First: Daesh in Africa
The Islamic State (IS/ISIS/Daesh) carried out more fatal attacks worldwide in 2016. That year, attacks rose by 18.5 per cent, from 955 in 2015, to 1132. Deaths rose in 2016 by 50 percent to 9332 people. The average toll of each attack rose by 8.1 per cent in 2016, compared to 5.7 per cent in 2014. In 2016, Daesh attacks affected 308 cities around the globe. Up to 93 percent of the group’s attacks hit Iraq and Syria, Daesh , strongholds, and were the most destructive in both (1)
After the decline of Daesh in Africa, observers expected the terrorist group’s operations would be more active in other areas across the world, as part of Daesh global vision.
Africa was always a part of Daesh activities over the past years, as the its cells were active in different parts on the continent and they stood behind many of the bloody operations there. (2)
Daesh’s first affiliated group in Africa was established when Algeria’s Jund al-Khalifa pledged allegiance to “Daesh,” September 2014. A month later, the Islamic Youth Shura Council, Derna, Libya followed suit. Then, over the period 2014-2016, Daesh cells emerged in other parts on the continent, from Nigeria to Somalia, from Tunisia, to Egypt, and from Algeria to the Sahara. The emergence of these cells in itself raised fears, and they were received more attention after the collapse of the “Caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, late in 2017, after the liberation of Mosul. (3)
Deash’s affiliate groups in Africa include Boko Haram, mainly in Nigeria; Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Wilayat Sinai) in Egypt; Daesh in Libya, Al-Mourabitoun, and Daesh in Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Tunisia and Algeria. (4)
Following is a review of three of these affiliates:
- Daesh in Somalia (5)
There is small, yet growing presence, of Daesh militants in Somalia. It was less than two years ago when Daesh militants in Libya issued a video under “Message to brothers in Somalia.” The video carried a message by an English militant and a Somali one, urging Somalia’s al-Shabab fighters to join the new Daesh branch in the country.
On October 23, 2016, Abdul-Kader Muamen, a religious leader of al-Shabab, was amid some of his followers, when he pledged obedience to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. A UN report voiced concerns that the area of Bari, in Puntland, was a potential safe refuge for Daesh foreign militants. It explained that following the group’s defeats in Iraq and Syria, militants could flow into Somalia. The same month, Somali Daesh seized Qandala, an ancient port town in the northeastern Bari province. The Somali security forces that soon retook the town found weak resistance from the militants, who fled to mountain areas.
In December 2017, Daesh offered what was believed to be the first video of affiliate militants in Somalia, calling for attacking blasphemes during Christmas holidays.
Low wages among Daesh militants, 50 US dollar monthly for a married one, and 10 US dollars for each child, led to repeated rebellions and defections. Unmarried fighters received no payment. This problem took toll on al-Shabab.
2- Daesh in the Great Desert (Al-Mourabitoun) (6)
“Daesh in the Great Desert” came into existence when Abu-Walid Al-Sahrawi, a prominent leader in Al-Mourabitoun, announced the group’s pledge of allegiance to Al-Baghdadi, after the general leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar broke up with al-Qaeda, and thus the new Daesh affiliate was established in Mali.
The new group launched a host of attacks in 2016, including one targeting a prison in Niamey, and the ambush in the Niger’s village of Tongo Tongo, where four Americans and five Nigerians were killed.
Fighters of “Daesh in the Great Desert” were estimated at 40 in May 2015, but according to the US Defense Department, April 2018, they rose to 300. (7)
2- Boko Haram
Established in 2004 by Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Harama was based the village of Kannamma in Nigeria’s north-eastern state of Borno, near the borders with Niger. The group’s operations were extended to neighboring Cameroon and Chad.
Boko Haram turned violent after the group’s leader died in 2009, and in 2010 declared “Jihad” against the Nigerian government and the US
Boko Haram is considered one of the most active terrorist groups in Nigeria. In March 2015, its leader Abubakar Shekau announced allegiance to Daesh.
The group managed to attract many youth volunteers.
The ethnic side is essential for the growth and rise of Boko Haram growth, as Nigeria is mainly formed of two main tribes, the Hausa-Fulani, in the north, mostly armed; and the Igbo in the south, mostly Christians. Clashes usually took part between the two tribes over religious and ethnic matters. Thus, Boko Haram promoted itself as a defender of Islam. (8).
Size of Boko Haram
US military officials estimated Boko Haram militants at 1,500, while other estimates put them at 3,500 (9). A third groups raised the figure to 4,000 to 6,000. (10)
It is believed that the group supports its operations financially through its criminal activities, including bank robberies, assassinations, kidnappings and blackmailing. Boko Haram reportedly received millions of dollars as a ransom to release the hundreds of Chibok schoolgirls it had abducted. In addition, it managed to seize military vehicles, weapons and ammunition from the Nigerian and the Nigerien armies. (11)
Domain of operations
Boko Haram’s operations mainly focused on northeastern Nigeria. However, the group claimed responsibility for several attacks in the northern and central parts of the country. In 2014, it launched a host of attacks in Lagos. But it had limited access to the south. Also in 2014, the group carried out attacks in northern Cameroon, southern Niger and eastern Chad, and was engaged in clashes with the security forces there.
