Why Daesh and its affiliates are on the march in Africa’s Sahel and beyond

Special Why Daesh and its affiliates are on the march in Africa’s Sahel and beyond
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Special Why Daesh and its affiliates are on the march in Africa’s Sahel and beyond
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Climate risks, food insecurity and violent Islamist extremism were all predicted in 2019 to intensify in the West African Sahel, top, above and bottom. Since then, the withdrawal of French and European forces from Mali, and the suspension of UN missions, has emboldened militant groups. (AFP/File)
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Updated 09 April 2024
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Why Daesh and its affiliates are on the march in Africa’s Sahel and beyond

Why Daesh and its affiliates are on the march in Africa’s Sahel and beyond
  • Disintegration of regional alliances, economic instability and ethnic stife have allowed violent extremists to flourish in Africa
  • Experts say unchecked expansion of African militant groups threatens both regional stability and global security 

ACCRA, Ghana: Despite the loss of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria at the hands of a US-led international coalition, the terror group Daesh has been making alarming advances across the African continent, particularly in notoriously unstable regions such as the Sahel, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Mozambique.

The resurgence of Daesh in Africa is not only a cause for grave concern for the continent, but it also poses a potential threat to global security, especially with the pace of foreign fighter mobilization in fragile states and the transnational appeal of Islamic radicalism.




Map locating jihadist attacks attributed to the Daesh or other jihadist groups since 2021 to July 21, 2023 in the Sahel region. (AFP/File)

Recent developments, including arrests in Spain linked to recruitment efforts for Mali, underscore the growing interest and activity of Daesh in Africa. Meanwhile, the substantial revenues generated by Al-Shabab, which takes in an estimated $120 million from extortion alone, is cementing its position as the most cash-rich extremist group in the continent.

As international involvement wanes in the Sahel and regional governments grapple with internal instability, terrorist organizations are exploiting the resulting vacuum to escalate their activities.




Islamist fighters loyal to Somalia’s Al-Qaida inspired al-Shabab group perform military drills at a village in Lower Shabelle region, outside Mogadishu. (AFP/File)

Climate risks, food insecurity and metastasizing violence were all set to intensify in the West African Sahel, predicted a World Economic Forum report of January 2019. 

Since then, the withdrawal of French and European forces from Mali, coupled with the suspension of UN peacekeeping missions, has emboldened militant groups, leading to a spike in attacks on civilian populations and security forces.




French anti-jihadist troops began pulling out of Mali in 2022 amid a disagreement between France and West African's nation's military rulers. (Etat Major des Armees nadout via AFP)

In Mali, where a fragile transition to civilian rule is underway amid escalating violence, Islamist groups such as Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam wal-Muslimin and the Islamic State Sahel Province have intensified their offensives, aiming to consolidate control over northern territories.

The withdrawal of UN peacekeepers has left a security void that these groups are keen to fill, leading to increased clashes with both government forces and Tuareg rebel factions.

Neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger are also grappling with lawlessness and soaring violence. Recent attacks by extremist groups have resulted in large casualties among security personnel and civilian populations, worsening the already precarious security situation in these countries.




Fighters of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MLNA) gather in an undisclosed location in Mali. Fearful of being caught in the middle of the conflict engulfing Mali, the country's Tuaregs helped in the French-led campaign to drive Islamic radicals out of the country. Now they have to fight on their own. (MNLA handout photo/AFP)

The massacre at a public event in the Russian capital, Moscow, last month, which killed at least 140 people, was one of the largest terrorist attacks in recent years, particularly after the thwarting of plots in locations like Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Turkiye, along with dozens of recent terrorism-related arrests.

European governments have moved to their highest alert levels for many years.

INNUMBERS

5,000 Estimated Daesh fighters in Iraq.

50% Africa’s share of terrorist acts worldwide.

25 Central Sahel region share of terrorist attacks worldwide.

$25 million Estimated financial reserves of Daesh.

The entity accredited with many of these audacious plots is Daesh’s “Khorasan” branch, or Daesh-K, which is based in Afghanistan and is active throughout Central and South Asia. 

Amid these developments, the lack of international support poses a clear and imminent danger to the stability of the entire Sahel region, a difficult-to-monitor territory spanning several countries from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea.

