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C E N T R E
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
Comprehensive Information on Complex Crises
December 2012 Samuel Lau Assistant Desk Officer firstname.lastname@example.org
Angelia Sanders Northeast Africa Desk Officer email@example.com
This document discusses the growing role of al Qaeda across northern Africa and its links with militant groups in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Yemen and the resulting “Arc of Instability” in the region. 1 Related information is available at www.cimicweb.org. Hyperlinks to source material are highlighted in blue and underlined in the text. All maps are hyperlinked to their source locations.
Introduction Jihadists2 and other militants thrive in power vacuums, especially in areas where there are large numbers of accessible weapons, such as in Libya, Mali and Syria. In North Africa, militant Muslims and Islamists have taken advantage of recent upheavals thereby thriving and growing in influence, creating what is now being referred to as an “Arc of Instability” that stretches from the coast of West Africa across the Sahel region into the Horn of Africa. On the African continent, ties between radical groups Boko Haram, al Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its offshoots – the Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine – are becoming stronger; as are ties with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. This report will provide a brief overview of each of the militant groups, followed by information on their sources of funding, methods of recruitment, cooperation, and international and regional counter-terrorist activities. The Al Qaeda Core The name al Qaeda refers to a worldwide “network of networks” that supports a larger jihadist movement, states Stratfor. There is the al Qaeda core, a group established by Osama bin Laden and his colleagues that originally comprised no more than a few hundred members. Many of the members of this core group, now led by Aymman al Zawahiri, have been captured, killed or had their assets frozen following the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The core group has not conducted a successful terrorist attack in recent years and is now mostly “relegated to producing propaganda for guidance and inspiration for other jihadist elements”, states Stratfor. The al Qaeda core constitutes a very small part of the larger jihadist movement, with regional groups currently taking up a more active role. Various local and regional militants have now assumed al Qaeda’s name or ideology, while relationships between some of these groups and the al Qaeda core were previously developed in the 1980s and 1990s. Those groups that have publicly claimed allegiance to the al Qaeda core are often referred to as franchise groups and include: al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), AQIM and AQAP.
This report builds on a previous CFC report “Security Threats in the Sahel and Beyond: AQIM, Boko Haram and al Shabaab”. At present, jihadism is used to refer to the most violent persons and movements in contemporary Islam, including al Qaeda.
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Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
These three franchises are created and operated locally; local commanders have significant latitude in how closely they follow guidance from the al Qaeda core. In addition to al Qaeda franchises, there are grassroots jihadist groups which comprise individuals or small cells of individuals that are inspired by the al Qaeda core and its franchises. Some members receive training from the franchise groups, while others have no direct contact with other jihadist elements or the core. The term al Qaeda is often applied interchangeably to the core, the franchises and the grassroots jihadists; however, there are important distinctions between these groups. According to Stratfor, “not all jihadists are linked to al Qaeda, and not all militant Islamists are jihadists. Islamists are those who believe society is best governed by Islamic law, or Sharia. Militant Islamists are those who advocate the use of force to establish Sharia”. Militant Islamists are found in both Sunni and Shiite Islamic sects; however, not all militant Muslims are Islamists since some Muslims take up arms for tribal, territorial, ethnic or nationalistic reasons. This case can best be seen in northern Mali, where there are militant Islamist groups fighting for the implementation of Sharia law, and militant Muslims fighting for tribal (Tuareg) reasons who do not wish to impose Sharia law. Both types of militant groups fought together to force the government from the North; however, they are now in conflict with each other over diverging views on the implementation of Sharia law. It can be difficult to categorically define which type of militant group a militant entity belongs to, since at times there are overlapping ideologies and aims. Additionally, groups may adopt different names to influence public perceptions, show discretion or to intentionally create confusion. It is important to understand that just because groups share a name and leaders of groups are acquainted, does not mean they are of the same group or network of groups, or share the same ideology. AQIM AQIM dates from the 1990s and arose from an insurrection mounted by an Islamist resistance movement protesting the Algerian regime’s decision to end parliamentary elections in 1992. The Islamist resistance group was originally part of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) but eventually declared its independence in 1998 over concerns that GIA’s indiscriminate violent methods were hurting the Islamist cause.3 Once separated from GIA, the group was called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) and was popular for its commitment to fighting the Algerian government while simultaneously working to prevent indiscriminate killing of civilians in the process. According to a 2007 report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Osama bin Laden was involved in the GSPC’s early formation. Although the group declared its allegiance to al Qaeda in 2003, it was not officially approved by al Qaeda’s senior leadership until January 2007, at which point GSPC changed its name to AQIM. AQIM’s principal objectives include ridding North Africa of Western influence, overthrowing “unbeliever” governments (including Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia), and installing fundamentalist regimes based on Sharia law. Unlike other al Qaeda franchises, AQIM has not been able to execute attacks on Europe or domestic US targets, reports Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). However, analysts point to thwarted attacks and arrests of AQIMlinked terrorists in Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and the UK as evidence the group is capable of reaching into Western Europe. According to CFR, the group reportedly maintains mobile training camps along the Algeria-Mali border and has taken advantage of the porous borders of the Sahel region in order to move people and supplies. Since the mid-2000s AQIM has expanded its operations into Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and other countries in response to intensified counter-terrorism crackdowns by North African governments. As AQIM moves south, it has also expanded its operations to include local militant groups and its members are largely drawn from the poor and disenfranchised in North Africa. AQIM is estimated to currently have fewer than 2,000 active members, a sharp decrease from its peak in the 1990s when the group had 28,000 fighters. AQIM’s main leaders are believed to have trained in Afghanistan during the 1979-1989 war with the Soviets and some fighters are believed to have gained skills fighting US and coalition forces in Iraq. All of AQIM’s top commanders are Algerian.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, GIA gained a reputation for targeting anyone even remotely affiliated with the military and government, in addition to killing civilians and foreign nationals. The GIA sought to establish a Muslim state ruled by Sharia law. The Algerian civil war that resulted was ranked as one of the most violent conflicts in the 1990s.
