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The interest and presence of global Jihad groups in Africa is not new, particularly in the eastern and northern parts of the continent. Yet, more recently, in the wake of political violence in Sudan and Somalia, it seems that Africa is becoming a viable region for Al-Qaeda. This has manifested itself through organized Jihadi radicalism, and self-radicalized sympathizers of global Jihad, which follow the strategy and doctrines of Al-Qaeda and its supportive clerics and scholars. In the past year we have witnessed a growing presence of new formed Jihadi groups in Africa, which use old and more recent violent conflicts to radicalize African Islamic elements, recruit support, and bring the African arena under the Jihadi "global umbrella."
Recently, a new article published by a virtual magazine of supporters of global Jihad -- Sada al-Jihad (Echo of Jihad) -- has very clearly sketched the new direction of Al-Qaeda or global Jihad -- towards Africa. The magazine, which celebrated in June 2006 its 7th issue, appears to be an alternative to the "late" popular Jihadi virtual magazine Sawt al-Jihad, which was published by Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. It disappeared after the severe and successful measures taken by the Saudi authorities against the Saudi branch of Al-Qaeda.
The article in Arabic, titled "Al-Qaeda is moving to Africa" by Abu Azzam al-Ansari provides us with an analysis of all the possible advantages of Africa as a battlefield and greenhouse for global Jihad. Here is the translation of the full text of the article, which speaks very clearly for itself.
The interest of the Mujahidin of Al-Qaeda in Africa is an old one but has progressed slowly. Al-Qaeda has always been aware of the importance of this huge continent and since its emergence attempted at "feeling its pulse." Al-Qaeda has carried out there many operations and had a presence there. This all proves the awareness by Al-Qaeda of the importance of this region from many dimensions, as seen also by observers.
Looking at the formative period of Al-Qaeda we can see how many of Al-Qaeda's military operatives and members came from the various regions of this continent. Some of the most famous operatives came from North Africa -- Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and Mauritania. It points out the Jihadi expansion in these areas, and the expertise and skills of the adherents of Al-Qaeda doctrines in a continent where there is a lot of scientific progress. We can also find that the Jihadi doctrines, which are spread in Africa, are stronger than in many other regions. The peak of modern Jihad has emerged mostly in some of the countries of this huge continent.
We can find the following operations that reflect the focus of the Mujahidin on Africa:
The Mujahidin have had a prominent role in North and East Africa, which has so far ended with the recent declaration by Osama bin Laden of a war against the Crusaders that plan to open a front in Darfur/West Sudan.
There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda and the Mujahidin perceive the significance of the African regions for the military campaign against the Crusaders. Many people sense that this continent has not yet found its proper expected role and the next stages of the conflict will see the presence of Africa in the battlefield. Among the most significant advantages of Africa over other regions we can find the following:
In general, this continent has an immense significance. Whoever looks at Africa can see that it does not enjoy the interest, efforts, and activity it deserves in the war against the Crusaders. This is a continent with a lot of potential, advantages, and exploiting this potential will benefit the Jihad a lot. It will promote achieving the expected targets of Jihad. Africa is a fertile soil for the advance of Jihad and the Jihadi trend.
To sum up the article, Africa is an unexplored gold mine for global Jihad, with so many opportunities for the promotion of Jihad, especially in three main desired fronts -- Palestine, Europe, and Egypt. The article is only one link in a chain of signs of a growing involvement of Al-Qaeda and groups that support its global Jihad, in Africa. In recent months there is also a rapid growing participating of supporters of global Jihad in providing information about the "hottest" African conflicts, such as in Somalia and Sudan. This article is therefore, an attempt to direct the interest of the Jihadists towards Africa as a geopolitical strategy.
Yet, in addition to the clear analysis and conclusion in the article, there are two significant elements to note here:
The pragmatic approach of exploiting Africa can be viewed also by an important African element, which is missing here -- South Africa. This huge country cannot serve as a greenhouse for Jihadi exploitation of Africa -- it is far from the more important targets, there are no internal conflicts, there is well-organized central government, no free trade of arms, and hence no real prospects for promoting the global Jihad.
