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Sat, 07 Dec 2019 09:41 GMT

Surge of Terrorism in West Africa Threatens Libya's Security

Politics

Marwa Mashaly

Mon, 02 Dec 2019 20:38 GMT

Despite millions of dollars in humanitarian aid flooding the distressed countries of West Africa and thousands of forces mobilised by international actors to protect against terrorism, the grip of Isis terrorists and its affiliates is tightening immensely on the five countries of the Sahel region, reaching to south Libya.

Isis operations in west African countries surged last month as the group seeks revenge following their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death in a US raid.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held a special summit last September in Burkina Faso, pledging a billion-dollar plan to coordinate counter terrorism efforts in the Lake Chad and Sahel areas, where al-Qaeda militants and Isis affiliates in West Africa Province (ISWAP) are active.

Despite African Union (AU) efforts, the latest terror operation in Burkina Faso occured on Sunday December 1st as gunmen attacked a church, killing 14.

Gunmen also recently opened fire on a convoy of buses carrying mine workers in the Est region, killing 39 last month and wounding 40. This ambush was the third one in the region in the last 15 months, according to Reuters.

Recent violence in Burkina Faso has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, triggering a sudden humanitarian crisis. Within the last two months, international organisations estimate at least 26 military personnel were killed and 25 injured in attacks.

Last month, in Mali, an attack on Malian forces by terrorist militants in the northeast of the country left at least 24 soldiers dead, according to official sources.

Tibor Nagy, the US top diplomat for Africa, said of these incidents, "I call it cancer, that started in Mali and now is infecting the region."

Mali and Niger form part of the G5 alliance, a joint operation with Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania which tracks terror suspects in the Sahel region.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram, the violent militant Islamist group active in the northern Nigeria region, has left thousands of Nigerian children and teenagers suffering from the trauma of abductions, brainwashing and involvement in violent combat.

As a result of Boko Haram's ideology of extreme opposition to "secular education" denoted by its name, a mix of Hausa and Arabic which means "Western education is forbidden", since 2017 the group had destroyed almost 1,400 schools, killed nearly 2,300 teachers and displaced 19,000 more.

Fear of attacks in the Lake Chad region has led to the widespread closure of schools in the area, leaving an estimated three million children without educational support.

Counter-terrorism experts say the vulnerable state of thousands of young former Boko Haram militants makes them easy targets for militias in Libya, which attempt to re-recruit them with empty promises of easy immigration to Europe.

Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesperson General Ahmed al Mesmari has thus reiterated in many of his statements that the LNA is "fighting terrorists on behalf of the world in Libya." These groups are represented by armed militias linked to the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group and al-Qaeda.

The south of Libya has been ravaged by armed militias linked to the political crisis of Fayez al-Serraj's government in Tripoli, which has failed to unify Libya since 2016 and chosen to collaborate with armed militias to reclaim its authority. This has left Libya with severe political and tribal conflicts amid an on-going civil war since 2014.

The atmosphere of political chaos is an environment in which Isis ideology thrives. Some security and counter-terrorism experts fear that an Isis revival in Libya is inevitable after its defeat by US-backed anti-Isis coalition in 2016.

An extended study by the Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC) showed recently that Isis has adopted new approaches to recruitment and financing. The group has become more reliant on sub-Saharan African insurgents and has simultaneously deepened its connections with Libya's desert smuggling networks, which connect North Africa to the African Sahel countries in West Africa.

Moreover, its organisational structure increasingly appears to reflect a guerrilla insurgency rather than a centralised financial system.

Lachlan Wilson, a security expert and director of Eye on Isis in Libya (EOIL) platform, noted that the group has been waging high-profile attacks on symbolic state institutions in Libya since 2018. Attacks have targeted the Libyan Foreign Ministry, the National Oil Corporation, and the High National Electoral Commission.

"By attacking these institutions, Isis appears to be attempting to weaken Libya's recovering oil sector (upon which the economy depends), and to disrupt any attempt of political reform," Wilson said.

Jason Pack, author of 'The Origins and Evolution of Isis in Libya', said that "as a result of the Libyan National Army's (LNA) on-going campaign to 'liberate' southern Libya from terrorists and to reopen its oil fields, Isis has intensified its campaign in the desert."

According to the US Africa Command, non-Libyans make up almost 80% of Isis fighters in Libya. The group appears to have become more disconnected from Isis's core in Iraq and Syria, both in terms of personnel and command and control.

This may be due to the death of Baghdadi and the arrest of senior leaders in the group. A recent UN report noted that "Isis-related activities gained momentum over the course of the past months as the political and security crisis deepened in Libya."

The UN report backs the new statistics of the Fragile States Index for 2019, showing that Libya is among 26 countries in Africa which have limited ability to carry out the basic mechanisms of governance.

Middle East Africa