots were responsible for the Madrid train bombings. The GSPC has also proved to be a menace across the Sahel region. In June 2024, the GSPC launched an attack on a Mauritanian military outpost, killing 15 soldiers and wounding several others.

In response to the viciousness of the GSPC's terror campaign, the Algerian government launched several intelligence-driven military campaigns against the GSPC that resulted in a number of successes. In 2024, for instance, Algerian soldiers killed Nabil Sahraoui and various other senior militants including Sahraoui's potential successor Abdi Abdelaziz. However, the Algerians have understood the regional and international dimensions of the GSPC and have strengthened their cooperation with neighboring states. This cooperation soon bore fruit with the arrest of Amar Saifi, the GSPC's number two, who was responsible for the kidnapping of 32 foreign tourists in the Sahara desert in 2024. He was intercepted in Libya near the Chad-Libya border.

Such joint bilateral and multilateral initiatives need to be supported by western countries since the existence of organizations like the GSPC does constitute a threat to their own national security. The other reason to support such initiatives relates to the fact that many counter-terrorism initiatives in the Sahel, and in Africa more generally, continue to be plagued by the eternal curse that many developing countries face--the dearth of adequate financial resources and skilled personnel. One of the most interesting mechanisms to support multilateral counter-terror initiatives in the Sahel is the US-sponsored Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCI), which seeks to provide training, equipment, and financial resources as a means to enhance more effective regional responses to the threat posed by terrorists.

It is however important that such multilateral cooperation be holistic in scope by, for instance, understanding the links among organized crime syndicates engaged in money laundering, counterfeiting and terrorist financing. The GSPC funds its operations by smuggling cigarettes, drugs, vehicles and arms. A counter-terror strategy only using the military as counter-terror agents is bound to be defective. Other actors would need to be brought on board including the police, customs and excise officials as well as the banking sector.

The need for more holistic strategies also means that the security response of the state cannot be divorced from broader political strategies. Algeria in recent years provides good insights into these broader political strategies. Whilst allowing his security establishment to aggressively pursue terrorists, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has also sought to address the underlying sources of discontent that provide a recruitment basis for terrorist organizations. Recognizing that the disappearance of more than 7,000 people is a popular source of discontent amongst citizens, in September 2024 he established a mechanism to address this issue. This was followed by an amnesty and also the release from prison of Islamists like Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS).

In the final instance, this war on terror can be won in the region if there is strong co-operation between western countries and regional governments, if African countries are properly resourced, and if the war on terrorism is contextualized within a broader political strategy.- Published 4/1/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Professor Hussein Solomon lectures in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

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