Africa/al-Qaeda/Islamic State/al-Shabaab – The global terror movements al-Qaeda and ISIL are fighting a tug-of-war for the affections of al-Shabaab in a battle which could ultimately hasten the demise of Somalia’s home-grown jihadist movement, researchers said in a report on the 26 Nov 15. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have repeatedly reached out to militants operating in Somalia with a series of recruitment videos showing young Somali members of ISIL urging their brothers to join them. The operation has had some recent success, with two senior al-Shabaab commanders pledging their allegiance to the global terror network. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia’s president, said the defections were "symptomatic of a group that has lost its way", and warned that Somalis "do not need a new brand of horror and repression". He called on disillusioned al-Shabaab fighters to take advantage of a government amnesty instead. For ISIL, experts say, they will be celebrated and heavily-publicised as examples of its claim to have taken over from al-Qaeda as the dominant global network.
To win over the whole of al-Shabaab, an admired and established terror group with a large army of both local and foreign recruits, would represent “a massive scalp”, they added. Africa’s other key terrorist organisation, Boko Haram, in Nigeria, pledged allegiance to ISIL in Mar 15 and in return its fighters are purportedly being sent to ISIL camps for training. ISIL hailed Boko Haram’s pledge, with a spokesman saying in a recording posted online that it allowed “the expansion of the caliphate to west Africa”. Senior al-Shabaab leaders are however said to be reluctant to break away from al-Qaeda, which provided financing, training and logistical support after the struggling group pledged allegiance to the late Osama bin-Laden’s movement in 2012. Others believe al-Shabaab should not be distracted from its domestic, nationalistic aims by the more ambitious plans of ISIL. Some of the same militants reportedly objected to the alliance with al-Qaeda for the same reason. Successive heads of the movement have repeated their allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, its current leader, and the group’s official media, while praising ISIL commanders, continues to speak “respectfully” of the al-Qaeda chief, one commentator said.
Al-Zawahiri is himself said to have suggested in a recent propaganda message that al-Shabaab’s leadership disapproved of ISIL's methodology, including its bloodthirsty displays such as the filmed beheading of hostages. Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst for Red24, a crisis management firm, said the allegiance debate was largely generational. “The senior leadership of al-Shabaab has remained quite loyal to al-Qaeda – the younger guys who don’t hold the purse strings might be more drawn to ISIL,” he said. “Al-Shabaab is still very rooted in local Somali dynamics rather than something that’s more indicative of an ideology.” Al-Qaeda also has an established network in Africa to deliver funding and logistical support while ISIL networks are not yet thought to be well-established, he added. “It’s not clear yet what swearing allegiance to ISIL would translate into tangible benefits,” he said. Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, the head of research at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, at Kings College London, said younger militants would be more drawn by ISIL’s successes in Syria, compared to the steady shrinking of al-Shabaab’s territory through a combined onslaught by local troops and Amisom, the African Union force. “In the long run, al-Shabaab are purely fighting a losing battle so ISIL is more attractive, even though in the long term, it will be too,” he said. Among those to have defected to ISIL is Abd al-Qadir Mu’min, an influential preacher with a distinctive fluorescent orange beard from al-Shabaab’s Puntland branch.
Abd Mu’min, who returned to Somalia from London in 2010 and helped the group shore up the loyalty of local community leaders and religious scholars, declared his change of allegiance, along with those of his local fighters, in a poor quality MP3 recording that was posted online last month. Meleagrou-Hitchens said that al-Shabaab’s fierce Amniyat internal police would likely to be working overtime to suppress too many defections from within the group. This week, Abu Abdalla, a senior al-Shabaab commander, was quoted as saying that disunity would be punishable by death. "If anyone says he belongs to another Islamic movement, kill him on the spot," he said in a radio broadcast on the 23 Nov 15. "We will cut the throat of anyone if they undermine unity." Mr Meleagrou-Hitchens added that al-Shabaab’s recruitment drive might suffer as east African jihadists opted to skip the local terror branch and head straight to ISIL camps. Among those recently known to have tried to join ISIL from the region was Abdirahim Abdullahi, a law graduate and Kenyan councillor’s son who was one of four gunmen to kill 142 students in an attack on Garissa University in April. Mr Abdullahi was said to have been turned back at the Kenyan border because he had no passport and joined al-Shabaab instead in 2013.
