According to a memo from Ghana’s Immigration Service, Ghana and Togo are the next targets for Islamist militants following high-profile attacks that occurred in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast this year.
The memo calls for better border protection, in what is the latest sign of a heightened government response to the threat to West Africa by militants based in northern Mali, who in the last year have increased their campaign of violence. The memo also states that the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) has evidence from neighboring Ivory Coast from the interrogation of a man suspected of orchestrating an attack on 13 March in which 19 people were killed. The memo, which is dated 9 April and which was published by Ghanaian media, states that “intelligence gathered by the …NSCS indicates a possible terrorist attack on the country is real….The choice of Ghana according to the report is to take away the perception that only Francophone countries are the target.” The memo ordered immigration agents on the northern border with Burkina Faso to be extra vigilant and disclosed that patrols should be stepped up along informal routes between the two countries.
In an interview on state radio’s Sunrise FM on Thursday, President John Mahama asked for public vigilance and stated that Ghana was also at risk from home grown militants. He further noted that countries in the region share intelligence on militant threats. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for attacks on a hotel in the capital of Mali last November, a restaurant and hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital in January and the Ivory Coast attack in March. In all, more than 65 people have died, many of them foreigners.
In the wake of the 13 March deadly terror attack in neighbouring Ivory Coast, Ghana’s government has put the nation on high alert. The terror alert is a first for the West African country.
On 16 March, Ghana’s national security chiefs disclosed that they have intelligence of a credible terrorist threat in the country. The announcement was made on Wednesday following a meeting with Ghana’s President John Mahama to review their readiness. In a statement, the government called on Ghanaians to pay attention and report anything unusual to security agencies.
The alert comes as the United Kingdom has also advised its citizens in Ghana to be cautious. The United States has also restricted US service members’ travel to five West African countries, citing recent militant attacks in the region. On 16 March, the Pentagon issued the move, which effectively limits unofficial travel by US military personnel to Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Ghana. US Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza, a Pentagon spokeswoman, has disclosed that the order will remain in effect until 30 June and does not restrict official travel to the countries involved, adding, “given the recent attacks in Western Africa, we felt it prudent to make this decision at this time in an effort to ensure the safety of our personnel.” According to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for US Africa Command, “its just vigilance given the recent events that have happened in the area of the world.” US Africa Command has between 1,000 and 1,2000 forces on the continent at any one time, mostly in training and support roles to help local security forces combat militants.
Since November 2015, al-Qaeda militants have attacked hotels in two other regional capitals, Bamako (Mali) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), and a beach resort located outside Abidjan (Ivory Coast).
On Sunday 13 March, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) gunmen launched an attack in Ivory Coast, killing 18 people, including four Europeans, at a beach resort town in the West African country. Six shooters targeted the Chelsea Hotel and Hotel Etoile due Sud, which are located on a beach at the Grand Bassam – popular with westerners and which is located about 40 km (25 miles) east of the commercial capital Abidjan. Witnesses reported that the gunmen followed a pathway onto the beach where they opened fire on swimmers and sunbathers before turning their attention to t he packed seafront hotels where people were eating and drinking at lunchtime. The gunmen were later killed by security forces. Foreign citizens from France, Germany, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Mali were amongst those killed. Ivorian authorities have launched an investigation into the attack.
According to US-based SITE intelligence monitoring group, AQIM, which has carried out other recent attacks in the region, claimed responsibility for Sunday’s shootings. In a statement, it indicated that the attack had been carried out by just three militants.
Sunday’s attack in Ivory Coast comes barely two months after Islamist militants killed dozens of people in a hotel and café frequented by foreigners in neighboring Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou. In November 2015, gunmen also attacked a hotel in the Malian capital Bamako. Both of these attacks were also claimed by AQIM and raised concern that the militant group was expanding its area of operation far beyond their traditional zones of operation in the Sahara and the arid Sahel region.
While the Ivory Coast was previously untouched by Islamist violence, despite its proximity to countries that have severely been affected, in the wake of the two deadly attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso, analysts warned of further such attacks across the region, including in Ivory Coast. In the wake of the attack in Ouagadougou, Ivory Coast was on high alert, with security visibly bolstered at potential targets, including shopping centres and high-end hotels. While security was also increased in the northern regions of the country, particularly near the borders with Mali in a bid to keep Islamist militants out, Grand Bassam is located in the south on the Atlantic Coast, indicating that the militants have not just cross the border, but may also have a greater presence in the country. It also further demonstrates the capacity of jihadists to blend into the public and strike soft targets.
This threat is spreading across West Africa and will likely result in further similar attacks carried out in other countries in the region. Regional government will now have to focus on increasing their policing, as well as intelligence gathering and will need to act both individually and collectively. This may also result in France increasing its military campaign in the region as it looks to protected its vast and entrenched interests in its former colonies.