Furthermore, last year’s coup in Niger — one of the poorest countries in the world with minimal government services — and the subsequent suspension of the country from the African Union have further complicated efforts to address the terrorist threat. With regional alliances shifting and international assistance dwindling, the prospects for effectively countering terrorism in the Sahel appear increasingly uncertain.

In addition, extremist groups have demonstrated their capability to launch attacks beyond the Sahel, posing a direct threat to the security of coastal states of West Africa, including Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria.




Ivorian soldiers carry the coffins of four compatriots serving with United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali at a military base in Abidjan on February 22, 2021. The four were killed during an attack by extremists. (AFP)

“To understand their recent re-emergence, it’s important to look back at the group’s beginnings, how they engaged with other violent extremist organizations and non-state armed groups in their sub-region,” Aneliese Bernard, director at Strategic Stabilization Advisors, an advisory group focused on conflict and insecurity, told Arab News.

She pointed out that ISSP initially partnered with Al-Qaeda-aligned groups until 2019, when their alliance broke due to differences in governance methods. JNIM’s focus on redistributing revenue clashed with ISSP’s individual looting approach, leading to defections and tension between the groups.

“There were other reasons as well, including the fact that the regional security forces were very focused on reducing IS Sahel’s footprint in Niger, pushing them into space that was controlled by JNIM, causing the groups to compete over space and clash further,” Bernard said.

Other internal factors also contribute to the rise of Daesh in Africa. The leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, the predecessor to ISSP, was killed by French forces in the Sahel in August 2021, and “the group was quiet for a bit as leadership and its structure recalibrated.”

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Some suggest that ISSP and JNIM might have called a truce, although clashes continue intermittently. Others stress that the security vacuum in Niger created by the July 2023 coup has likely emboldened ISSP to resume its activities.

Also, “the disintegration of key regional alliances, such as the G5 Sahel, following the withdrawal of key members (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso), has exacerbated the problem,” Souley Amalkher, a Nigerien security expert, told Arab News.

Previously, the G5 Sahel consisted of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, and focused on development and security issues in West Africa. By the end of 2023, only Chad and Mauritania remained, announcing that the alliance would soon dissolve.

“Without effective governance structures in place, addressing terrorism becomes increasingly challenging, underscoring the urgent need for improved governance policies and the creation of secure environments for local populations.

“To address these challenges, there is a pressing need for regional collaboration between Sahelian states and those in North Africa, particularly Libya and Algeria. Strengthening regional initiatives can help fill existing gaps in counterterrorism efforts and bolster the resilience of affected regions,” Amalkher said.

The root causes of Daesh’s expansion in Africa are manifold. Prominent among them are the fragility of local state structures, social injustice, ethnic and religious conflict, and economic inequality.




Insufficient rainfall since late 2020 has come as a fatal blow to populations already suffering from a locust invasion between 2019 and 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic in Baidoa, Somalia. The situation in the Horn of Africa has raised fears of a tragedy similar to that of 2011, the last famine that killed 260,000 people in Somalia. (AFP/File)

“Daesh and other extremist organizations in Africa are predatory groups that rely on exploiting absences in governance and security,” Bernard said.

“They operate as insurgents rather than traditional terrorists, often launching guerrilla-style attacks before dispersing into local communities. Then, heavy-handed security responses contribute to grievances and fuel extremist recruitment.”

Bernard explained that counterterrorism efforts can often backfire, furthering even more fighting and bloodshed. “These efforts, if lacking coordination with security operations, often fall short against insurgents who adapt quickly, emphasizing the need for more effective strategies addressing root causes,” she said.

In the DRC, the Daesh-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces are just one of over 100 militias and active armed groups. Despite joint efforts by Uganda and the DRC to combat the ADF in 2021, the group remains elusive and difficult to eradicate.




An aerial image shows displaced people fleeing the scene of an attack allegedly perpetrated by the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the Halungupa village near Beni in DR Congo on February 18, 2020. (AFP/File)                                                                                    

Recently, Uganda raised its security alert as ADF militants crossed into the country, underscoring the persistent nature of the threat posed by the group. In Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, the threat of terrorism continues to pose a significant challenge. Despite initial momentum against ISIS-Mozambique, inadequate coordination and tactics have hindered efforts to eliminate the group.