Dr Meleagrou-Hitchens said that al-Shabaab could still draw on a deep pool of impoverished and marginalised Kenyans and Somalis but for those with the means to travel, ISIL was now the more attractive option. “There are a number of cases now of Kenyan middle class students going to ISIL,” Dr Meleagrou-Hitchens said. He said al-Shabaab was supportive of ISIL’s aims but preferred to work alongside it, rather than formally pledge allegiance. But for ISIL and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Ryan Cummings said, the formal pledge was key, taking it one step closer to its declared aim of toppling secular governments and creating a global caliphate. “They want to create this perception that they are continually growing - ISIL is all about the PR,” he said. “Al-Shabaab is probably the largest and most sophisticated jihadi group in Africa. It would be a massive scalp for ISIL and would loosen al-Qaeda’s stranglehold in Africa, one of its last bastions.” The ISIL campaign could however backfire spectacularly if the trickle of al-Shabaab commanders switching loyalties increases to a flood, according to Christopher Anzalone, a commentator on terrorist groups based at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montréal. “If discord grows within al-Shabaab’s ranks, it may also enable the Somali government and AMISOM to woo away fighters disillusioned with internal infighting and violence,” he said.
Libya/France – France's defence minister has told rival armed groups in Libya they will be committing suicide unless they stop fighting each other and take on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group it was reported on the 23 Nov 15. Jean-Yves Le Drian's comments came as the UN's new envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, made his first visit to the North African country since his appointment earlier in the month. ISIL has established a foothold around the city of Sirte, the hometown of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, helped by a civil war between rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. "Libya preoccupies me very much," Le Drian told Europe 1 radio on Sunday, nine days after armed men and suicide bombers loyal to ISIL killed 130 people in Paris.
"Daesh [ISIL] is in Libya because it can exploit the internal rivalries ... If we reunite these forces, Daesh will cease to exist. "It is an emergency. Tunisia is nearby, Egypt is nearby, Algeria is directly concerned; Niger, Chad ... these countries need to be able to organise a forum with the support of international organisations and the United Nations," he said. Le Drian's comments came a day after Kobler arrived in Tobruk for talks with officials there and to work on a UN-proposed plan to end hostilities between the Tobruk and Tripoli administrations. Kobler's predecessor, Bernardino Leon, left in October and drew accusations of bias from rival factions. Shortly after he left his UN role, Leon acknowledged he had taken up a job in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, prompting anger due to a purported conflict of interest. The UAE is a major backer of the Tobruk government and is believed to have conducted air strikes on its behalf against fighters loyal to Tripoli.
Mali – Malian security forces were hunting on the 21 Nov 15 for at least three at-large suspects involved in the brazen attack on a five-star hotel that killed 21 people in the heart of the capital, Bamako. A breakaway al-Qaeda faction from the country's troubled north, al-Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for the nine-hour siege that ended after special forces stormed the hotel, killing two attackers. The assault on the 20 Nov 15 on the Radisson Blu was just the latest in a series of attacks this year on high-profile targets in a country that has battled various rebel groups for years. The situation is complex. Here are some of the questions to frequently asked questions.
Who are al-Mourabitoun and what is their relationship with the other groups they coordinated with?
Al-Mourabitoun is a splinter group of al-Qaeda in The Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Its founder Mokhtar Belmokhtar, also known as Bella'war, was initially the leader of AQIM until he split from it in 2012. The initial name he gave to his new group translates as: "Those who sign with blood." Then he changed the name to "al-Mourabitoun" (an Islamic state that ruled over parts of North Africa and southern Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries).
Belmokhtar is known for his uncompromising approach. He staged several attacks on Western targets in the region. The biggest such attack was in 2013 when his group seized a gas plant in southern Algeria killing 40 hostages, including three US citizens.
Earlier this year, his men attacked a restaurant in Bamako killing a French national and a Belgian.
In Aug 15, they also attacked a hotel in another Malian city killing 13 people.
Even though al-Mourabitoun split from AQIM, it remained loyal to the top leadership of al-Qaeda. When some of the AQIM sub-groups announced allegiance to ISIL, al-Mourabitoun stayed away from it.
Now we see signs of emerging cooperation between those different groups. Al-Mourabitoun announced in its statement on Friday that it staged the Radisson Blu attack in conjunction with AQIM.
Belmokhtar has a $5m bounty on his head, placed by the US after the Algeria gas plant attack.
He's been announced dead a few times after US and French attempts to kill him, but his group always denied the claim.
Why did they carry out the attack? What are their demands?
Al-Mourabitoun and their allies, the Movement of Oneness and Jihad and Ansar Al-Din, have been heavily involved in northern Mali. In 2012, they took over most of that region known as Azawad including the three major cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.
In 2013, they were ejected from those cities through a French military air campaign. Meanwhile, the Malian army assisted by French troops retook the cities and took prisoners. Some of those arrested are still in Malian jails. Al-Mourabitoun wants to free them by any means.
The other demand is a political one. They say they want the government to stop persecuting "their people in the north and in the centre". This is interesting because usually they refer to the north only as the area they mostly care about because its inhabitants are mostly fair-skinned Tuareg and Arabs who complain of racism, marginalisation and injustice. Now the mention of the centre comes after members of the black African tribe of Fullan took up arms and began to fight against the government, allegedly in coordination with al-Qaeda-linked groups in Mali. This can only complicate the situation for the regime in Bamako as even back ethnic ties are joining the rebellion against it.