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
In early September 2012, the Inter Press Service global news agency interviewed a former Libyan rebel fighter who stated that “All of the militias [in Libya] are involved in selling weapons” and confirmed that AQIM has bought arms in Libya. Moktar Belmoktar, a former top AQIM commander, has been linked to AQIM’s arms procurement in Libya twice; the first time in November 2011 when he said in an interview with Mauritania’s private Agence Nouakchott d'Information (ANI) news agency that AQIM had obtained weapons from the Libyan conflict, and a second time in March 2012 when Malian security officials stated that he had been in Libya for several weeks to procure arms. In June 2012, US Defence officials confirmed that thousands of anti-tank and surface-to-air-missiles were taken from Libyan arsenals and have bolstered AQIM and its proxies. The US Assistant Deputy Defense Secretary, Amanda J. Dory, stated that the outflow of Libyan weapons to militants in the region has “created opportunities for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to exploit instability and establish new and expanded save havens”. According to Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, AQIM’s arms procurement from Libya has probably made it the “best armed al Qaeda franchise in the world”. AQIM Affiliated Groups Members of AQIM have formed offshoots in the region. Magharebia reported that splits in leadership and groups could represent the broader trend across North Africa of young people turning against their leaders’ unilateral authority. “If the Arab Spring represents a civil revolt against despotic leaders, young terrorists could be seen as echoing that sentiment” explains Dah Ould Hamadi, an analyst of Salafist groups and Sahel terrorism. 4 Previously, AQIM had sought to prevent internal resentment and defections by promoting disaffected young fighters to important roles and dividing the Sahara emirate into quasi-autonomous battalions in efforts to provide more titles and defined roles to more fighters. The most recent split occurred in early December 2012 when Algerian-born Moktar Belmoktar, formerly the head of a cell of AQIM, announced he was leaving AQIM in order to “enlarge” the zone of operation to cover “the entire Sahara, going from Niger through to Chad and Burkina Faso”. To date, AQIM has been unable to establish long-term bases in Mauritania and Niger and there is no evidence that the group has operated in Chad. Two groups operating in the North Africa, Sahel region with a connection to AQIM leadership include MUJAO and Ansar Dine. The AQIM splinter group called Jamaat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Ifriqiya (Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa-MUJAO)5 was created in September 2011 after members broke off from AQIM in order to focus their efforts in West Africa. The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), a leading academic institute for global counterterrorism studies, reports that MUJAO “is unique in that its leadership is composed of black Africans, despite a history of tension between Arabs and black Africans. In the past, perceived Arab disregard for blacks had given rise to interorganizational tension and resentment; another possible reason for the split”. MUJAO is also comprised of young militants. While MUJAO has been amongst the groups imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the parts of northern Mali under its control – including reported stonings and amputations –historically the group has been more focused on profiteering from criminal activity rather than advocating a particular ideology. MUJAO is blacklisted by the UN al Qaeda Sanctions Committee and on 07 December 2012, the US Department of State designated MUJAO and two of the organisation’s leaders, Hamad el Khairy and Ahmed el Tilemsi, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Khairy was a member of AQIM prior to assuming his leadership role in MUJAO and was involved in planning terrorist operations against Mauritania in 2007. Tilemsi is MUJAO’s military head, and was also previously affiliated with AQIM. The UN has stated that the group is in possession of heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, explosives and other military equipment seized from Malian military arsenals when the group began fighting in Mali. Ansar Dine, which means “defenders of the faith”, is an Islamist group operating in northern Mali under the leadership of Iyad Ag Ghaly, a man who played key roles in the Tuareg rebellions in the 1990s and 2006 and formerly served as a negotiator for the release of Westerners kidnapped by AQIM. It is believed that Ag Ghaly created Ansar Dine as a rival group after failed attempts to take control of the Malian Tuareg rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). In October 2011, Ag Ghaly began to recruit fighters for the newly-formed Ansar Dine, drawing heavy support from the Ifora tribe of which he was a member. The group released a video in February 2012 proclaiming its goal to impose strict Sharia law in Mali and has since carried out amputations, public executions, floggings, and the destruction of historical shrines of cultural and religious importance in Timbuktu. In March 2012, Ansar Dine joined forces with the MNLA to fight Malian government forces in northern Mali; however, the alliance quickly ended over disagreement on the implementation of Sharia law. The group’s allegiances have constantly shifted between the MNLA, AQIM, MUJAO and the Malian army. According to the Guardian, there are reports from the ground – which the newspaper admits it cannot verify – that the group is running short of cash and members are defecting. Additionally, CNN
The new availability of weapons from Libya in 2011 is another reason that could have contributed to a rise in new AQIM-linked groups. Also known as the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA).
