On 14 May, regional and western powers gathered in Nigeria to attend talks on quelling the threat from Boko Haram.
Speaking to reporters shortly after meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, French President Francois Hollande stated that “impressive” gains has been made against the Islamists by greater cooperation, warning however that “this terrorist group nevertheless remains a threat.” The Nigerian leader has invited leaders from Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, whose troops will make up a new regional force against Boko Haram, which has been pushed to northeastern Nigeria’s borders around Lake Chad. The 8,500-member force, which has African Union (AU) backing and which is based in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena under a Nigerian general, was supposed to have deployed July 2015. Plugging gaps and improving coordination between the armies that are currently operating largely independently is seen as vital in the remote region where borders are known to be porous. Saturday’s summit, which comes two years after a first such high-level gathering in Paris, also comes as Nigeria’s military pushes deep into Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest stronghold after recapturing swathes of territory. While President Buhari has vowed to defeat Boko Haram before the end of his first year in office later this month, and the army portraying the Islamists as being in disarray, there have been warnings against any premature declaration of victory. Deputy US Secretary of State Anthony Blinking disclosed in Washington, which is flying surveillance drones over northeastern Nigeria from a base in northern Cameroon, that he did not see Boko Haram as defeated. However he conceded that “they have been degraded,” adding that the US was “extremely vigilant” about the connections, amidst reports of Boko Haram rebels fighting in lawless Libya and the group’s ties to al-Qaeda affiliates in the wider Sahel region. Speaking to reporters on Friday, he disclosed that “this is against something we are looking at very, very carefully because we want to cut it off.” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has also warned about Boko Haram’s ties to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, stating that progress was being made against the group with help from London, Paris and Washington. He added in his statement that “…we must maintain the momentum to win the war, and build the right conditions for post-conflict stability in the region.” With Boko Haram now on the back foot, attention has increasingly started to turn towards the plight of those that have been displaced by the ongoing insurgency. Two million Nigerians have been internally displaced and are now living in host communities or camps. The government of Borno State, which has been the worst-hit by the violence, has stated that the displaced face a “food crisis” and US $5.9 billion was needed to rebuild shattered infrastructure. United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who visited northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon last month, has indicated that 9.2 million people in the wider region were affected by the conflict.
The final communiqué disclosed that a “global approach” was required, comprising of hard and soft power in order to end the threat. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond characterized the fight against extremist ideology as “a generational struggle against an evil that will destroy us if we do not destroy it.” He further told the gathering that “we must sustain this fight until evil is defeated and good prevails,” and called for countries affected to win the “hears and minds of those terrorized by Boko Haram.” US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also disclosed that respect for human rights was essential, after repeated accusations of military abuses against civilians and Bok Haram suspects. He further warned that not addressing the drivers of extremism – poverty, deprivation, lack of opportunity and education, would create “Bok Haram 2.0” even if the group were defeated militarily.
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.
A conflict which has lasted over five years; dismounted the infrastructures of a country set the entire surviving population to seek asylum in neighbors’ states: the Syrian civil-war. The perfect stage to allow terrorists and extremists to enforce their plans and gain territories. Syria is not the only battlefield of this unbalanced amorphous and revised war on terror. North Iraq, Southeastern Turkey and on a broader spectrum the whole of Europe remains a potential target. A conflict where superpowers as the US and Russia played a major role leading to a ceasefire and alleged peace talks in Ginevra; a conflict where actors, structures and outcomes are yet to be fully unveiled.
This conflict is another historical landmark for many foreign policies; it reshaped the approach to terrorism and justice; showed the world a climate of desperation and fear; cruelty and loss of lives have filled the daily newspapers. Europe has worked on resolving the collateral effect of migrations and has faced attacks within its capitals; other players have tried to eradicate ISIS. No winners; only an apparent and fragile ceasefire.
From any “problem solving” point of view the first step of the analysis is to acknowledge the problem; identify the causes beginning by minimizing the effects. Who is ISIS?
Before describing the organization we should consider the so widely used term “Terrorism”. Historically the term refers to the unlawful use of violence towards civilian’s targets in a desperate attempt to enforce political goals. The rise of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham began in 2004 as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It was initially an ally of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and both were radical anti-Western militant groups devoted to establishing an independent Islamic state in the region. AQI was weakened in Iraq in 2007 as a result of what is known as the Sunni Awakening, when a large alliance of Iraqi Sunni tribes, supported by the US, fought against the jihadist group. AQI saw an opportunity to regain its power and expand its ranks in the Syrian conflict that started in 2011, moving into Syria from Iraq. By 2013, al-Baghdadi had spread his group’s influence back into Iraq and changed the group’s name to ISIS. It disowned the group in early 2014 proving to be more brutal and more effective at controlling seized territories.