Is there any significance to the hotel or the area where the operation took place?
The choice of the Radisson Blu in western Bamako is laden with significance. This is the area most heavily guarded because it hosts the biggest hotels, diplomatic missions and government buildings. For al-Qaeda groups to be able to reach it and stage a major attack exposes the utter fragility of the Malian government. It's also a message to the French and the Americans that al-Qaeda can always strike at their interests where and when it chooses.
What was the general security atmosphere before this attack?
Bamako has been supposedly in a state of alert since the latest Tuareg rebellion in 2012. You can only imagine that the government has been taking all necessary measures to protect its high-value assets including international hotels. France, the US and Britain have been working with Mali to improve the capacity of the army and the security forces. But the results are clearly unsatisfactory.
Also, remember that Mali is one of the poorest countries in Africa. It's been in political turmoil for the last few years when coups and counter-coups severely weakened the government, compromised national harmony, and left the army in a state of near paralysis.
In such a context, there's every likelihood the security apparatus is infiltrated by elements who wish to inflict damage on the government or at least to accept bribes and facilitate breaches.
What impact does the attack have and what is next for Mali?
We've seen similar incidents in the past not only in Mali but even in France when a few weeks later, no major change in tactics or policies happens. Things would return to apparent normalcy only to see the same incidents occurring again. Governments, even in advanced countries, cannot maintain a real state of alert for a long time, let alone in poor countries. It's not only very costly, but also, it's nerve wracking to security personnel and to the population.
I can see this incident, like those before it, quickly swept under the carpet, and perhaps more of the same happening in the future.
And that's for another important reason. The root causes of the entire phenomenon of political violence need to be addressed in full. Mali is destabilised because endless peace agreements with the northern rebels were not implemented. This has created conditions for insecurity across the country.
The major tribe of Fullan, a black ethnic group in the centre, now also claims to be marginalised and persecuted. In the eyes of those deprived social groups, Western powers come to Mali mainly for minerals and for political control, but have never invested heavily in infrastructure or economic and social development. They are accused of ignoring the suffering of the people of the northern region. In addition to that, corruption in political and administrative circles plays a major role.
If these core issues are not addressed, you can only expect Mali to continue to be a favourable space for Jihadi groups that essentially rely on local complicity in order to stage successful attacks.
Mali 21 Nov 15 – Two al Qaeda allies, both tied to the Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed responsibility for a hostage taking in Mali’s capital as the country declared a state of emergency. In a Twitter TWTR -2.85 % message seen Saturday, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Mourabitoun said their fighters had seized the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako in an attempt to force Mali’s government to release their prisoners. They also demanded France cease its operations in the north of Mali. Instead, Malian troops pressed into the hotel, finding more than a dozen bodies of hostages. For some soldiers that raised questions among soldiers about how seriously the jihadists ever intended to negotiate. Witnesses said attackers began shooting people almost as soon as they entered the Radisson, starting with a security guard at the entrance to the lobby.
At least one American, two Belgians, three Chinese and six Russians were among the dead, officials from those countries said. Friday’s attack marked the latest twist in the long hunt for Mr. Belmokhtar, one of the most elusive figures in global jihad. The Central Intelligence Agency has been tracking the Algerian jihadist—unsuccessfully—since the 1990s, when he returned from Afghanistan to wage war on his home country’s government. Around 2003, edged out of Algeria, Mr. Belmokhtar slipped into Mali where he helped found AQIM, as the al Qaeda group is known. Later, he broke away to form his own brigade, al Mourabitoun, the other group that claimed Friday’s attack.
In the past two years, French, U.S. and United Nations forces have tried to track down Mr. Belmokhtar with drones and electronic surveillance, and they’ve tried to kill him with laser-guided bombs. The U.N. has flown over his former hiding encampments with Dutch drones and surveillance planes piloted by Salvadoran crew. Bangladeshi peacekeepers in boats have floated past the banks of the Niger River where locals say he used to relax. It has been a difficult manhunt. It isn’t certain where in the world’s largest desert Mr. Belmokhtar is—or even if he is alive. The terrorist, who officials believe is in his 40s, has been reported dead at least seven times.
In June, Pentagon officials said they had almost certainly killed him during an airstrike on a compound outside Benghazi, Libya, more than 2,000 miles from Mali’s capital. Three different al Qaeda groups put out statements saying Mr. Belmokhtar lived. Last month, a pro-Algerian government news site said that Mr. Belmokhtar had died, again. “The Algerians have been saying he’s dead for years,” said Andrew Lebovich, a visiting fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, and a research fellow with the Social Science Research Council in New York. “They periodically announce he’s alive. Then they periodically announce he’s dead.”