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
reports that some Malian soldiers have defected to join Ansar Dine. While some reports state that Ag Ghaly is more interested in power than establishing an Islamist state in Mali. Boko Haram Boko Haram is an Islamist movement based primarily in the north-eastern region of Nigeria and is not a formal al Qaeda affiliate; however, connections with AQIM and its affiliates have strengthened the group’s capacity to conduct terrorist attacks in the country. According to the Nigeria Guardian, the group has expanded to “virtually all northern states and are advancing their frontiers to other parts of the country”. The group’s official name, Jama’afu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, means ‘people committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teachings and jihad’, and its Hausa-language nickname, Boko Haram, translates to “Western education is forbidden”. Boko Haram was created in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, a radical young Islamist cleric, with the aim of establishing a fully Islamic state in Nigeria. Yusuf’s followers initially consisted of poor northern Islamic students and clerics, and he gained further support by speaking out against government corruption. Prior to 2009, the group did not aim to violently overthrow the Nigerian government but primarily engaged in low-level battles with local police and villagers. This approach changed in July 2009 when Boko Haram launched an uprising that ended with a military assault which left some 800 dead and the group’s mosque and headquarters in ruins. Yusuf was killed while in police custody and was later found in the street, still handcuffed. Boko Haram was forced underground and many members fled to neighbouring countries; however, in 2010 Boko Haram re-emerged with members carrying out deadly attacks against churches, government officials, markets, mosques, news publishers, schools, and security forces. Boko Haram is currently led by Abubakar Shekau, who was born in Nigeria’s north-eastern state of Yobe. According to the BBC, Shekau is said to have met Yusuf through a mutual friend, Mamman Nur, who masterminded the August 2011 bombing of the United Nations (UN) complex in the capital Abuja in which 25 people died. Shekau is the most radical of the three men and has shown intense ideological commitment and ruthlessness, reports the BBC. He does not communicate directly with foot soldiers but wields his power through contact with a few select cell leaders. Boko Haram’s spokesperson, who uses the alias Abu Qaqa, was reportedly killed by Nigerian security forces in September 2012, but Boko Haram has denied Qaqa’s death and claims he has been arrested. Two other Boko Haram leaders are Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid el Barnawi. Little is known about these two individuals but they are believed to have ties with AQIM and have been sanctioned and identified by the United States as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists”. According to a UN report released in January 2012, there are concerns that Boko Haram may have acquired weapons at the end of the Libyan civil war, as large quantities of weapons and ammunition were smuggled into the Sahel region by former Libyan fighters and mercenaries. In late October, Nigerian news agency Vanguard released a report in which exmilitants in the Niger Delta claimed a top government official was circumventing Nigerian Customs laws to allow illegal arms dealers to enter the country and supply military hardware to Boko Haram. The commander of US Africa Command, General Carter Ham, stated in early December 2012 that Boko Haram is likely to have received explosives from the al Qaeda franchise, saying there are “clear indications of collaboration among the organizations”. A July 2012 report by the US Congressional Research Service highlighted that since Boko Haram’s re-emergence, the group’s attacks have increased substantially in frequency, reach and lethality, and have increasingly featured improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs and suicide attacks. The group commonly targets government officials and security forces, but has also carried out attacks against markets, religious centres and schools. Additionally, the August 2011 suicide bombing on the UN building in Abuja was the first time the group attacked an international target, and in November 2011 there was a notable targeting shift and escalation of attacks towards Christians. Boko Haram has also put in place a strategy to use sirens and simulate convoys of high-profile Nigerians to infiltrate and attack target buildings, reports the Nigerian Tribune. According to the Associated Press, Boko Haram has been responsible for more than 760 deaths in 2012 alone. Al Shabaab Somalia has experienced fourteen separate governments6 between 1991 and 2010. According to CFR, the power vacuum created by a lack of effective governance structures and rule of law in Somalia led to the establishment of numerous neighbourhood Sharia courts in the 1990s. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) background report on al Shabaab explains that eleven of these neighbourhood courts united and formed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) to counter warlords in Mogadishu. The militant Islamist faction of the ICU came to be known as al Shabaab or the “The Youth” in Arabic. Al Shabaab’s original fighting force comprised nearly 400 young members, remnants of the former
The most recent system of government is the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that was established by international bodies in 2004.
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
Somali Islamist movement al Itihaad al Islamiya (AIAI). In June 2006, the ICU led a military coup against the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which was subsequently defeated by Ethiopian forces in December 2006. The involvement of foreign forces7 in ousting the ICU is said to have “stoked extremist flames” and garnered support for the al Shabaab movement. In February 2012, al Shabaab announced a formal merAreas of Control within Somalia February – October 2012 ger with al Qaeda, and another Islamist militant group in Puntland declared allegiance to al Shabaab, allowing al Shabaab to strengthen its presence in the northern semiautonomous region. The Mujahidin of the Golis Mountains were formerly led by Mohamed Said Atom in the Galgala area of Puntland, and the UN Security Council has identified Atom as an arms supplier for al Shabaab. The UN has also observed a steady influx of al Shabaab fighters from southern Somalia and the expansion of al Shabaab operations into Puntland. In April 2012, Puntland’s President Abdirahman Farole confirmed that al Shabaab militants have moved north into Puntland after being pushed out of central Somalia. According to Maplecroft, a security risk consulting firm, it is likely that Puntland will become the new strategic base for al Shabaab, given the region’s “weak institutional capacity, high levels of corruption, and lack of the rule of law, which together contribute to a poor security environment in which militancy can prosper. Furthermore, Puntland provides an ideal harbouring territory for the group in the remote Golis Mountain region, which is conducive to the guerrilla-style warfare increasingly employed by the group”. The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea states that al Shabaab has suffered dramatic reverses over the past year, including the loss of territory, military defeats and the erosion of its revenue base – all of which have exacerbated splits within the al Shabaab leadership. With al Shabaab increasingly losing territory in Somalia, there are concerns that al Shabaab will branch out into Kenya, says Randolph Bell of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Bell explains that despite al Shabaab’s defeat in the key port city of Kismayo, the group may continue to operate out of difficult-to-secure parts of Somalia and Somali strongholds in Kenya such as the Dadaab refugee camp and parts of the capital Nairobi. There have already been signs of increased al Shabaab activity in Kenya, including grenade attacks in urban centres and threats of large-scale attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa. AQAP Though the militant Islamist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was officially formed in January 2009 when Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda merged, there were several jihadist predecessors to AQAP in the region, many of which were made up of men returning from fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. One of these groups was al Qaeda in Yemen (AQY) which successfully detonated several hundred pounds of explosives into the USS Cole at the port of Aden in October 2000, killing seventeen US military servicemen. Two years later, the group conducted another suicide bombing on the French oil tanker M/V Limburg. In 2006, the escape of 23 convicted terrorists from a highsecurity prison in the Yemeni capital Sana’a marked a turning point for al Qaeda in the region as many of the escapees worked to “resurrect al Qaeda from the ashes” and plan a new series of attacks. Meanwhile, the crackdown on local al Qaeda remnants by the Saudi government in late 2008 forced many to flee into Yemen and unite with the resurgent jihadi groups there. The merger between the various chapters in Yemen and Saudi Arabia “effectively transformed al Qaeda from a local chapter to a regional franchise and moved it one step closer toward becoming a group capable of global action”, says Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen. AQAP is often cited as the jihadist franchise ideologically closest to the al Qaeda core due to many of its members’ history with Osama bin Laden. Additionally, terrorism experts regard AQAP as the most active and deadly al Qaeda affiliate, reports the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The group primarily targets non-Muslims in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, seeks to overthrow the Yemeni and Saudi governments whilst instituting Sharia law and, at the same time, liberate lands considered to be occupied Muslim territory. Additionally, AQAP has sought to carry out attacks in Western countries.