The military in the three countries joined a regional campaign against Boko haram in 2015. (12)
Boko Haram became the major terrorist threat for Chad after it escalated operations against the country in retaliation for joining a multi-national force against the group. In 2015, Chad had one of the highest terrorist-linked deaths in the world. (13)
It is estimated that Boki Haram killed more than 15,200 people since 2011, among them 950 in 2017 alone. In addition, up to 2.4 million people in the region became homeless (14). In 2014, it was classified as the bloodiest terror group. (15)
Over the period mid-2014 to mid-2015, Boko Haram targeted Nigerian militaryas well as civilians, killing about 10,000 people. (16)
Boko Haram recedes
Boko Haram’s terrorist operations were noticeably on the decline in 2016 and 2017. According to the Global Terrorism Index (2017), attacks were down by 61 per cent, deaths cause by terrorist operations fell by 80 percent, compared to 2015.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) stated that Boko Haram’s terror attacks decreased in 2016, after they reached a peak a year earlier with 456 attacks. A relative rise was noticed in 2017, with 423 attacks, but victims were decreased by 30.2 percent, compared to 2015. (17)
Reasons of decline
Boko Haram’s activities has been decreasing since 2015 due to repeated defeats thanks to the efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force that included forces from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, with US assistance, besides intelligence and training support from many other countries.
Boko Haram also suffered internal disintegration since it pledged allegiance to Daesh. A huge number defected since leader Abubakar Shekau did not comply with instruction from the umbrella group based in Iraq and Syria.
Change of tactics
Being repeatedly defeated, Boko Haram changed tactics, and came to focus more on blasts and suicide attacks, as well as easy targets.
According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, al Qaeda and its many allies and affiliates launched at least 276 attacks in Mali and the wider the West Africa region in 2017. That means the al Qaeda has largely kept its operational tempo in West Africa consistent when compared to last year.
That number is the combination of attacks claimed by, or attributed to, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), AQIM’s Katibat Al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine (a front group for AQIM), and Ansar Dine’s Katibat Macina (also known as the Macina Liberation Front). Beginning in March, these groups merged together to form the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri. Aside from Mali, assaults claimed or attributed to Ansaroul Islam in Burkina Faso, as well as attacks attributed to jihadists in Niger, were also added. (18)
Changes since 2015
Despite changes of command and the decline in influence due to rise of Daesh, al-Qaeda enjoyed flexibility and adaptability. Al-Qaeda and affiliate groups were active in 13 countries, compared to 16 in 2011. In 2015, the groups carried out 465 attacks in 12 countries killing 2,070 people. The following year, it implemented 539 operations in 13 countries, only killing 349 people. (19)
-Changing goals : a distinguished change of goals took place in al-Qaeda attacks; less focus on goals of ideological motives, and more on ones that could boots fears. This was substantiated by the fact that many of the countries where al-Qaeda is operating, like Libya, Mali and Yemen, are suffering restive and suffering deep conflicts.
-Changing preferred tactics for attacking: Al-Qaed’s major tactic in 2016 was explosions which counted for 50 percent of the total number of attacks, killing 766 people. Suicide attacks killed 440 of these, 8.6 death in each attack, compared to 14.6 in 2015.
Of the 276 attacks in 2017, 71 came as a result of improvised explosive devices. Another 24 were from mortar or rocket barrages aimed at French, Malian, or UN military bases in northern Mali. There were also 11 kidnappings, with several occurring in both Mali and Burkina Faso. Two were suicide bombings. The remaining 168 attacks were a variation of assaults, ambushes, or assassinations (21).
The decentralized organizational structure of al-Qaeda allows affiliates to operate independently to a great extent. Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, more commonly known as al-Shabaab, is the most active al-Qaeda affiliate in Africa.
Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen
Al-Shabab first emerged in 2006 when the Islamic Courts Union controlled the Somali capital Mogadish, and most of central and southern Somali territories. Al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen had huge influence inside the Union, and they led most of the its militias. At the beginning, the group attracted former and in-service al-Qaeda elements in East Africa. Veteran militants returning from Afghanistan had advantages thanks to their ties with al-Qaeda.
By 2005, al-Shabab had gained more power as an organization and took part in campaigns to control the Somali capital.
In 2012, the group released a video in which it “pledged obedience” to al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Since 2006, al-Shabab’s activities were not confined to its being an extremist group destabilizing Somalia, but it also fueled the conflict between Ethiopia’s Oromo people and Somalis. (22) Members of the group found safe regue in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia, as well as other countries.