Nigeria – At least 32 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in a blast at a market in the north-eastern Nigerian city of Yola, the Red Cross and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said on the 17 Nov 15. The explosion occurred at a fruit and vegetable market beside a main road in the Jimeta area of Adamawa's state capital on the night of the 17 Nov 15. The area, also housing a live stock market, was crowded with shoppers. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but officials will likely pin the blame on the armed group Boko Haram which has killed thousands in its bid to create a state adhering to Islamic law in the northeast. The group has previously attacked Yola with suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices. Earlier on the same day in the city of Maiduguri - the capital of Borno state and birthplace of the armed group Boko Haram, another suicide bomber killed 28 people in an attack on a mosque. Since losing most of the territory they took over earlier this year to the Nigerian army, the fighters have focused attacks on markets, bus stations and places of worship, as well as hit-and-run attacks on villages.
Tunisia – Tunisian authorities said on the 25 Nov 15 a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with plastic explosive blew up a presidential guard bus a day earlier, killing at least 12 troops in an attack claimed by Daesh militants. Tuesday's (24 Nov 15) explosion on a main boulevard in the capital drove home the vulnerability of Tunisia to militancy, following assaults on a seaside tourist hotel in June and the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March also claimed by the Daesh terror group. One of the Arab world's most secular nations, Tunisia has increasingly become a target for militants after being hailed as a beacon of democratic change in the region since its 2011 uprising ousted autocrat Zine Abidine Ben Ali."This attack is an evolution in the behaviour of the terrorists; this time they attacked a symbol of the state and in the heart of the capital," Prime Minister Habib Essid told reporters after an emergency security meeting. It was the first suicide bombing in the capital. In Oct 13 a bomber blew himself up on a beach in Sousse, and previously an Al Qaeda suicide bomber attacked the synagogue in Djerba, killing 21 people. Da’esh, whose insurgents control large parts of Iraq and Syria and are also active in Libya to Tunisia’s east, claimed responsibility on Wednesday for the Tunis attack, according to an official statement. It included a photograph of a man, wearing a headscarf, a white robe and bomb vest, who it said was the bomber and named him as Abu Abdyllah Tounsi. The name suggests he was Tunisian himself. “The Tyrants of Tunisia must know there is no safety for them. We will not stop until the laws of Allah are applied to Tunisia,” the statement said. Semtex from Libya an interior ministry statement said 12 guards died in the blast of Semtex explosive located in a belt the bomber was wearing. The explosives had been traced to Libya, it said. Another body at the scene was probably that of the bomber. Security officials said the bomber detonated his blast just as presidential guards were boarding a bus on Mohamed V Avenue to travel to the presidential palace for duty. “The attacker was wearing a bag on his back. He had on a coat and was wearing headphones.
He blew himself up just getting into the door of the bus with military explosives,” Hichem Gharbi, a presidential security official, told local radio. The government has declared a state of emergency for a month giving the executive and armed forces more flexibility and authority, but also temporarily curbing some rights. Around Tunis on Wednesday, troops and armed police patrolled city streets and set up checkpoints searching vehicles and pedestrians. At Tunis international Airport, Security forces were allowing in only people with booked flights. Tunisia has enjoyed relative stability since its uprising compared with neighbours Libya and Egypt. It has a new constitution, held free elections and established compromise politics between secular and Islamist parties that has allowed some progress. But militants now pose a serious challenge for a country heavily reliant on tourism for its revenues. In the early chaotic days after its revolution, ultra-conservative Islamists gained ground, recruiting among young Tunisians and taking over mosques. More than 3,000 Tunisians are now fighting for Da’esh or other militant groups in Iraq, Syria and neighbouring Libya. Some have threatened to return to stage attacks in Tunisia. The gunmen in the Sousse hotel and Bardo Museum attacks were all trained in militant camps in Libya. The Tunis government has cracked down on hard-line preachers and taken back mosques. It is also building a security wall along the border with lawless Libya to try to stop militant’s crossing over into its territory. Another group of militants is also holed up in the remote mountains bordering Algeria, and they have carried out hit-and-run attacks on Tunisian military patrols and police checkpoints.
Tunisia/Libya – Tunisia announced on the 25 Nov 15 that it was closing its land border with war-torn Libya for 15 days after a deadly bus bombing in Tunis claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group. The National Security Council, headed by President Beji Caid Essebsi, decided to close the frontier from midnight with “reinforced surveillance of maritime borders and in airports”, a statement said. The council also decided to “step up operations to block (Internet) sites linked to terrorism”, the statement said. And authorities would “take urgent measures regarding people returning from hotbeds of conflict, in line with the antiterrorist law,” it added, without elaborating. The council also announced the government would recruit 3,000 additional agents at the interior ministry next year, as well as another 3,000 soldiers.