IS vs. Al Qaeda: the new terrorism competion in Africa

The last Boko Haram’s attacks in Cameroon are yet another confirmation that the Nigerian Islamist group has now turned into an organization capable of striking at the regional level.

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To affect in a tangible way on the overall strategy of Salafi Nigerian was also the alliance with the Islamic State (IS), in consequence of which the organization has changed its name to “Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP).

A decision that has its clear interpretation: the waiver by Boko Haram/ISWAP, for months under pressure from the MNJTF, of their autonomy in exchange for support from Daesh leaders.

It being understood that the two entities are very different, because the IS in areas controlled has introduced a sort of state infrastructure, while pursuing its international ambitions, but extremists Nigerians remain strongly oriented towards local jihad.

The authority exercised against them has however offered to caliph al-Baghdadi the opportunity to establish a strategic foothold in sub-Saharan Africa, from which can expand the doctrine of the Caliphate in the region.

The Islamic State is not limitedjust to keep under its control the bloodiest terrorist organization in the world, but tries to extend its influence in other areas of the vast sub-Saharan region, where some jihadist formations have shown a willingness to comply with Caliphate’sexpansionist plans.

Moreover, for the Daesh it is not too complicated reap proselytizing in an area where more than fifteen years is registering a strong growth of the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism.

However, you must remember that the consensus achieved in northern Nigeria and in the Lake Chad basin; it is not found in the other two sub-Saharan areas where the jihadist threat is no longer present: the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, where the link with al Qaeda remains very strong for most of the local organizations.

The blood feud of al-Shabaab

The most striking example is that of the Somali extremist group al-Shabaab, which urged the leaders of Boko Haram / ISWAP in October 2015 registered an internal fraction about of one of the spiritual leaders, Abdul Qadir Mumin, who has sworn loyalty to the Islamic state, thus causing a split between her and the other factions of the group.

However, al-Shabaab has proven harder to infiltrate, being a jihadist training structured clan-based, which sees the Somali government as the main enemy.

In February 2012, the then leader of the group, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who had fought under the orders of bin Laden in Afghanistan, decided that his organization was supposed to be part of the al Qaeda franchise.

After the elimination, in September 2014, of Godane in a US air raid, his successor Ahmad Omar promised to continue the alliance with al Qaeda, but many of the al-Shabaab fighters started turn their attention towards the IS.

Those who have chosen to follow this new path, however, have not had it easy, because the group’s leaders to eliminate dissidents have used Amniyat, the dreaded al-Shabaab’s secret police.

Therefore, they have been arrested five foreign mujahideen for attempting to join the Islamic state, while last November was killed Sheikh Hussein Abdi Gedi, the former vice-governor of the movement in the region of Jubba, after he expressed its willingness to adhere to the ideology of the Caliphate.

Sources within the Somali security forces believe that only about one hundred of the approximately 1,400 fighters from al-Shabaab have embraced the cause of Daesh, but also point out that others may soon join the ranks of the Islamist group.

It also shows the change of orientation of the influential Kenyan preacher Hussein Hassan, once a strong supporter of the doctrine of al Qaeda, which has begun to encourage al-Shabaab militia to follow al-Baghdadi.

The attempts of infiltration in the Sahel

In the Sahel and in Mali, the jihadistscenario is dominated by groups linked to al Qaeda, as evidenced by the attacks launched by al-Mourabitoune (group linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM), last November at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, and the last Friday atHotel Spendid in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso.

Al-Mourabitounewas formed in 2013 from the merger of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and al-KatibaMulaththamin, led by the notorious terrorist Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who has repeatedly pledged allegiance to al Qaeda and to its current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

On 14 May, however, the co-founder of al-Mourabitoune, Adnan Abu Waleed al-Sahrawi, via an audio message, gave the announcement of the oath of allegiance of his group to the Islamic State. However, a few days after, Belmokhtar denied the act of submission, reiterating its proximity to al Qaeda.

Anunclear maneuver, which could be interpreted as the result of a split within the group, which in a little while after birth had been divided into three katiba of about a hundred men each.

Overall, the current situation in Mali indicates that local groups are not immune to the charms of the Caliphate, but to establish a major presence in the territory for the IS will be a much more difficult that in the region of Lake Chad Basin or in East Africa.

Al Qaeda still exerts a strong influence

All these developments indicate that the IS had a varying degree of success in creating proselytism among the sub-Saharan jihadist groups linked to al-Zawahiri. His attempt to infiltrate the region has caused tension and strife, but has also shown that the decline of al Qaeda in the area is over-rated.

The attacks in Kenya and Mali indicate that its affiliates are still able to plan and carry out deadly attacks against Western and local targets in Africa. It is clear, therefore, that especially in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, al Qaeda still exerts a strong influence, because the African Islamist formations are mainly focusing on local agendas, in conflict with the international ambitions of the Caliphate.

No doubt, there will be new declarations of allegiance to the Islamic State by African jihadists, but it will be important to assess whether the motivation to make that choice will bedictated by ideology or by opportunism.

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