Analysis: Is Mideast terrorism drifting to Africa?

For over a year now, Israel has been increasingly preoccupied with the terror network building up throughout Africa.

July 20, 2012 04:06
3 minute read.
Al-Shabaab fighter at  food distribution camp

Al-Shabaab fighter at food distribution camp Somalia 31 (R). (photo credit: Feisal Omar / Reuters)

JOHANNESBURG – Two weeks ago, Kenyan police arrested two people suspected of planning a terror attack against Israeli and American targets. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet declared immediately that the arrest proved Iran’s involvement once again in international terrorism. At the same time, Kenyan media reported that Israeli detectives had arrived in Nairobi to conduct meetings with different security bodies. Israeli officials have refused to comment so far.

For over a year now, Israel has been increasingly preoccupied with the terror network building up throughout Africa. Outgoing Ambassador to Nigeria Moshe Ram has offered Israel’s help on several occasions in the domain of security and the fight against terror, stating that the two countries have the same goals in fighting Islamist international terrorism. Private Israeli companies offer security training courses to different Nigerian bodies. They are also active in many other African countries.

Nigeria and Kenya are fighting different enemies. Kenya, apart from the ongoing fight against Somali pirates, is under the threat of international terrorism backed by Iran. The targets, claim specialists, are mostly American, British and Israeli, not Kenyan. In Nigeria, meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan is facing violent internal opposition: Muslim rebels who control large parts of the country’s north and who wish to spread Shari’a law all over the country. They are Nigerian, fighting the Christian Nigerian minority in the north and the government in the south.

But although the scenarios differ, the growing uneasiness is similar. Gen. Carter Ham, head of the US military’s Africa command, said recently that three Islamist armed groups in Africa were collaborating in an increasingly coordinated and maybe even synchronized manner: Al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Aqim in Algeria and in neighboring countries in the Sahel region. Ham said evidence indicated that the three groups were helping each other with finances, ammunition, technology and training.

Of these three, Washington is probably most worried about Aqim, the North African branch of al-Qaida, which has declared on numerous occasions that it will keep trying to hit American, British, Spanish and French targets. Boko Haram is also known to have ties with al-Qaida, though probably in a less structured fashion. Al-Shabab is more of a nationalist organization by nature, born out of a political split some six years ago within the main anti-government rebel organization. Still, Western intelligence agencies suspect that jihad warriors from different parts of the world have joined Al-Shabab over the years, especially with the weakening of al-Qaida in the Far East.

Other countries in Africa are also subject to Muslim terror groups. Most of the north of Mali is under the control of Asnar-Dine. Muslim rebels are also active in Niger and Mauritania.

The end of the Gaddafi regime in Libya left many of them “unemployed” and in urgent need of a change of country and scenery. The Israeli press published a travel advisory map Thursday morning from Israel’s Counter-terrorism Bureau. The map indicates Nigeria, Djibouti, Somalia, the shoreline of Kenya, Ivory Coast, East Senegal and Mali as nonrecommended destinations for the Israeli tourist.

The Arab Spring has brought in, along with democracy, a period of uncertainty as far as security control is concerned.

Israel is already feeling the heat on its border with Egypt, where the Sinai desert has become a no-man’s-land since the fall of president Hosni Mubarak, though it is controlled to some extent by the Beduin tribes and by Hamas.

Where Africa is concerned, Jerusalem focuses mostly on the Iranian angle, where Israeli tourists might be targeted.

For Washington, it’s a double war game: Iran-backed terrorism against American and European targets on the one hand, al-Qaida and its branches in the Maghreb and central Africa on the other. The terror attack in Bulgaria, apparently perpetrated by Iranian agents, proves that Tehran will strike wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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