Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Intractable terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa

Poverty and sectarian divisions provide fertile ground for the continuance of terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa, even if indirectly, writes Haitham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Africa’s battle against terrorist groups is still at a peak. Despite clear victories against Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabab in Somalia, political and security challenges remain, but the most serious challenge is society’s divergent views on these groups.

The Nigerian army announced Sunday that it had arrested Khaled Al-Barnawi on Friday, the leader of Ansaru, a Boko Haram splinter group linked to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), in the central part of the country.

Nigerian military spokesman Rabe Abubakar added that Al-Barnawi, 47, whose real name is Usman Abu Bakr Omar, “topped the list of wanted terrorists”.

The military spokesman said that Al-Barnawi was arrested in the city of Lokoja, the capital of the central Kogi state, after security raided his hideout.

Al-Barnawi led Ansaru after its founder, Abubakar Adam Kambar, was killed in an encounter with security forces in the north of the country in March 2012.

According to the wide circulation Nigerian Guardian, Ansaru split from Boko Haram in early 2012 following “personal and ideological disagreements” between Al-Barnawi and Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. The paper said that although the split may seem personal, it is also a manifestation of the competition between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (IS).

Boko Haram pledged allegiance to IS years ago, while Ansaru is closely linked to AQIM.

In 2012, Ansaru was involved in several terrorist operations, including the killing of two British and Italian engineers during a rescue attempt by Nigerian security, as well as the killing of a German engineer during a similar failed rescue.

The Nigerian Guardian reports that Al-Barnawi was trained in Afghanistan and Algeria. He was responsible for the attack on a military facility in the capital of Abuja in 2012 that left two soldiers dead and allowed 40 detained Islamists to escape from prison.

One day before Al-Barnawi’s arrest, the Nigerian army declared what it called “a major victory” in its war on Boko Haram when it liberated the town of Alagarno, located in the far northeast of the country, considered the extremist group’s spiritual base, according to an official military statement issued Saturday.

According to the US-based NBC channel, this description may be an exaggeration, and no mention has been made of the town throughout the duration of the conflict. Areas considered strongholds of the extremist group include the town of Maiduguri, where Boko Haram was founded by former leader Mohamed Yusuf in 2002, as well as Gwoza, located near the border with Cameroon, which the group considers the capital of its local IS emirate.

NBC quoted former US ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell, who raised doubts about Nigerian security authorities’ claims to have liberated hundreds of people abducted by Boko Haram.

The channel reported that the Nigerian authorities announced the liberation of some 2,000 abducted persons in the last 10 months, which Campbell said was probably an exaggeration.

But this does not negate the Nigerian army’s clear victories against Boko Haram, according to Tanzania-based journalist Rashid Mohamed.

“The Nigerian government is strong,” Mohamed said. “But sometimes it engages in public relations and inflates minor accomplishments to paint a positive portrait of the army.”

For its part, Boko Haram issued a videotaped address by its leader, Abubakar Shekau, who has not appeared in public for nearly a year, denying his intent to submit to the government.

Shekau appeared thin and tired in the video and did not demonstrate his normally fiery rhetoric. “There is no truce, negotiations, or giving up. The war between us will not stop,” he said.

It is not only questions about Nigerian government information that is impeding the defeat of Boko Haram. Social divisions around the group are a new challenge facing the government of President Muhamadu Buhari.

This was made clear in small towns liberated from Boko Haram by the Nigerian army. In these towns, dozens and by some estimates hundreds of Muslim youth have served in the group’s forces, while their Christian neighbours either fled or lived in fear of persecution by the extremist group.

After the towns were liberated, the Christians returned to their villages and homes, but they came back carrying resentments. On the roads and on public transportation, Muslim and Christian children trade insults and curses, and Christian women often ask Muslim women what they are hiding under their headscarves. Each religion even goes to the weekly market on a different day— a Friday market for Muslims and a Sunday market for Christians.

These resentments may impede the defeat of Boko Haram.

Nigeria is not alone in facing the difficulties of the war on terror. In Somalia, a drone killed a leader of the extremist Shebab group Friday, according to the Pentagon. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said that Hassan Ali Dhoore, thought to be involved in two attacks in Mogadishu that killed Americans, was killed near the border with Kenya.

Cook added that the airstrike is the second in a month. The first was an offensive against a training camp that killed 100-150 Shebab fighters in March. This was the biggest US strike on the group, which has been listed as a terrorist group by the US since after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Dhoore allegedly had “a direct role” in the attack on the Mogadishu airport in December 2014, which killed two soldiers and an American.

Cook said that Dhoore was also “directly responsible” for facilitating the attack on the Mecca Hotel in March, which killed 15 people.

“He was planning other operations targeting Americans,” Cook said, though he offered no evidence of the allegations against Dhoore.

The strike came as Kenya is commemorating the first anniversary of the Garissa University massacre, in which Shebab killed 148 people.

Shebab has some 7,000 to 9,000 fighters active in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. While Boko Haram has no more than 6,000 fighters, it has been more lethal, killing 9,000 people in 2014 in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

“There appears to be no near end in sight to terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Rashid.

He added: “United, countries on the continent can reduce it, and it can be weakened a lot if it’s eradicated in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. But defeating it is something else. It’s hard to defeat terrorism with all this poverty, corruption and ethnic conflict. It may strengthen military institutions, but it does not necessarily spur development and transparency.”

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