While ISIL has not been able to seize ground in the past several months, that hasn’t precluded them from conducting terrorist attacks, and it hasn’t precluded them from conducting operations that are more akin to guerrilla operations than the conventional operations that we saw when they were seizing territory. The organization understood the value of pushing out content, specifically videos of atrocities, into the world. Therefore, they could recruit very brutal young men to come and join their struggle. As the organization evolved, it made media very central to its ideology and strategy. ISIS had harnessed the power of the “information arena” to propagate its ideology, recruit, move money and coordinate activities. The question arise naturally: “What can be done?”
A top Pentagon official reported that the US is hitting ISIS with “cyber bombs” as part of its new arsenal of tactics being deployed against the terrorist group. The cyber effort is focused primarily on ISIS terrorists in Syria and that the goal is to overload their network so that they cannot function. An attack of this magnitude can interrupt the group’s ability to command and control forces. Similar principle was applied over the power and water disruptions in the middle of a two-week truce between government forces and certain militant groups. Disruption of critical infrastructure was used in order to gain an advantage over the group. Moreover the Islamic State is clearly frightened by the outflow of refugees. A lot of media have been created excoriating those who flee from these territories. By taking advantage of those refugees a powerful tool could be created in order to tell their stories to the world.
The humanitarian issues, the fallout, the civil war, the core issues have not been addressed yet. So far the military intervention and the coalition of multiple air strikes, carried out by Russia and US, have diminished the capabilities of the group; however there is so much more to do and the future remains uncertain. It is highly likely that ISIS will not cease to exist in the near-medium term; their strategy, tactics and objectives are likely to remain unaffected. The struggle in the region and the level of threat to Europe are still primary concerns and subjects of ongoing discussions.
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.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) group, which was targeted by a United States air strike in Libya on Friday 19 February 2016, moved into the North African country in 2014 in the chaos that followed the ouster of dictator Moamer Kadhafi. In recent months, the militant group has captured a city in Libya and has become yet another player in the lawless country, where rival governments and militias are battling for control of territory and major oil reserves. IS’ desires to expand into Libya have prompted international concern, with the US increasingly placing its focus on preventing IS from spreading further into the southern regions of Libya and into the Sahara region of Africa.
- 19 November – The US State Department says it is “concerned” by reports that radical extremists with avowed ties to IS are destabilizing eastern Libya, having already seized vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
- News reports emerge that the eastern coastal city of Derna is becoming an IS stronghold.
- 27 December – A car bomb explodes outside the diplomatic security building in Tripoli. The bomb, which was claimed by IS, does not cause any causalities.
- 8 January – IS claims to have killed two Tunisian journalists, Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, who went missing in September 2014.
- 27 January – IS claims responsibility for an attack on Tripoli’s luxury Corinthia Hotel, which killed nine people.
- 15 February – IS releases a video depicting the beheading of twenty-one Coptic Christians, who all but one were Egyptians. The militant groups says that the jihadists firmed the video in January. Egypt carried out air strikes on IS in Derna.
- 20 February – IS claims responsibility for suicide bombings in Al-Qoba, which is located near Derna. The bombings killed 44 people, with the militant group stating that the attacks are to avenge losses in the air strikes.
- 19 April – A new video emerges depicting the execution of 28 Christians who were originally from Ethiopia.
- 9 June – IS announces that it has captured the city of Sirte, which is located east of Tripoli. IS had already controlled the city’s airport.
- 12 July – The group acknowledges that it has been pushed out of Derna after several weeks of fierce fighting with members of the town’s Mujahedeen Council.
- 11 August – Heavy fighting erupts in Sirte between residents and IS militants, with dozens of people reported dead.
- 13 November – The United States bombs IS leaders in Libya for the first time and states that it killed Abu Nabil, an Iraqi also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi. Libyan officials identify him as the head of IS in Derna.
- 4 December – France announces that it carried out reconnaissance flights over Libya in November, notably at Sirte, adding that it plans to carry out other flights.
- 4 January – IS launches an offensive in a bid to seize oil terminals in Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra, which lie in an “oil crescent” along the coast.
- 7 January – A suicide truck bombing at a police school in Zliten, which is located east of Tripoli, kills more than fifty people, effectively becoming the worst attack to occur since the 2011 revolution. A second attack kills six at a checkpoint in Ras Lanuf. Both are claimed by IS.
- 19 February – A US air strike on a jihadist training camp near Sabratha, west of Tripoli, kills 41 people, with officials disclosing that a senior IS operative behind last year’s deadly attacks in Tunisia was probably killed in the strike. Serbian official announce that two Serbian diplomatic officials, who were being held hostage since November 2015, were also killed in the airstrike.