The majority of Somalis are Sufi Muslims, says CFR, and have moderate religious views in a clan oriented culture that rejects foreign presence including Arab jihadi organisations.
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
The AQAP organisation is “compartmentalized and hierarchical”, writes Barak Barfi, in his report titled “Yemen on the Brink? The Resurgence of al Qaeda in Yemen”. AQAP has a distinct division of labour, a political leader who provides direction, a military chief who leads operations and a propaganda mechanism that engages in the recruitment of individuals as well as dissemination of its ideological and theological perspectives. White House security adviser John Brennan asserts that AQAP currently has 1,000 members in Yemen. AQAP has recently targeted oil installations and tourists in order to strike at foreigners and foreign interests as well as to impact Yemen’s economy, in addition to attacking security officials in order to deter pursuit of the organisation. Most recently, AQAP’s leadership has clearly decided to launch a wide-scale domestic insurgency and to possibly transform AQAP from an al Qaeda affiliate to a more “Taliban-like movement”. While the Yemeni government continues its political transition as a result of its own Arab Spring, it remains limited in effectively maintaining security. AQAP-affiliated tribal militias continue to wage war in Yemen’s southern governorates specifically in Abyan, Aden, Bayda, Lahji and Shabwah. In May 2012, the group carried out its largest attack since Yemeni President Hadi assumed power, when an AQAP suicide bomber killed more than ninety Yemeni soldiers rehearsing for a military parade in Sanaa. Sources of Funding As mentioned earlier, the change in al Qaeda’s organisational structure over the last few years and the diminishing ability of the al Qaeda core to direct the activities of its affiliates have resulted in greater independence of the franchise movements. The core is no longer in the position to provide generous funding to its affiliates such as AQIM and AQAP, which has resulted in these groups becoming self-sufficient in raising their own funds, states US Treasury Department Under Secretary David Cohen. Drug Trafficking8 Historically, drugs were smuggled by air or sea from South America into EuCocaine Transport Routes rope through Spain or Portugal; however, the introduction of more rigorous Through West Africa counter-narcotics measures caused South American drug cartels to change the methods of transporting drugs into Europe. AQIM’s involvement in drug trafficking first came to the attention of international authorities in November 2009, when a burned Boeing 727 carrying cocaine and other contraband from Venezuela was found in a remote part of north-eastern Mali. Following the discovery, former United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told the Security Council that the two streams of illicit drugs – heroin into Eastern Africa and cocaine into West Africa – were converging in the Sahara, creating new trafficking routes across Chad, Niger and Mali. AQIM has sought to capitalise on this confluence of drugs and currently provides logistical and transportation support to drug traffickers, in addition to giving “permission” for traffickers to move products through areas they control. It is unknown how much revenue AQIM is generating from their participation in the drug trade; however, according to traffickers arrested in Mauritania in 2011, a convoy of hashish would have to pay USD 50,000 to pass through AQIM-controlled territory. A Malian driver who has conducted cocaine runs reported that he would collect USD 3,000 per trip to ferry drugs from where they were dropped in the desert to a given location. 9 According to African Centre for Terrorism Studies and Research (CAERT) chief Lies Boukraa, “the Sahel forms part of the routes most favoured by traffickers” and Algerian government officials state that one of the preferred corridors for the passage of cocaine is along a corridor located on the tip of Algeria, Mali and Niger. Funds generated by drug trafficking have allowed AQIM to expand their activities and improve their military capabilities. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), AQIM’s criminal activities, particularly drug trafficking, have made the organisation highly profitable and selfsustaining, with some analysts believing that through its partnership with Latin American cartels, AQIM is able to facilitate cocaine smuggling, capitalising on well-established smuggling routes to traffic the drugs from West Africa into Europe.10 On 24 February 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in an address to the UN Security Council, stated
For more information on drug trafficking in North Africa see CFC report “Drug Trafficking in Africa”. Since early 2011, there have been no incidents in the region that could indicate how cocaine smuggling routes and volumes have evolved since the collapse of the regime in Libya and conflict in northern Mali, reports the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s report “Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region”. There is however evidence that the continue flow of Moroccan cannabis resin toward Libya, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula has continued unabated. 10 Three Malian members of AQIM were charged by the United States in December 2009 of providing material support to the terrorist group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (“FARC” also known as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). However, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s maintains that it is unlikely that AQIM has direct involvement in drug smuggling or communicates directly with Latin American drug cartels.
