Rad­i­cal Is­lam gath­er­ing strength in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - HE­LEN VESPERINI

NAIROBI: al-Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb (Aqim), She­bab fight­ing for the con­trol of So­ma­lia, or Nige­ria’s home-grown sects – rad­i­cal Is­lam is tak­ing hold in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa in many var­ied forms.

The groups all claim to be in­spired by the Tal­iban or al-Qaeda, which car­ried out its first big at­tacks on African soil – the 1998 truck bomb at­tacks on the US em­bassies in Kenya and Tan­za­nia in which sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple died.

Aqim, com­manded from Al­ge­ria, op­er­ates in the vast Sa­hel re­gion where it has staged mul­ti­ple kid­nap­pings, and in some cases killings, of Western­ers over the last three years.

So­ma­lia’s She­bab are try­ing to im­pose their brand of Sharia law on war-torn So­ma­lia. In re­cent months they have mul­ti­plied sui­cide at­tacks aimed at top­pling the UN-backed tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment.

Nige­ria, where 12 norther n states rein­tro­duced Is­lamic Sharia law in 2000, is in the spot­light af­ter the son of one of the coun­try’s prom­i­nent bankers was charged with try­ing to blow up a passenger jet over Detroit on De­cem­ber 25.

In July, Boko Haram, a Tal­iban-in­spired sect whose name means “West­ern ed­u­ca­tion is a sin” and which seeks to unite Mus­lims un­der a Caliphate, car­ried out si­mul­ta­ne­ous at­tacks in four north­ern states.

“Some Is­lamist groups in sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa have re­cently be­come more rad­i­calised, par­tic­u­larly in terms of in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric and a few re­cruits for armed ji­had,” Fawaz A. Gerges, pro­fes­sor of Mid­dle East­ern pol­i­tics and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics (LSE), said.

There are also some signs of cross-fer­til­i­sa­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent groups.

Ac­cord­ing to Is­sel­mou Ould Moustapha, a Mau­ri­ta­nian jour­nal­ist for the Ta­halil Hebdo weekly, “in Aquim’s train­ing camps in the Sa­hara, el­e­ments from So­ma­lia’s She­bab and Nige­ri­ans from Boko Haram” rub shoul­ders with North Africans and with re­cruits from Niger and Mali.

Also present at the camps are fight­ers back from Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

Since 2008 the north and east of Mali, near the Al­ge­ria bor­der, has served as a refuge for ar med Is­lamists who have kid­napped Western­ers. Six Euro­peans ab­ducted in Mau­ri­ta­nia since Novem­ber 2009 are thought to be held there.

The Nige­rian would-be sui­cide bomber, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Ab­dul­mu­tal­lab, had vis­ited Ye­men where gov­ern­ment forces are bat­tling al-Qaeda.

The LSE’s Gerges notes “alarm­ing signs of in­creas­ing in­ter­ac­tion and fer­til­i­sa­tion be­tween So­ma­lia’s She­bab and Ye­meni lo­cal ji­hadist groups”.

“Notwith­stand­ing this re­cent rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, a prod­uct of de­clin­ing so­cial con­di­tions and fail­ing in­sti­tu­tions and ide­o­log­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tion, Is­lamism in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa is much more politi­cised than mil­i­tarised and less volatile than Is­lamism in the Arab world and Pak­istan-Afghanistan,” Gerges said.

One fac­tor wor­ry­ing in­tel­li­gence ser­vices in the US and else­where is the pop­u­lar­ity rad­i­cal Is­lamist move­ments en­joy in di­as­po­ras.

“There is strong ev­i­dence that the ma­jor­ity of the sui­cide bombers in So­ma­lia were from the So­mali di­as­pora, that al-She­bab ben­e­fits from a vivid pop­u­lar­ity in Eastleigh,” said Roland Mar­chal, a French ex­pert on the Horn of Africa, re­fer­ring to a So­mali neigh­bour­hood of Nairobi.

“This is not only a So­mali dy­namic: over the last three years, Wester n states have re­peat­edly ex­pressed con­cerns on the rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion of di­as­po­ras that cre­ate a new wave of re­cruit­ment for rad­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions ei­ther in the West or in war zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan … and So­ma­lia,” he said. – Sapa-AFP

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