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Update on Security Issues in the Sahel

26 Apr 2012 | 15:36

Update on Security Issues in the Sahel

Against the backdrop of a deteriorating food crisis in the Sahel region, old and new security threats are being highlighted. Recent military coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau will not help to strengthen the regional response to the food crisis, nor the growing instability due to rebel activities.

Rise of Extremist Groups

A recent report by the Civil-Military Fusion Centre (CFC) highlights the security threats posed by Islamist groups in the Sahel region. According to the report an ‘arc of instability’ extends from Senegal to Somalia. Within this area fighting is escalating due to changing tactics of rebel groups, as well as growing relationships between these groups. The report provides information on current events and cross-cutting regional issues, including background information on the main rebel groups: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram and Al Shabaab.

According to the CFC report the nature of the relationship between AQIM, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab is difficult to establish. Still, there seems to be evidence of coordination between the three groups, including joint training programmes. Mercenaries that were previously active in Libya are said to provide new recruits for these extremist groups.

Security Threats in the Sahel and Beyond: AQIM, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab
Source: Reliefweb (from CFC) 18/4/2012

AQIM
AQIM developed out of an Islamist resistance movement in Algeria. Although it is not clear to what extent AQIM is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, analysts suggest that Al-Qaeda is relying on AQIM for support to the larger organisation. While initially AQIM’s main tactics focused on suicide bombings of government targets, the group’s main tactics now include ambushes of security forces and kidnappings. Mobile training camps are mainly operational along the Algeria-Mali border, and activities of AQIM have spread to neighbouring countries such as Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

CFC reports that a new AQIM splinter group has been formed, called the ‘The Movement for Oneness/Unity and Jihad in the West Africa’ (MOJWA or MUJWA). This group is being held responsible for the kidnapping of three European aid workers in Algeria, during October last year. According to the latest news, the aid workers are still being held hostage, and a ransom of $39 million has been demanded by the kidnappers.

In one of the latest developments the head of AQIM has called for a boycott of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Algeria that are scheduled for 10 May.

Qaeda group calls for Algeria election boycott, revolution
Source: Al Arabiya News 23/4/2012

Boko Haram
Boko Haram’s terrorist activities originated in the North-East of Nigeria, but have spread to the rest of the country, with attacks intensifying over the last months in retaliation for arrests of suspected Boko Haram members (see previous Alert). The government is said to be engaging in dialogue with the group and an amnesty bill for members of the group has been approved by parliament in the hope that militants will renounce violence.

Meanwhile, involvement of foreign fighters with Boko Haram seems to be increasing, while simultaneously Boko Haram is said to be supporting Islamist/militant groups outside Nigeria. About 100 members of Boko Haram are believed to have been involved in an attack on the Algerian embassy in Gao, Mali, executed by MOWJA. 7 Algerian diplomats were kidnapped during this attack. The involvement of Boko Haram in the kidnapping is in line with the observation that group seems to be changing tactics, moving increasingly to kidnappings and abductions.

Diplomats kidnapped from Algerian consulate in Mali
Source: France 24 5/4/2012

JTF Kill Three Gunmen in Kano
Source: This Day Live 4/4/2012

Mali, the ‘Afghanistan of Africa’
An insightful article by IRIN illustrates the complexity of the current security situation in the North of Mali and the relationships between various rebel groups. Amidst the confusion following the coup on the 22nd of March, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) was quick to declare the independence of the Azawad region. Since then, the MNLA is continuously fighting with other Islamist groups over authority in areas of the Azawad. The AQIM splinter group MOWJA, led by Ansar Dine seems to be the most powerful adversary, but Boko Haram and AQIM are also present in the region. The IRIN article points to the different objectives of each group, with the MNLA having a nationalist focus, while AQIM, MOWJA and Boko Haram all have a regional scope, with drug trafficking and kidnappings as a major source of income for the latter groups.

À la veille du congrès de l’Azawad (Mali): Gao en alerte maximale
Source: Maliweb 24/4/2012

Mali: Complex Emergency Situation Report No.1
Source: Reliefweb (OCHA) 23/4/2012

Humanitarian Situation and Response
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week called on the global community to act quickly to address the food crisis in the Sahel that is affecting around 15 million people. Specific emphasis was put on the plight of the numerous IDPs in the region. According to the Food Security Outlook for 2012, the main regions of concern are: North/Central Mauritania, Sahelian Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali’s agropastoral belt and Western Niger. Food insecurity will likely be most severe in the period April-September 2012.

According to OCHA the “worsening food shortages and malnutrition have been compounded by conflict and insecurity”. A FAO brief on the Sahel crisis highlights that “the deterioration of the security situation exacerbates the situation. Mali insecurity worsens, risking to compromise the effectiveness of the humanitarian response.”

Meanwhile, West African leaders are meeting in Abidjan on 26 April to hold a summit to discuss the ongoing crises in Guinea Bissau and Mali.

FAO Executive Brief: The Sahel Crisis
Source: Reliefweb 13/4/2012

Urgent action needed to address ‘cascading crisis’ in Africa’s Sahel region – Ban
Source: UN 17/4/2012

West Africa Food Security Outlook: January to September 2012
Source: Reliefweb 15/2/2012

West African Leaders Meet Over Guinea Bissau, Mali Challenges
Source: Voice of America 26/4/2012


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