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
that AQIM has formed “alliances with drug traffickers and other criminal syndicates” adding that “such alliances have the potential to further destabilise the region and reverse hard-won democratic and peace-building achievements”. According to US Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSCA), Ansar Dine, through its partnership with AQIM, has likely profited from trafficking in cocaine, hashish and cigarettes. Other major terrorist groups in Africa, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabaab in Somalia, are not reported to be linked to drug trafficking.11 Kidnapping and Ransom Kidnapping is another important source of revenue for al Qaeda linked groups. According to Cohen, AQIM and AQAP have turned kidnapping for ransom into “the most significant terrorist financing threat today”. The Sahara’s modern-day kidnap and ransom schemes form a multi-million dollar industry that has its roots in February 2003, when a group of 32 European tourists were kidnapped in Algeria by AQIM’s predecessor GSPC, according to Reuters. The payment for some of the hostages set a precedent for further kidnappings. In the following years, more than twenty other Westerners were kidnapped and leaked cables from 2008 to 2009 from the US Embassy in Mali record sources telling diplomats that AQIM was offering as much as USD 100,000 for captured Westerners. 12 It is unknown exactly how much AQIM has earned but it estimated to be in the range of tens of millions of dollars, with ransom payments ranging between USD 1.5 to 4 million per hostage. A Swiss government report in 2010 said USD 5.9 million was paid in 2009 to free two hostages. A senior West African official who has direct knowledge of hostage negotiations told Reuters that “there is no hostage that has been released without a ransom”. AQIM is currently demanding USD 117 million for the release of four French workers seized from a uranium mine in Niger in late 2010. Residents in northern Mali say they witness the results of ransom payments, with most AQIM and MUJAO fighters always having cash on hand. Two residents in Mali who had friends or contacts within MUJAO told Reuters that in August “rank-and-file members of MUJWA in the town of Gao were given large wads of cash soon after an Italian and two Spanish hostages were freed”. Magharebia reports that MUJAO is defying the common Sahel terrorist’s practice of focusing on only foreigners for ransom and has kidnapped African nationals as well. On 05 April 2012, the group kidnapped seven Algerian diplomats from the Algerian consulate located in Mali.13 As of 06 December 2012, MUJAO and AQIM were holding at least thirteen foreigners hostage. It is difficult to verify how many hostages AQAP holds, as it is challenging for foreign and Yemeni media to penetrate AQAP areas to confirm reports of kidnappings. Most kidnappings are carried out by tribal kidnappers who make demands for services from the government or the release of jailed relatives in return for the release of their prisoners; however, it is believed that on occasion AQAP has conducted kidnappings directly or offered tribal kidnappers payments for their foreign hostages. Ansar Dine’s spokesman in Burkina Faso, Mohammad Ag Aharib, told AFP that the group doesn’t “agree with taking hostages and drug trafficking”. Piracy and Trade January 2012 saw the first evidence of links between pirates and al Shabaab, when pirates told Somalia Report that the pirates had “purchased” two Doctors without Borders (MSF) Spanish aid workers (originally kidnapped by al Shabaab from northern Kenya) for the price of USD 100,000 each, or a total of USD 200,000. The pirates stated that it was “only a business deal” because al Shabaab “needed money” and had no way to organise a ransom negotiation. Somali pirates and al Shabaab have ideological differences and evidence suggests that cooperation between the groups is for business purposes only. According to Central Asia Online, there is evidence suggesting that pirate gangs are forced to pay a portion of their ransom earnings to al Shabaab for protection and this percentage varies depending on al Shabaab’s level of involvement in the pirate attempt (5-10% protection, 20% weapons training, 50% financing). According to the US Department of State, there may not be clear evidence of a pirate-al Shabaab link but it “would not be uncommon for criminal gangs working in the same ungoverned space to share resources or pay kickbacks to one another”. In 2008, al Shabaab took over the port city of Kismayo and began to increase fees for importing and exporting goods as a way to generate revenue. The selling of charcoal became the group’s “most lucrative source of income”, with al Shabaab earning more than USD 25 million in revenue in 2011. The funds were generated not only from direct links to charcoal traders but also from taxing charcoal trucks as they pass through areas under their control.14 Because of the revenue charcoal generated for al Shabaab, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2036 in February 2012 which banned the export of charcoal from Somalia and its import into other countries. The capture of Kismayo by Kenyan forces in September
Some analysts and officials suspect that al Shabaab might be gaining revenue from the trade of khat, a mild drug mostly consumed by people from the Horn of Africa and Middle East; however, the money generated from the Khat trade is difficult to trace. 12 Of the Westerners, AQIM did not want Americans because they knew Washington would not pay ransoms, unlike other countries. 13 Three of the hostages were released in July, while MUJAO reported to have killed one in September, reports al Jazeera. 14 Since April 2012 the UN has been buying 52 tonnes of charcoal a week (worth about USD 1 million annually) for African Union troops stationed in Somalia, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Additionally the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia found that charcoal exports to some countries, most notably the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have actually increased.
