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Is Africa the New Terrorist Safe Haven?

Bit by bit, the international community is learning just how unpleasant the Libyan afterparty can be. It’s not just that ex-Qaddafi mercenaries and terrorists have taken over a huge part of Mali. Other Sahel countries are fragile too, and the U.S. announced that it believes that Africa’s three most visible Islamist terror groups in Africa—Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda—are seeking ways to work together across the continent. Army General Carter Ham via Bloomberg News:

“Each of these organizations is, by itself, a dangerous and worrisome threat. . . . But what really concerns me is that the three organizations are seeking to coordinate and synchronize their efforts . . . .”

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is now “operating essentially unconstrained” in a large portion of Mali, Ham said. With an effective safe haven in Mali, the al-Qaeda affiliate “is an organization of growing concern,” he said.

Meanwhile, the EU’s European External Action Service, led by Catherine Ashton, is searching for ways to prevent a domino effect of chaos in the Sahel. NYT:

No wonder that Mali’s neighbors—Mauritania to the west and Niger to the east—are extremely concerned about contagion, both by separatist movements and Ansar Dine.

Brigi Rafini, the prime minister of Niger, was in Brussels earlier this month to seek EU help. ‘Niger state institutions are simply not strong enough to cope with what is happening in Mali,’ [political analyst Barah] Mikail said.

Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and regional rebel groups like Tuaregs have been creating headaches for the governments of Niger, Mali, and Algeria for years. But trained and experienced fighters armed with weapons from the Libyan war are taking over more and more cities and territory and there doesn’t appear to be anyone willing or able to stop them.

Now turn your gaze to the eastern side of Africa. Yesterday Ugandan authorities picked up five Pakistanis suspected of terrorism after they had snuck in from the Congo. The men assert that they were puttering around Africa to “spread Islam,” but Ugandan intelligence officials are linking them to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), “a group of Ugandan rebels formed in the mid-1990s to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state.” WSJ:

Ugandan intelligence officials believe the Islamic fighters that make up the ADF have regrouped in Eastern Congo after they were driven from Uganda in 2004. In March, the Ugandan army said the ADF had set up three camps in Congo’s North Kivu province, some 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the Ugandan border, near where oil exploration companies have discovered some 1.5 billion barrels of oil.

The ADF orchestrated a string of deadly bomb attacks in Uganda in the late 1990s, targeting mainly taxis, public buildings and markets. Ugandan intelligence officials say that the group, which was largely supported by the Somali government in the 1990s, is also closely linked to al Qaeda.

That threat, coupled with a spate of terror attacks in neighboring Kenya, has put Uganda security forces on high alert.

People in Europe and Washington are paying attention to this growing threat. American boots are already on the ground across Africa. While officials are confident that the threat from African terrorist groups is not yet spreading to Europe or the U.S., Africa is increasingly the biggest worry in the fight against Islamic terrorism. The Sahel, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda join Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the COFKATGWOT. (Also known as the conflict formerly known as the global war on terror.) Africa’s mix of weak governments and religious tension makes it dangerously open for terrorist groups.

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  • Kris

    I wonder what the thoughts are in Algiers regarding these developments.

    Oh well, let’s have something more positive from Mali.

  • Albert

    Have no fear. The EU’s European External Action Service, led by Catherine Ashton is on the case.

    I am sure that after their 6 week summer holiday an EU-wide meeting will be convened. Plans will be conceived, memos will be drafted.

    And the problem will end up in America’s lap again.

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