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AfricaAfrican terrorist groups driven by local issues

Published 2 October 2013

Africa’s three leading Islamist terrorist groups — Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram of Nigeria, and Somalia’s al-Shabab — are mostly national and regional movements. Terrorism experts say that each has its own priorities, and each is fighting a local enemy. There is no operational coherence or coordinated direction among them, even as they use the same jihadist propaganda.

Liaison works with afghani tribal elders // Source: uta.edu

Islamist groups in Africa with claimed links to al Qaeda are connected by a similar style of propaganda, not by formal agreements or official coordination. Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle East studies at Sciences Po, commenting on al Shabab’s attack on a Nairobi shopping mall, told AFP that “Nothing could be more wrong than conflating the horror of Nairobi with other eruptions of jihadist violence on the African continent.” Fox News reports that Filiu stresses that Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram of Nigeria, and Somalia’s al-Shabab, each “has its own priorities, which high-profile terrorism allows them to further. Each is fighting a local enemy (and) there is no operational coherence or coordinated direction, just the same jihadist propaganda.”

AQIM and Boko Haram are geographically close and have traded weapons and equipment. Some experts note that Nigerian militants have been trained in AQIM camps, but this does not make the two groups members of a unified, cohesive coalition. Al Shabab recruits and raises funds largely from Somali immigrants in Europe and the United States in its own right.

African Islamist groups operate independently of al Qaeda, but the al Qaeda leadership regards Africa as an area for expansion. As al Qaeda’s footprint in Afghanistan and Pakistan is redeuced by U.S. drone attacks, Africa offers the organization vast lawless territories where state armies have failed to control Islamist groups.

Valentina Soria of London’s Royal United Services Institute RUSI), in a report titled Global Jihad in Africa,  notes, “As the central leadership of Al-Qaeda is weakened and challenged, the terrorist movement is looking to partnerships in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa to regroup and re-energize itself. Following the alliance with (the) Al-Qaeda core, regional affiliates such as Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Al Shabaab have undergone similar patterns of strategic, tactical and propagandistic evolution.”

Robert Rotberg of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, told Fox News that the three al Qaeda affiliates — Boko Haram, al Shabab, and AQIM – “Clearly… are mostly national and regional movements, but they have common funding coming through Al-Qaeda central, so they are forced to know what the other ones are doing and forced to cooperate to a certain extent.

And there may have some transfer of expertise in bomb making for example,” he said.

General Carter Ham, former head of the U.S military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), said there are signs that Boko Haram, AQIM, and al Shabab were sharing money and explosive materials. “Each of those three organizations is by itself a dangerous and worrisome threat,” Ham told an African Centre for Strategic Studies seminar in Washington. “What really concerns me is the indications that the three organizations are seeking to co-ordinate and synchronize their efforts — in other words, to establish a co-operative effort amongst the three most violent organizations … And I think that’s a real problem for us and for African security in general.”