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
2012 will result in a dramatic loss of revenue for al Shabaab15, which according to the UN, is likely to force al Shabaab to shift north into Puntland and Somaliland where they will work to establish a new centre of operational activity that will allow them access to the Gulf of Aden. 16 Direct Donations Private donations also make up another main source of funding. Al Shabaab has funded its activities in the past through state sponsorship from Eritrea, though the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia recently reported that Eritrean support has decreased significantly, likely due to frictions between al Shabaab and Eritrea, al Shabaab’s declining success on the battlefield and increased international scrutiny. The Somali Transitional Government has also regularly accused entities within Yemen, Syria, Iran and Qatar of supporting al Shabaab activities. For AQAP, these private donations are a mixture of wealthy Saudis sympathetic with AQAP’s cause, and those who donate unknowingly to charitable institutions who re-direct the funds, according to cables viewed by the New York Times. It is believed that Ansar Dine is being largely financed by Qatar. Boko Haram has reportedly received funding from governors of the Nigerian states of Kano and Bauchi, reports Nigerian news agency The Nation. An unnamed high-ranking Boko Haram official said in January 2012 that the governors of the two states had made monthly donations of as much as USD 63,000 in an agreement that specified Boko Haram would not conduct militant operations in these two states. It has also been revealed that while Boko Haram initially relied on donations from its members, its connections with AQIM opened it up to more foreign funding from groups in the UK and Saudi Arabia. In early December 2012, General Ham, stated that Boko Haram had travelled to training camps in northern Mali and had most likely received financing from AQIM, reports the New York Times. Other forms of fundraising include informal money transfers, the use of the Hawala banking system, Zakat (religious mandated charitable) donations, and bulk cash smuggling through couriers. Emerging trends also include mobile banking, pre-paid cards, and Internet banking. Recruitment Practices There are many reasons that lead people to join militant Islamist groups, the most common of which are economic and social factors. However, it is important to note that militants attract supporters from the poor, middle class and the affluent, including professional organisations and study groups organised at universities, states Terje Ostebo in his paper “Islamic Militants in Africa”. Despite the diversity of backgrounds, youth continue to make up the strongest ratio of membership. This is because African youth are not only marginalised economically but are “often alienated from their cultural contexts and burdened by questions of identity and belonging”, says Ostebo. Militant groups provide a source of empowerment and frame local and global events in the context of a world that is threatening Islam and contradicting the will of God. Local dynamics, whether economic or political, are currently playing a key factor in various al Qaeda linked groups’ method of strengthening their membership. AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine Residents from the Malian towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu said the ranks of the Islamist groups have been bolstered by Malians who have joined the groups as a means of survival, reports the Guardian. Funds from criminal enterprises such as drug trafficking and kidnappings have allowed militant Islamist groups such as AQIM and MUJAO to outspend and outgun rival groups. According to the UN, rebels are “buying loyalty, abolishing taxes and using illicit funds from narco-trafficking and ransom payments to actively recruit children to learn how to make explosives and to fight as soldiers”. In a country where half of the population lives on less than USD 1.25 a day, families are receiving almost USD 600 to enlist a child, followed by USD 400 a month. In September 2012, Human Rights Watch reported that AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine recruited several hundred child soldiers in northern Mali, some estimated to be as young as eleven or twelve years old. Residents have observed children undergoing training, manning checkpoints, conducting foot patrols, enforcing Sharia and guarding prisoners. According to Michael S. Ansari, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, many people rely on handouts from Ansar Dine, which has full support from AQIM. In turn, families have to send their sons to militarised madrasas (Islamic schools) where they are taught to fire AK-47s and are indoctrinated into harsh interpretations of Islam. Northern community leader and analyst, Mohamed Ould Mahmoud, believes that MUJAO are eager to prove themselves and have larger ambitions than the other Islamist groups in the north. In an effort to put a “Malian face” to the movement, MUJAO have been recruiting teenagers and young men into their ranks, whom residents say are drawn by the money more than the ideology. In July 2012, a MUJAO leader stated that hundreds of young recruits had arrived
Local residents and business community leaders are calling on the UN Security Council to lift the ban on charcoal. As of 06 December, there were more than four million sacks laying on the road in Kismayo, worth up to an estimated USD 4 million. 16 According to Maplecroft, “ports easily accessible from the Golis Mountains, and readily accessible to arms shipments from allied militant groups – such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – operating from ports across the Red Sea in Yemen are at particular risk”.
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
from Algeria, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal and Somalia, and that many more were expected. In November 2012, Morocco dismantled a cell that allegedly recruited and trained young Moroccans and sent them through Algeria into northern Mali where they joined AQIM or MUJAO. In late November, it was reported that AQIM created a new Tuareg-led brigade called “Youssef ben Tachfine” that will control a large area of northeastern Mali extending to the Algerian border. Analysts believe that the recruitment of Tuaregs and the creation of this brigade is not only in preparation for possible military confrontation with African forces, but may also be an attempt to appease the Tuaregs, given that AQIM is operating on their land. AQAP PBS reported in May 2012 that AQAP and affiliated militants had established control of portions of southern Yemen and were winning popular support among citizens. According to the National Security Zone, young Yemeni men in the southern portions of the country have been crucial to AQAP recruitment efforts. AQAP has developed an English media strategy designed to recruit Westerners for attacks on US and European soil through its English-language publication Inspire. In May 2012, AQAP released a new guide that was apparently compiled by Inspire editor Samir Khan before he was killed by a US drone strike in October 2011. The guide encouraged Western recruits, particularly Americans, to remain in their home countries and attack from within. Al Shabaab According to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), al Shabaab contains a blend of indigenous, African and foreign soldiers. The majority of its rank comes from impoverished Somali communities in the south-central areas, either through forced recruitment and kidnapping or as fealty from sub-clans. A June 2012 report by the UN said that al Shabaab’s forced recruitment methods intensified in 2011, with children as young as eleven routinely taken from their homes and schools, and parents sometimes killed if they protested. Al Shabaab has also focused on recruiting Kenyan Muslims , with a 2011 UN report putting the number of Kenyan youths recruited by al Shabaab as high as 500. Al Shabaab maintains a support network in Kenya known as the Muslim Youth Centre, which sends funds and recruits to Somalia and conducts terrorist attacks inside Kenya. Boko Haram Boko Haram draws support from the thousands of young men from northeast Nigeria who have expressed frustration with the lack of