IS-M’s use of guerrilla warfare tactics and constant movement make it difficult for security forces to root them out, “with some operations seemingly stuck in a routine of patrols and defense rather than actively pursuing the group,” Canadian security expert Royce de Melo told Arab News.

The presence of other armed groups, including the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group, which recently rebranded itself as the Africa Corps, complicates the security landscape within and beyond the Sahel. De Melo said: “Their involvement has fueled anti-government sentiments and served as a rallying cry for Islamist groups, portraying the Russians as oppressors.”

He added that Wagner’s involvement in Mozambique to combat IS-M in Cabo Delgado ended in failure “due to incompetence, racism and internal conflicts.”




Protesters holds a banner reading "Thank you Wagner", the name of the Russian private security firm present in Mali, during a demonstration organized by the pan-Africanst platform Yerewolo to celebrate France's announcement to withdraw French troops from Mali, in Bamako, on Feb. 19, 2022. (AFP)

The rise of extremist violence in Africa is not only a security concern; it also compounds the region’s pervasive humanitarian crisis. Displacement, food insecurity, and economic instability are further worsened by the activities of terrorist organizations, creating a vicious cycle of instability and suffering for millions of people across the continent.

“When evaluating the success of counterterrorism strategies, if terrorist groups remain active, continue to launch attacks, and even grow in strength despite efforts to eradicate them, it becomes evident that current strategies are ineffective and require reassessment,” De Melo said.

“Training, discipline, equipment, technology and culture, as well as good governance, good leadership and morale, are all factors in having a powerful and effective security force that can take the war to Daesh.”
 

 


Georgian PM says EU official made ‘horrific threat’

Georgian PM says EU official made ‘horrific threat’
Updated 11 sec ago
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Georgian PM says EU official made ‘horrific threat’

Georgian PM says EU official made ‘horrific threat’
  • Oliver Varhelyi, EU commissioner for neighborhood policy and enlargement, says he regrets making the warning
  • The EU official says his remarks on the Slovak assassination attempt was 'taken out of context

TBILISI/BRUSSELS: Georgia’s prime minister on Thursday said an EU commissioner had hinted he could face an assassination bid over a controversial law but the official said the conversation had been distorted.
Georgian premier Irakli Kobakhidze said the unnamed commissioner told him to be “very careful,” citing this month’s assassination attempt on Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, while discussing the legislation likened by critics to Russian-style laws.
The bill requires NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

President Salome Zourabichvili has vetoed the bill, but the ruling Georgian Dream party has the numbers in parliament to override her veto in a vote next week, despite mass protests and sweeping global condemnation.
Critics say the measure mirrors Russian legislation used to stifle dissent, while Brussels warns it is “incompatible” with Tbilisi’s longstanding bid for European Union membership.
Kobakhidze said that “amid open blackmail” by high-ranking foreign politicians, an EU commissioner had called him to outline “measures, which Western politicians could take if the presidential veto is overridden.”
In what Kobakhidze called a “horrific threat,” he quoted the commissioner as saying: “You’ve seen what happened to (Robert) Fico and you must be very careful.”

Fico, a Euroskeptic populist, was shot four times at point-blank range on May 15. Slovak police arrested a 71-year-old suspect who said he had wanted to hurt Fico because he disagreed with government policies.

“As a precautionary measure, I decided to inform Georgian society of that threat,” Kobakhidze added in a statement.
EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said later: “I would like to express my very sincere regret that a certain part of my phone conversation was taken out of context.”
Georgia’s ruling party has faced widespread accusations of derailing the country from its EU membership path and leading the ex-Soviet republic back toward the Russian orbit.
But the party insists it is committed to EU and NATO membership — which are enshrined in the country’s constitution and supported by more than 80 percent of the population.
It has repeatedly accused Western countries of attempts to drag Tbilisi into Russia’s war on Ukraine.


Russia arrests two more top defense officials

Russia arrests two more top defense officials
Updated 22 min ago
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Russia arrests two more top defense officials

Russia arrests two more top defense officials

MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday arrested a general and a high-ranking defense official on corruption and “abuse of power” charges — the latest senior military figures to be put behind bars this month.