Another important key element, which is ignored here for some reason whatsoever, is Nigeria. Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa and is divided in rough lines between a Christian south and a Muslim north, with some Muslim enclaves in the south among the Yoruba tribe. In the north, where radical Islam rules, 12 Shari'ah states have been established since 2000, as part of the heritage of the great African Muslim scholar, Othman Dan Fodio. The latter declared Jihad against Muslim heretics and against the Europeans at the beginning of the nineteenth century and established the Sultanate of Sokoto, which was governed by Shari'ah rule. Moreover, in 2003 a new organization under the name of Taliban Nigeria was founded in the north. It still exists and as one can see from its name, it is influenced by the Taliban.
Moreover, this infiltration of al-Qaeda is based and facilitated sometimes, by the heritage of African Salafist or Islamist scholars such as Othman Dan Fodio in Nigeria, who influenced not just Nigerian Muslims but also all western African Muslims and the African American Diaspora in the Caribbean. Other such scholars are the Libyan Omar al-Mukhtar, who fought the Italian occupation, the Somalian Seyyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, who fought against the British, the Italians, as well as the Ethiopians, and other less known Islamic scholars. There is also a spillover of the Islamist or Salafist influence into other African states such as Uganda, or Benin, or even the Sahel states, where the Algerian based GSPC organization is operating.
This spillover is prominent also in the context of the continuance of the long struggle between Islam and Christianity over the souls of the Sub-Sahara African Muslims. Whereas in the past, there was a somewhat roughly clear-cut division between a dominantly Muslim north and a dominantly Christian south, while the rain forests or the equator was the border, it is not so easy now. Many converts to Islam are found every single year in what was once a Christian population, even in the unlikely countries of South Africa or Angola, so that the al-Qaeda infiltration into Africa might be seen as a real threat on the long run, taking into account its using the grave social and economic situation prevailing in most African states now.
Another factor, which helps al-Qaeda and global Jihad in infiltrating Africa, is the Islamic influence of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States. As from the Middle Ages, many African Muslims went to study Islamic studies in al-Azhar university and went into a pilgrimage to Mecca. On the twentieth century and even throughout the nineteenth century, some of those Muslims who went to Saudi Arabia and Egypt were influenced by the radical Islamists, whether Wahhabism or the Muslim brotherhood. When they returned to their places of origin they preached the radical Islamists agenda. Moreover, many Gulf-based Islamic charities participate in this Da'wah campaign, while, in the meantime, helping out the African peoples and converting some of them first to the cause of Islam and then even to radical Islam in the process.
As for the African Islamic Internet forums in Arabic, it is interesting to note that they are operating so far, only in Sudan, Chad and Somalia. It partly coincides with the spheres of al-Qaeda's activity in the continent appearing in the article. But, it is due in great part to the presence of more Arabic-speaking people in these countries. Sudan and Somalia are part of the Arab League, and as such, are seen as part of the Arab and Islamic world, while in Chad many Arabs reside, especially those who came there from Sudan and Libya. Thus, it is not surprising to find in the Chadian forums much information concerning the conflict in Darfur.
Somalia and the Guinea Gulf in western Africa are the main theater of operations for pirates nowadays. If al-Qaeda happens to ally itself with those pirates, it might provoke a chain of maritime terrorism against world shipping, which sails along these waters. Taking into consideration the oil fields stretching along the Guinea Gulf, this future maritime terrorism might harm world economy. Although up till now, al-Qaeda attacked only two targets at sea in the Aden Gulf, still one has to take seriously this threat to world economy.
In radical Jihadi eyes Africa is therefore just a base, maybe even a future alternative base to Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet, the West should carefully look at the present and future Jihadi expansion in that continent. It might become a much bigger threat to the Arab world, Israel, Europe, and Western interests, than other present arenas of Jihadi activity. The logic of the strategists of global Jihad is becoming more pragmatic, reflects lessons of past mistakes, and provides the new generations of Mujahidin a free hand to adjust to local circumstances with no Salafi dogmatism. If we should have pointed out whose logic is behind the article and this strategy, it would be more likely to think about a disciple of Abu Mus'ab al-Suri rather than the older generation of Al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.
1. Abu Azzam al-Ansari, "Al-Qaeda tattajih nahwa Ifrikya" (Al-Qaeda is moving to Africa ), Sada al-Jihad, no. 7 (June 2006), pp. 27-30.
Reuven Paz is Director and Editor of the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements (PRISM). This is Volume 4, Number 2 (June, 2006), of The Project For The Research Of Islamist Movements (Prism) Occasional Papers, which are published by the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. This was posted by Dr Reuven Erlich of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S).
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