development, jobs and investment in the north, according to the US Congressional Research Service. In February 2012, it was reported that Boko Haram had resorted to recruiting young adherents across Islamic schools in the country in a desperate bid to reinforce its ‘fast depleting ranks’. According to the Nigerian Tribune, a top Nigerian security source said that Boko Haram was running out of suicide bombers and was targeting its fresh recruitment drives at Muslims between the ages of seventeen and thirty. The group has also been using the internet to spread its activities and enhance its radicalism, and has been recruiting through prison breaks by brainwashing freed prisoners. Cooperation Terrorism experts have voiced their concern of reported communications, training and weapons links between AQIM, Boko Haram, al Shabaab and AQAP. Porous borders and limited resources to control them have provided militant groups the ability to expand their cooperation across the continent. Additionally, the Libyan Revolution resulted in a large flow of weapons into the region and the return of previously exiled fighters to their home countries, which in the case of Mali allowed the northern region of the state to be controlled by AQIM and its offshoots. General Ham stated in December 2012 that there were “clear indications” of increasing “collaboration and synchronization among the various violent extremist organizations” such as AQIM, Boko Haram and al Shabaab. Senior British officials have previously stated that some of al Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan have begun to move to North Africa and Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou told French TV networks that there was evidence that men from Afghanistan and Pakistan were operating in northern Mali as trainers. According to Human Rights Watch, Ansar Dine, MUJAO and AQIM “appear to be closely coordinating with each other”. The groups seem to control particular regions – Ansar Dine in Kidal and Timbuktu and MUJAO in Gao – but their forces “often move fluidly between areas and have reinforced each other during unrest”. 17 Additionally, several commanders and fighters from MUJAO and Ansar Dine had previously been affiliated with AQIM. AQIM, Ansar Dine and MUJAO have been able to operate in the ethnically diverse and religiously moderate northern Mali through strategic alliances with northern “notable” men. These men likely benefit financially from the revenue the groups generate
For example, in mid-November 2012 in preparation for a possible offensive by the MNLA against MUJAO in the northern town of GAO, AQIM sent about 300 reinforcements from Timbuktu to Gao (185 miles away) in order to support MUJAO’s forces, reported AFP.
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
through kidnappings and smuggling operations. This collaboration between the Islamist militants and fiercely independent local tribes is therefore likely based on mutual profit rather than trust or ideological reasons, according to OSCA. Additionally, AQIM’s presence in the Sahel and northern Mali has allowed for the strengthening of ties between al Qaeda linked groups and national terrorist groups. For example, the ungoverned spaces of northern Mali allow for members of Boko Haram to travel and train in northern Mali, thereby increasing Boko Haram’s lethality when acting in Nigeria. In July 2012, a terrorism case in Nigeria charged two local men with being members of AQAP; accepting thousands of dollars from the group to recruit potential terrorists inside Nigeria and then sending them to Yemen, according to National Public Radio (NPR). Peter Neumann, a professor of security studies at Kings College London, asserts that AQAP is attempting to join forces with local Nigerian Islamists to broaden its reach in the war against the West. A 10 September 2012 Global Post article reports that the Somali militant group al Shabaab has been coordinating with AQAP for several years. Al Shabaab sends AQAP fighters to be trained in Yemen who then return with bomb-making expertise. Aysh Awas, director of security and strategic studies at Sheba, a think tank in Sana’a Yemen, suggests that approximately 300 al Shabaab fighters were sent to Yemen in March 2012 in order to assist AQAP’s struggle against the Yemeni army in Abyan province; a region that AQAP seized control over during Yemen’s political turmoil in 2011. According to Awas, al Shabaab has two types of militants operating in Yemen. The first are economic refugees coming from Somalia and, once in Yemen, are recruited by AQAP. The other group comprises “prepared-recruited members of al Shabaab”, many arriving after the February 2012 inauguration of Yemen’s President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi. Analysts worry that the relationship between these al Qaeda affiliates pose new threats in Kenya, East Africa, the Sahel and into West Africa as AQAP exports its advanced knowledge of bomb making and other capabilities to these unstable regions. International and Regional Anti-Al Qaeda Activities Terje Ostebo of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies warns that “indiscriminate action to combat Islamic militancy could also radicalise a local context and lead to escalation” of violence and dissatisfaction. Additionally, “repressive measures from political regimes or external actors could bring Islamic militants to fight for their very existence, intensifying violence”. Violent moves by the state and/or international actors could serve to confirm views held by citizens on the illegitimacy of the state and thereby add fuel to an insurgency fire, as seen with Boko Haram and al Shabaab. In another report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies it is suggested that Boko Haram will not be stopped by military force but that northern Nigeria’s communities need to receive socio-economic support from the government to dissuade them from supporting the militant group. In Mali, efforts are currently being made to negotiate with militant factions in northern Mali, though to date only Ansar Dine and the MNLA have engaged in these negotiations. Direct Military Intervention According to Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator for the US Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, AQIM has for the first time established a significant presence in major cities, with its leaders hoping to benefit from the current instability in northwest Africa which has provided the group and its affiliates greater freedom of movement within Mali that will likely continue to pose a threat in Mali and across the region. Al Qaeda expert Bruce Reidel describes northern Mali as the largest al Qaeda stronghold since the fall of Afghanistan in 2001. Unlike Pakistan and Yemen where militants are insecure and vulnerable to counterterrorism strikes, Islamists have full control in northern Mali and have transformed the Sahel “from a rear logistical base to the locus of jihadist activity in North and West Africa”. For this reason, the international community is currently seeking support for a military intervention in Northern Mali. 18 The African Union and the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) have been pressing the UN to provide approval for an ECOWAS-led military intervention in northern Mali. Nigeria and other African countries have agreed to provide 3,300 troops to the mission with the aim of restoring constitutionality and the territorial integrity of Mali. France, the United States and other countries have also agreed to provide training, intelligence and logistical support to the operation. Despite the increasing likelihood the military intervention will occur, it has been acknowledged by General Ham that al Qaeda fighters will probably solidify their gains in northern Mali in the months that it will take the international community to train and equip the African force. Recognising the risk of militant groups within Somalia, the UN Djibouti Peace Process of 2008 was convened as an effort to prevent the rise of militant Islamism in Somalia. On 22 February 2012 the UN Security Council authorised an increase in the troop ceiling for AMISOM from 12,000 to 17,731 uniformed personnel, and explicitly authorised the use
For more information on the crisis in northern Mali see CFC report “A Political, Security and Humanitarian Crisis: Northern Mali”.
