The session was part of the ICT's 16th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism: "Unpuzzling Terrorism". Africa continues to be a key location for global jihadist groups as it provides ready and trained recruits from local organizations and has large areas of poorly or ungoverned spaces. The rift between ISIS and AQ exists as both elements vie for support and allegiance from the existing movements in localized areas. It is important to note that AQ continues with a strategy of influencing the existing organizations from within, while ISIS focus remains on establishing portions of the caliphate and surpassing AQ as the premiere jihadist group.
Chair: Dr. Eitan Azani, Deputy Executive Director, ICT and Head of BA & MA Specializations in Counter-Terrorism, Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy, IDC Herzliya, Israel
Dr. Michael Barak, Senior Researcher, ICT, IDC Herzliya, Israel
Dr. Daniele Moro, Executive Director, the US-Italy Global Affairs Forum, United States of America Mr. Jonathan Paris, Senior Advisor, Chertoff Group & Associate Fellow, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), King’s College London, United Kingdom
Mr. Aaron Y. Zelin, Richard Borow Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, United States of America
Mr. Jacob Zenn, Analyst of African and Eurasian Affairs, The Jamestown Foundation, United States of America
Dr. Azani pointed out three main trends in Africa: the ongoing implication of the Arab Spring and weak governments; changes in the global Jihadi movement (rivalry between the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda and the growing importance of local groups); and the counter-terrorism operations in Africa which brought about loss of territory for terrorist groups. Dr. Azani provided an overview on the evolution of terrorism in Africa and elaborated on why Africa is a stronghold for jihadist groups. He also emphasized Hezbollah’s role in West African international drug trafficking. During his lecture, Dr. Azani compared AQ and IS in Africa. In this framework he compared the organizations’ general strategies, their strategy in Africa (emirates vs. provinces –secondary centers), their modus operandi (from high intensity warfare to low intensity to mixed warfare) and their relationship with the local population (IS enforcing Sharia law strategy vs. AQ poplar support strategy). According to Dr. Azani, it is not possible to predict in which direction the trends in Africa will develop, but we know that in the coming years Africa will remain the base for activity for global and local jihadi organizations. In this regards, Dr. Azani claims that the worst scenario is that IS and AQ will collaborate.
Mr. Zelin provided a briefing on the Islamic State’s situation in Libya. He stressed that the Islamic State has suffered territorial losses and they only control a small portion of the city of Sirte. The group is also losing in other fronts such as Darnah and Benghazi. Mr. Zelin claims that Libya serves as a hub for the Islamic State, but due to the loss of territories, there are a few potential scenarios in regards to IS’ future in Libya: IS will regroup in south Libya, will create relations with local tribes, and may also relocate south to the border area of Libya, Algeria and Niger, where they will wait for opportunity to occur. Mr. Zelin, also mention that AQIM has a presence in Libya, however there is not much information on their activity in this region. According to Zelin, other groups in Libya have a more localized agenda and therefore, he doesn't predict they will have operation outside their local zone (however he emphasized the AQ strategy in this place is to embed themselves within the local groups and therefore they might be influenced by the group strategy). Mr. Zelin also pointed that Libya has the largest foreign fighter's mobilization outside of Syria. The ticking bomb in his opinion is the Tunisian foreign fighters in Libya.
Dr. Moro provided a geopolitical briefing on Algeria, Tunisia and their strategic proximity to Italy. According to Dr. Moro, Algeria and Tunisia are areas where the movement through borders is quite easy and this serves terrorist organizations in the area.
According to Dr. Barak, AQIM has expanded to new territories, established new allies and strengthened existing ties to become a major power in the Sahel. AQIM is now operating in North Mali as well as in Center and South Mali and also in other countries such as Burkina Faso, due to the growing cooperation with local groups (such as Ansar a-Din and Macina Liberation Front, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya). Dr. Barak presented the structure and leadership of the organization (Central region – North Algeria and Tunisia; Sahara region – North Mali, Niger and Mauritania and Libya). He also discussed AQIM’s funding activity with the emphasis on illegal trade and kidnapping of foreigners. Dr. Barak elaborated on the groups' media publications and the propaganda competition with the Islamic State. Dr. Barak summarized and claimed that AQIM has improved its operation capacity in Mali and is still expanding by strengthening its relations with local groups.
Mr. Zenn provided an historic overview of the evolution of Boko Haram and explained the inner ideological debate within the organization between the more AQIM oriented groups in the North West of Nigeria vs. those in the North East of the country. He stated that the territory under the control of Boko Haram was what attracted the Islamic State to accept the group to the Caliphate. He claims that the group in the North West (which had more similarity to AQ’s ideology) combined with the group in the North East and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Now the north western group pushed the north eastern group from the IS province. The North Eastern group formatted back to the pre-ISIS insurgency. Mr. Zenn attempted to find reason to the latest trends. The first claim is that the western group put aside the ideological differences in order to achieve the Caliphate. A second possibility is that the group is infiltrating ISIS in order to destroy it with in. Mr. Zenn also explained the case study of al-Shabaab. He shows how ISIS attempted to shift the organization to become part of the Caliphate, yet at the core, the organization remains loyal to AQ. However there were some defectors to ISIS as well as Somali foreign fighters abroad joining ISIS. Mr. Zenn summarized by providing long term predictions.
Mr. Paris provided a short brief on Chinese militants from east Turkmenistan (China) and their activity around the world. According to Mr. Paris, the growing Chinese involvement in Africa may cause them to become a target for Chinese militants as well as African militant. He furthers explain China's agenda in Africa in future possible scenarios.