The Kremlin denied it was carrying out a purge of top army officials, but some of Russia’s influential military bloggers welcomed the arrest of a general they hold responsible for battlefield failures in the two-year offensive in Ukraine.

Moscow’s powerful Investigative Committee said Vadim Shamarin, deputy head of Russia’s General Staff, had been placed in detention on suspicion of “large-scale bribe taking.”

The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

The committee alleged that Shamarin had been taking bribes for years from a factory in the Urals city of Perm, saying he had received 36 million rubles (364,000 euros) in kickbacks in return for boosting government contracts.

It said he had been placed in pre-trial detention.

Later on Thursday, the committee announced the arrest of Vladimir Verteletsky — an official from the defense ministry’s department for ensuring state orders.

It said Verteletsky had “been charged with the abuse of his official powers” and has also been placed in detention.

Investigators accuse Verteletsky of taking a bribe in relation to a government contract in 2022, the first year of Moscow’s offensive.

It said the alleged offense had cost the state “over 70 million rubles” (706,000 euros).

Critics and opposition figures have for years said Russia’s military is riddled with corruption, although its leaders have rarely faced any serious probe or retribution.

The issue burst to the forefront amid failures in the Ukraine offensive, with Wagner paramilitary head Yevgeny Prigozhin accusing Russia’s military bosses — then-defense minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov — of corruption on an almost daily basis, saying it hobbled Russia’s combat capacity.

Prigozhin died last year in a plane crash just two months after launching a bloody mutiny in a bid to remove the pair.

The arrest of Shamarin, who was head of the General Staff’s communications directorate, is the latest in an apparent crackdown on some of Russia’s top military officials.

But the Kremlin denied it was mounting a purge.

“The fight against corruption is an ongoing effort. It is not a campaign. It is an integral part of the activities of law enforcement agencies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

Putin removed Shoigu earlier this month in a surprise reshuffle, replacing him with economist Andrei Belousov.

A deputy defense minister, Timur Ivanov, and head of the ministry’s personnel, Yuri Kuznetsov, also have been arrested in the last few weeks for bribe-taking.

And Ivan Popov, an ex-commander who was sacked after he criticized Russia’s military leaders for a high casualty rate in Ukraine, was arrested earlier this week.

Some Russian military bloggers welcomed the arrest of Shamarin, saying it was communications breakdowns — caused by a lack of equipment due to corruption — that were behind Russia’s military failures in Ukraine.

“Bribery in the military and security services is state treason,” military blogger Anastasia Kashevarova said in a post on Telegram.

Amid the reshuffle and arrests in Moscow, Russian forces in Ukraine have made their most significant advances on the battlefield in 18 months, with a new major assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region.


Four dead, 21 injured in Spain restaurant roof collapse

Four dead, 21 injured in Spain restaurant roof collapse
Updated 29 min 38 sec ago
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Four dead, 21 injured in Spain restaurant roof collapse

Four dead, 21 injured in Spain restaurant roof collapse

PALMA, Spain: The roof of a restaurant in Spain’s popular tourist island of Mallorca collapsed Thursday, killing four people and injuring more than 20 others, local rescuers said.

“There are four dead and around 21 injured,” the rescuers said, adding that some of the injuries were serious.

Local media said the two-story building was in the Playa de Palma area to the south of the Mediterranean island’s capital Palma de Mallorca.

Firefighters, police officers and ambulances rushed to the scene, according to images published in local media.

Mallorca is one of Spain’s Balearic Islands, whose pristine waters and beaches attract more tourists than all Spanish regions after Catalonia.

More than 14 million tourists visited the islands last year, according to official figures.


Trump says he will quickly free US journalist but Russia denies contacts

Trump says he will quickly free US journalist but Russia denies contacts
Updated 44 min 28 sec ago
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Trump says he will quickly free US journalist but Russia denies contacts

Trump says he will quickly free US journalist but Russia denies contacts

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump boasted Thursday he would quickly free jailed US journalist Evan Gershkovich from Russia if he wins the presidential election, but Moscow denied discussing the case with the Republican candidate.