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
of “all necessary measures” to reduce the threat posed by al Shabaab. In late May, AMISOM and TFG forces pushed al Shabaab militants out of the strategic town of Afgooye near Mogadishu; an important step towards ensuring humanitarian assistance is reaching the corridor that the UN refugee agency calls the “capital of Somalia’s displaced”. Al Shabaab suffered another significant defeat in early October 2012 when AMISOM and Kenyan forces pushed al Shabaab militants out of the strategic port city of Kismayo, which served as al Shabaab’s operational and financial hub. These recent military and economic setbacks, especially in the case of Kismayo means that al Shabaab is “unlikely to be able to maintain large units intact, and will revert to its previous incarnation as a guerrilla militia force and clandestine terrorist network”, reports the UN. Drone Use in Yemen, Horn of Africa and North Africa The use of drones to target al Qaeda linked groups has increased in the Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa and there are indications drones could be used in northern Mali. In late 2011, US officials confirmed that secret drone bases were being assembled in the region as part of a “newly aggressive campaign” against al Qaeda, reports the Washington Post. Some of these US military installations are in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Seychelles, while the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) flies drones from secret bases in the Arabian Peninsula and Mogadishu. In Djibouti, the US military has transformed Camp Lemonnier (the only permanent US military base in Africa) into what the Washington Post has termed “the busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war”. The base, located at Djibouti’s international airport, is now undergoing expansion to become a permanent drone base for operations in Yemen and Somalia. The first known US drone strike in Yemen was in November 2002 in which a CIA Predator launched from Djibouti struck a car killing six al Qaeda suspects, including a senior AQAP operative. After the 2002 drone strike, there were no reported US drone strikes in Yemen until May 2011. In April 2012, the White House approved the use of “signature strikes” against al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen, allowing the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and CIA broad authority to strike potential militants who may be plotting attacks against the United States but whose identities might not be completely known. According to data compiled by the New America Foundation, a US-based think tank, the US has launched an estimated 39 drone strikes in Yemen between May 2011 and September 2012, killing an estimated 276 to 350 people, 248 to 316 of whom were identified as militants. A database maintained by the Washington Post has also accounted for 5 additional drone strikes since October 2012, bringing the total estimate of US drone strikes in Yemen to 44. CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen reports that the civilian casualty rate from drone strikes is estimated to be between 4% and 8.5%, and that drone strikes in Yemen have killed at least 16 key al-Qaeda militants, including the Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Fahd al-Quso, who is linked to the 2000 USS Cole bombing. Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi stated in late September 2012 that he personally approves every US drone strike in his country. According to the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US drones began monitoring militant activity in Somalia in 2006. The first known US drone strike in Somalia was in June 2011 when a Predator drone killed a senior al Shabaab commander in Kismayo. According to CNN, the strike was part of a joint JSOC-CIA operation. Data compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has identified three confirmed US drone strikes that killed an estimated seven to ten people, while six drone strikes have not been confirmed. Despite the low frequency of strikes compared to Yemen, drones have crowded the skies over the Horn of Africa so much that the risk of an aviation disaster has soared, reports the Washington Post. A June 2012 report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea identified US drones in Somalia as a potential violation of the arms embargo, and lists four separate occasions in which US drones crashed or presented a security threat to airspace or the AMISOM base in Mogadishu. Outside of Yemen and Somalia, there have been no other confirmed US drone strikes in North Africa, although drones are being used for surveillance and intelligence gathering missions. In June 2012, a senior Libyan official said the US was flying surveillance drones over jihadist training camps in Libya because of concerns over rising al Qaeda activity in the region, reports CNN. In recent months, US officials have also been considering whether or not to deploy drones to strike AQIM in Mali. White House officials have held a series of secret meetings to examine the threat posed by AQIM and its allies and to consider whether to use drones for unilateral strikes, reports the Washington Post. In late October 2012, France announced that it was moving surveillance drones to Mali as part of secretive plans with the United States. A recent report by the Guardian says that military action in Mali could begin immediately once approved by the UN, but until then militias will likely move to populated areas and disperse their fighters and equipment because they know they are vulnerable to drones in the open desert. Residents in northern Mali say sounds and sightings of drones have increased sharply in recent weeks and that “Islamists come out and start shooting in the sky.” Oumar Ould Hamaha, MUJAO’s head of security, told the Guardian that he was aware drones were operating in the region and that “by trying to intimidate us, the west is only sharpening the sword we will use against it”.
December 2012 Page 11
Al Qaeda and the African Arc of Instability
Conclusion Al Qaeda is an evolving entity that is currently composed of a core group, franchises and multiple affiliated networks and groups. The degree of shared ideology can vary by region, country and even tribe. Their methods of generating revenue and practices of recruitment vary considerably as well. Though the international community has been monitoring al Qaeda’s presence in the Sahel region, Somalia and Yemen, it is the recent developments in Mali that have created a better awareness of the growing influence al Qaeda is gaining across the northern Africa region. According to António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and former prime minister of Portugal, the fact that a “crisis of this nature has taken root so rapidly in what appeared to be a stable democracy has significant implications extending far beyond Mali’s borders […] If unchecked, the Mali crisis threatens to create an arc of instability extending west into Mauritania and east through Niger, Chad and Sudan to the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden, characterized by extended spaces where state authority is weak and pockets of territorial control are exercised by transnational criminals”.