According to the “Global Terrorism Index 2017”, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for more than 92 percent of the terrorism-related deaths in 2016. It was also believed to be behind the 61 rest death, as no other groups claimed responsibility for them. Since 2008, al-Shabab was behind the average of 100 deaths in Somalia annually, and at least 70 percent, of the terrorist attacks that hit Somalia since 2000. Thanks to the group’s operations, 2016 was Somalia’s second bloodiest attack since 2000. (23)
Phases of evolution of Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen
Source: Jones, Seth G., Andrew Liepman, and Nathan Chandler, Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency in Somalia: Assessing the Campaign Against Al Shabaab. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1500/RR1539/RAND_RR1539.pdf
Al Shabab’s strength varied over five phases of its existence. Its territorial control peaked between 2009 and 2010 in the aftermath of the Ethiopian invasion, and then declined over the next several years. By 2016, al Shabaab had lost substantial territory and had suffered from a series of leadership and organizational disputes.
It also suffered a significant decline in revenue following its military defeats, since the group had derived much of its funding by taxing individuals, businesses, and groups in areas it controlled. Al Shabab’s popular support also dwindled in Somalia and neighboring countries, including Kenya. (24)
Despite these losses, however, al Shabab increased the number of terrorist attacks, suggesting that it shifted from an insurgent group that controlled territory and governed its inhabitants to a terrorist organization that controlled little territory but increasingly relied on terrorist tactics.
Change of tactics
Al-Shabaab slightly shifted tactics in 2016 to increasingly target private citizens with attacks rising from 28 per cent to 34 per cent. There was a corresponding change in attacks on government employees where attacks dropped by 8 per cent to 26 per cent.
However, these attacks resulted in many less deaths.
In 2015, the attacks resulted in 52 per cent of all deaths, yet accounted for only 15 per cent in 2016. Suicide bombings and explosions were the most common type of attack. As a consequence of this new tactic focusing on private citizens, attacks increasingly became more deadly and accounted for 37 per cent of the total deaths. An example was seen with the bombing of a passenger bus in Lafoole which killed 20 people.
Attacks against businesses also increased, largely in the form of suicide bombings at hotels and cafes. Al-Shabaab conducted 28 suicide bombings that killed on average eight people per attack. In contrast, armed assaults killed nearly three people per attack. Other tactics used by al-Shabaab include the planting of explosives, assassinations and kidnappings. Most attacks continue to focus on the south with 69 per cent of attacks and 74 per cent of deaths occurring in Banaadir, Bay, Lower Juba and Lower Shebelle. (25)
1-The Institute for Economics & Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2017”, Sydney, Australia, November 2017:
2-Daesh cells in Africa… estimated numbers of militants, Middle East Online, September 17, 2018 :https://t2m.io/AOYBmqeE
3-Mohammed Gomaa, Daesh fate in Africa, August 29, 2018: https://is.gd/shpHet
4- Daesh cells in Africa… estimated numbers of militants, Middle East Online, September 17, 2018 :https://t2m.io/AOYBmqeE
5- United States Department of State, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016”, United States Department of State Publication, Washington DC, Released July 2017– Page 47-51: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/272488.pdf
6- Daesh cells in Africa… estimated numbers of militants, Middle East Online, September 17, 2018: https://t2m.io/AOYBmqeE
8- Democratic Arabic Center, Boko Haram’s impact on public security in Nigeria since 2011, October 15, 2016: https://democraticac.de/?p=38633
9-Congressional Research Service. Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, June 28, 2018: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IF10173.pdf
10- Democratic Arabic Center, Boko Haram’s impact on public security in Nigeria since 2011, October 15, 2016: https://democraticac.de/?p=38633
11- Congressional Research Service. Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, June 28, 2018: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IF10173.pdf
13- The Institute for Economics & Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2016”, Sydney, Australia, November 2016 : http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2017/11/Global-Terrorism-Index-2017.pdf
14- Congressional Research Service. Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, June 28, 2018: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IF10173.pdf
15- The Institute for Economics & Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2017”, Sydney, Australia, November 2017:
17- Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), 1997-2018
18- Al Qaeda maintains operational tempo in West Africa in 2017. FDD’s Long War Journal, January 5, 2018: https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/01/al-qaeda-maintains-operational-tempo-in-west-africa-in-2017.php
19- The Institute for Economics & Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2017”, Sydney, Australia, November 2017
21- Al Qaeda maintains operational tempo in West Africa in 2017. FDD’s Long War Journal, January 5, 201:, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/01/al-qaeda-maintains-operational-tempo-in-west-africa-in-2017.php
22- “Somali Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen and errant compass, November 8, 2017: Cemter of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies: http://www.csds-center.com/old/archives/10639
23- The Institute for Economics & Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2017”, Sydney, Australia, November 2017
24- Jones, Seth G., Andrew Liepman, and Nathan Chandler, Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency in Somalia: Assessing the Campaign Against Al Shabaab. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.
25- The Institute for Economics & Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2017”, Sydney, Australia, November 2017: http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2017/11/Global-Terrorism-Index-2017.pdf