Trump, who has frequently voiced admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and has voiced skepticism over US support for Ukraine, said the Moscow strongman “will do that for me, but not for anyone else.”

“Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.

“He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY.”

Trump said that the United States “WILL BE PAYING NOTHING” — a likely jab at President Joe Biden’s deal last year to free Americans from Iran that included the transfer of Iranian oil revenue that had been frozen by South Korea.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about the remarks, said, “There aren’t any contacts with Donald Trump.”

“Regarding (US-Russian) contacts on the matter of incarcerated and convicted individuals, we can say that these contacts must be carried out in total secrecy. This is the only way they can be effective,” he said.

Gershkovich, 32, has been held in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison for more than a year after he was arrested while on a reporting trip to Russia.

He is the first Western journalist since the Soviet era to be arrested by Moscow on spying charges — accusations that he, his employer and the US government reject.

The US ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, visited Gershkovich in prison on Thursday.

He “maintains a positive attitude, awaiting the start of the court process for a case about a crime that he did not commit,” the US embassy said in a statement on platform Telegram.

“We once more urge the immediate release of Evan Gershkovich.”

The Biden administration said in late 2023 that it made a “significant proposal” to Russia to free Gershkovich, likely as part of a prisoner swap, but that Moscow rejected it.

US intelligence concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump in his upset defeat of Hillary Clinton, including through social media postings.

Trump angrily denied his victory was the work of Russia and, at a famous news conference with Putin, appeared to accept the Russian leader’s denial of interference.

Putin in the latest election cycle has said he prefers Biden, comments met with skepticism by many Russia watchers who believe Putin’s intention may be to use his notoriety to boost Trump.


G7 officials play down expectations on details of loan for Ukraine

G7 officials play down expectations on details of loan for Ukraine
Updated 46 min 3 sec ago
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G7 officials play down expectations on details of loan for Ukraine

G7 officials play down expectations on details of loan for Ukraine
  • Using Russian assets for Ukraine not simple, G7 chair says
  • Agreement on Ukraine loan seen ‘in principle’
STRESA, Italy: G7 finance chiefs are not expected to agree on details of a loan for Ukraine at their meeting in Italy starting on Friday, several officials said, leaving much work ahead in coming weeks or months to secure more financing for the war-torn country.
The United States has been pushing its allies to agree to a loan backed by the future income from some $300 billion of Russian assets frozen shortly after Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the loan could amount to some $50 billion, but that no amounts have been agreed. Other G7 officials involved in the negotiations voiced caution, citing thorny legal and technical aspects to be hammered out.
“With great difficulty we have found a compromise for the use of the interest (already accrued),” Italian Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti told reporters, referring to a deal already struck by the European Union.
“The problem is how the legal basis for this can be used for future profits.”
Giorgetti, who will chair the meeting as Italy holds the G7 presidency this year, said finding a solution “will not be simple,” and added that several central banks had expressed reservations over the US proposal.
Finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the Group of Seven industrial democracies — the US, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — are meeting in the northern Italian lakeside town of Stresa on Friday and Saturday.
One European official said the communique at the end of the meeting would probably include an agreement on a loan in principle, but no details.
“I don’t think there will be any numbers,” the official said when asked about the $50 billion figure.
“There will be no decisions on the matter taken at Stresa,” another European official said.
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner also said many questions remained open and he did not expect the G7 to reach any concrete decision at the Stresa gathering.
In that case, officials will continue to negotiate in the hope of making progress by the time G7 heads of government meet in the southern Italian region of Puglia on June 13-15.
Yellen, at a news conference on Thursday, said she expected a “general agreement on the concept” of using the earnings from Russian assets to provide Ukraine with significant financial support beyond 2025.
A key condition for European Union countries, where most of the assets are held, is to not confiscate the asset principal and harness only the earnings.
Giorgetti said a loan backed by future income from the frozen assets would meet with Russian retaliation, and stressed any deal must have a “solid legal basis,” echoing comments made this week by Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki.
Under the proposal being discussed, the loan would be disbursed to Kyiv in one lump sum, Giorgetti said, and could possibly be issued by the G7 countries directly rather than through a global financial institution such as the World Bank.