By Dr. David Doukhan & Dr. Eitan Azani
On July 1st, 2021, while speaking at a UN conference on counter-terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (OCT) stressed the rise in radical Islamic terrorism threat in Africa. Further, he said that within the framework of counter-terrorism one must prepare for tomorrow’s threat and conduct global war on terrorism while at the same time innovate and adjust traditional counter-terrorism modi operandi. On the other hand, ISIS spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, was quoted in al-Naba magazine (vol. 292, dated June 24th, 2021) as calling to continue ISIS’ Baqiya wa tatamaddad (i.e., remaining and expanding) campaign and to recruit Muslims in Africa.
Africa is radical Islam’s new heaven. The reasons for the prosperity of radical Islamic organizations are varied: the existence of large influential Muslim communities, lack of governability, weak and corrupt security services, weak intelligence infrastructure in most countries, mostly poor populations susceptible to Islamic propaganda regarding social mobility and radicalization. The abundance of black-market weapons (mostly from Libya), rampant crime, human trafficking and rug running networks, demographic reasons, and expansion of the deserts due to climate changes are only few of the reasons that led to the spread of radical Islam in Africa.
In this article we will attempt to map the spread of Islamic terrorist organizations in Africa. The effects of this process exceed the continent’s boundaries. In addition to the danger it poses to Africans, millions of which have become hunger-stricken refugees, the spread of radical Islam in Africa influences Europe and the western world. European and multinational energy corporations hold significant energy related assets in Africa which are affected by the security, economic and political instability. Additionally, the rising violence has created waves of refugees attempting in any way possible to infiltrate Europe.
This document will deal with the rise of Islamic terrorist organization in Africa, focus on the al-Qaeda and ISIS extensions and the challenges of contending with them.
The Islamic Awakening in Africa
The radical Islamic wave that started in Egypt in the 1930s penetrated Africa in the second half of the 20th century. First, through the Dawah systems led by KSA via the formation of charities and later by Iran within the framework of its “export of the Shiite revolution”.
Later, the jihadi wave took hold, inspired by the veterans of the first Afghanistan war. These veterans, led by Bin Laden, settled in Sudan in the early 1990s and formed al-Qaeda in the shape of an “Islamic Army”. The global jihadi wave was shaped and led by al-Qaeda until the formation of ISIS in 2014. Africa’s strategic position, highlighted by political instability, Muslim populations, tribal culture constrained by state/country political frameworks assisted with the dissemination of radical Islam in Africa.
The Islamic wave in the middle east influenced and intensified processes that took place in Africa by the return of the first Afghani war veterans and their settlement in Sudan. The supreme goal of al-Qaeda, as manifested many times by its leaders over the years, was to establish an Islamic Califate but as a precursor the organization invested in forming Islamic emirates in places where it had presence and Africa was a fertile ground in this sense.
The al-Qaeda shift from centralized to decentralized modus operandi following the 9/11 attacks increased the importance of Africa as a space wherein they could survive and prosper. This state of affairs led to the formation of al-Qaeda’s Maghreb extension (AQIM) and in 2012 al-Shabab became its Somali extension.
The importance of Africa to global jihad was manifested many times by both Africa experts and leaders of the terrorist organizations themselves. The above was disseminated on the terrorist organizations’ various platforms and campaigns. For example, in 2017 al-Qaeda’s al-Sahab media outlet disseminated an audio clip of Ayman al-Zawahiri titled “messages to the front” where he highlighted the activity in Africa. He praised the activity in the Maghreb, north Africa, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya and said that these regions will serve as a springboard to the conquest of Spain. He called al-Qaeda activists in Mali to increase their attacks against French forces and encouraged jihadists in Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Uganda to expand their activities.
 https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/470977-terrorists-more-innovative-in-world-shaken-by-coronavirus-un.html; also see https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sc14282.doc.htm
 The war waged by the USSR on Islamic rebels in Afghanistan seeking to topple the Hafizalla Amin government. The war lasted ten years between 1979-1989.