ATbar New Challenges of Countering Terrorism in Africa
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New Challenges of Countering Terrorism in Africa

28/12/2014 | by ICT Staff  

Dr. Jonathan Fine, Research Fellow at ICT and Academic Advisor at the Raphael Recanati International School IDC, hosted the panel of speakers for the workshop. The workshop focused on the challenges of counterterrorism in Africa, and the speakers discussed a variety of topics. Dr. Terdiman discussed the potential influence of ISIS in Africa. Mr. Chen reviewed the counterterrorism role and challenges of the United Nations. Dr. Shay examined the emergence of radical Islam in Somalia and the threat al-Shabaab has on the region.  Mr. Paris discussed the challenges of counterterrorism response in Sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on Boko Haram. Lastly, Mr. Horst examined the recent developments of the conflict in Libya. The workshop concluded with a question and answer session where Dr. Fine stressed that while poverty, unemployment, and lack of education attract terrorism, one cannot underestimate the ideology in counterterrorism strategy. 

Chair: Dr. Jonathan Fine
Research Fellow, ICT and Academic Advisor, Raphael Recanati International School, Program in Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Mr. Weixiong Chen
Deputy Executive Director, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), the United Nations Security Council

Mr. Frank Horst
First Secretary, German Embassy in Tripoli, Germany

Mr. Jonathan Paris
Associate Fellow, International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR), King’s College London, United Kingdom

Dr. Shaul Shay
Director of Research, Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), IDC Herzliya, Israel

Dr. Moshe Terdiman
Director, Green Compass Research, Israel


Dr. Moshe Terdiman
Dr. Moshe Terdiman, Director of Green Compass Research in Israel, discussed the spread of ISIS’ influence in Africa, including the changing of allegiance and support from various jihadist groups in Africa. These groups include al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram.  AQIM and al-Shabaab’s leadership has expressed its continued allegiance to Al-Qaeda; however, intelligence suggests that support is split among members. Boko Haram’s leader has not publicly declared allegiance to ISIS, but he has expressed support for the group. Some intelligence suggests that the influence of ISIS has spread throughout Sudan and an Islamic State of Sudan was established. South Africa also appears to have ISIS supporters, but the number is negligible compared to other African countries, such as Sudan, Somalia, and Morocco, which have larger numbers of recruits. In August, intelligence groups around Africa met to discuss combating the issue, but collaboration in the intelligence forum is not always sufficient. Dr. Terdiman concluded his presentation by discussing what African countries should do to stop the spreading influence of ISIS.  Corrupt and disorganized African governments and militaries are driving factors that contribute to jihadist development. Therefore, these root causes must be addressed, because increased military spending alone will not solve the problem.

Mr. Weixiong Chen
Mr. Weixiong Chen, Deputy Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) at the United Nations (UN) Security Council, discussed the current conflict in Africa from the UN’s perspective. African countries are victims of porous borders, conflict zones, political instability, poverty, and cash economy. All of these factors contribute to the security vacuum that allows terrorists to thrive. The presence of terrorism in Africa impedes development, and thus continues the vicious cycle. Development and security issues go hand and hand. The UN is the only universal body representing all governments, and it monitors government performance and acts as a facilitator. It acts as a broker and promotes good practices. For Africa, the UN adopts a holistic approach because it cannot address one issue alone.  In Africa, new counterterrorism policies as well need fine-tuning. Internal coordination among government agencies must be enhanced, training and equipment needs to be provided, and regional cooperation must be increased. The current international support for NGOs is not enough. 

Dr. Shaul Shay
Dr. Shaul Shay, Director of Research at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC, discussed the radicalization of Islam in Somalia, particularly the spread and influence of al-Shabaab. In the early 90s, an external class of Islam gained political power in Somalia due to state failure. The Islamic Court Union (ICU) took advantage of the security vacuum in Somalia and provided legitimate services. Later, the ICU splintered into two groups.  Al-Shabaab was eventually formed from the radicals that split. Al-Shabaab waged jihad against local governments and African Union Forces. As part of al-Shabaab’s efforts to join Al-Qaeda, it began to extend activities outside of Somalia’s borders. In 2011, after the death of Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda’s new leader accepted Al-Shabaab as an affiliate, and al-Shabaab had to adopt al-Qaeda strategies. Al-Shabaab’s most significant attack was in 2011 on the West Gate Mall in Kenya. Currently, there is no one unified force against al-Shabaab. Dr. Shay suggests a wide coalition that includes arms supplies from the U.S. and UN, with little direct involvement of the U.S. The U.S. should continue targeted killings. Additionally, consideration should be given to parties with various interests in the region, such as Turkey, that are contributing to the reconstruction of Somalia.  Currently, al-Shabaab is at a crossroad. It has a new leader and his first challenge may be choosing to align with Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Dr. Shay believes that despite the trend of ISIS, there are Al-Qaeda affiliated groups that will continue to create threats to the region. 

Mr. Jonathan Paris
Mr. Paris, an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at King’s College, London, discussed how runaway demography, conflict, and weak governance in sub-Saharan Africa challenge the counter-terrorism response to Boko Haram. The population rate of Nigeria is expected to be 800 million by the end of the century. Africa is not withstanding economic growth and innovation, which makes such high numbers of population growth worrisome. Internally, Nigeria faces political and security challenges due to divisions between the Muslim-dominated north and the Christian-dominated South. Since 2009, Boko Haram has wreaked havoc in the region, destabilizing much of northern Nigeria. Boko Haram differs from other insurgencies in that it is very sectarian and ideological. Additionally, Boko Haram is not willing to compromise or be bought up. Unlike al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram has no known connection to the diaspora of Nigeria, but it has mutated into a fanatically violent terrorist organization. Mr. Paris proposes that Boko Haram is to Africa what ISIS is to the Middle East. Therefore, the counterterrorism community needs to begin looking at Boko Haram the way it looks at ISIS. 

Mr. Frank Horst
Mr. Frank Horst, the First Secretary to the German Embassy in Tripoli, discussed Libyan transition and implications based on recent developments. Libya has the tenth largest oil reserve in the world and has few capabilities to counter terrorist groups that may use Libya as a logistical base to plan future attacks against Europe. Currently, conflicts between militant and Islamists groups in Tripoli and Benghazi are merging into a nationwide confrontation. As violence spirals in the capitol, a logistical base for AQIM exists in the southwest. The continued fighting between nationalists and Islamists could attract foreign fighters. There is also the potential of spillover effects in Egypt and Tunisia.