Boko Haram carried out a daring terrorist attack on 29 September 2013 in a college dormitory in Gujba, Yobe state, Nigeria, using sophisticated weaponry, improvised explosives, choosing soft targets, killing 50 students and injuring many. This is the second in a series of terrorist offensives by an Islamic terror outfit based in Africa soon after the Nairobi mall incident claiming more than 60 lives.
Boko Haram-led killings of Christians and the terror strike in Nairobi by Al Shabab show that Al Qaeda or no Al Qaeda, local terror groups, regardless of working under an international chain of command, have a strong presence in Africa. Their strikes, time and again, prove they are alive and kicking and constantly reminding us not to ignore their visible presence in the African continent. This trend is disturbing.
Not very long ago, we saw Al Qaeda-linked terror activities in Algeria, Mali and adjacent areas. Mali terror acts by extremists saw destruction of century old Islamic scriptures in Timbuktu. But for French military intervention, the situation would have gone out of control. Destruction of old relics of historical importance in Timbuktu brought back horrible memories of Taliban demolishing Buddha statues in Bamiyan more than a decade ago. In not too distant Egypt, Islamic fanatics systematically killed coptic Christians.
Boko Haram is believed to be maintaining contacts with Al Qaeda Islamic Magrib (AQIM). AQIM was suspected for its complicity in the oil well attacks in Algeria as also in Mali. Therefore, an alliance exists. Because of the existing linkages, it is very likely that weapons, after the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, started flowing through the deserts of Algeria, Mauritania and Mali reaching the terrorist hands. It is also suspected that terrorists active in Africa are in possession of surface to air missiles in addition to AK-47 rifles. With such a huge arsenal in hand, they naturally feel emboldened to strike at will. Boko Haram also continues to amass money through hostage taking and kidnapping, bringing in enormous ransom-generated wealth, abusing it in carrying out bold and indiscriminate attacks.
Al Shabab, on the other hand, is thought to be receiving arms regularly from Yemen, in collaboration with Al Qaeda in Arab Peninsula (AQAP). It does not look immediately possible for the affected African countries to choke the supply of weaponry for various reasons. AQAP, AQIM and Boko Haram may, on the face of it, look to operate independently but there is a chain of communication between them and the apex leadership of Al Qaeda. They may not be seeking orders from Al Qaeda but existence of a tie up is very likely.
What would appear more lethal for the security interests of the African countries is if AQAP, AQIM and Boko Haram forge an operational alliance, their reach would possibly be wider, numerical strength will multiply, and training activities and coordination far reaching, posing grave threats to peace and security in the African region. This may also see a revival of piracy (now in decline) in the Indian Ocean and even in Atlantic, on the western shores of Africa.
Judging by the aforesaid pattern, terror attacks at the behest of Islamic extremists in Kenya, Somalia, Algeria, Egypt, Mali and Nigeria are demonstrative of spiralling terrorist activities in the continent of Africa and the manner in which such activities are showing an upward trend, remaining African countries are unlikely to escape the heat in the not so distant future.
Question arises now as how to deal with the alarming trend in a coordinated manner. One way appears to involve the African Union (AU) to convene a meeting of the concerned security officials at the AU Headquarters. At the meeting, leaders could discuss: (a) sharing of intelligence cooperation; (b) exchange of database of the terrorists active in the region; (c) deliberate for a stepped up surveillance on the movements of the terrorists within and outside Africa; (d) hold periodical meetings within the affected countries to update information; and (e) work out threadbare dynamics of a working relationship.
Other than the AU, EU and SADC can also be proactively taken on board by terrorism-afflicted countries to address the issue.
In a not altogether different context, it would appear that unlike Osama Bin Laden&’s leadership, which oversaw terrorist attacks under one unified command, Al Qaeda chief Zawahiri is perhaps not in control of the terror groups operating in Africa. Al Shabab, Boko Haram, etc, are working as regional terror groups active locally in pursuit of their objectives. This is not desirbale as they are like loose canons and can go astray anytime, anywhere.
Worse still, if terror outfits in Somalia, Nigeria, Algeria, Mali, Egypt, Yemen and others close their ranks and forge an alliance to strike at will, African nations, hitherto not afflicted with the malaise of terrorism, may find it extremely difficult to feel secure. And this can be thwarted effectively only if such countries are unified under one umbrella of a single command structure for a coordinated approach to crush the ugly head of terror.
The writer is a retired officer of the Indian Police Service(IPS) and occasionally writes on terrorism and security-related issues.