Terror Comes Home!
A security vulnerability study of Southern Africa by the European Centre for Information Policy and Security (ECIPS) earlier this year found that terrorist activities in the region are likely to increase.
Another recent study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalism in London also pointed out that al-Qaeda could become involved in minerals looting, smuggling “and unregulated trade in Southern Africa to sustain itself”.
That study says there are indications that the diamond trade has been the most vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists since 1997.
According to the ECIPS, Southern African countries could find themselves increasingly becoming “economical puppets” in the terror matrix. These studies went largely unheeded, with very little publicity given to them at the time of their publication.
But all that has changed with the still-fresh attacks by suspected Al-Shabaab militants in Kenya. The extent of the problem has moved beyond Kenya-Somalia relations, and has sent alarm bells ringing in Southern Africa.
The spotlight has shifted to Zambia and South Africa, and possibly several other Southern Africa countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi.
Professor Horace Campbell, a respected Africa analyst, says: “The massive discovery of oil and natural gas off the East African Coast from Djibouti down to Mozambique has the possibility of changing the geo-political map of the world as all and sundry now see the future of the world economy as centred in the Indian Ocean as opposed to the Atlantic Ocean.”
The resource control wars place Africa firmly at the centre of global security issues. In the week after the Westgate Mall attacks in Kenya, it emerged that potential terrorists found it easy to obtain South African passports.
Samantha Lewthwaite, whom the Western media have dubbed “white widow”, and is on Interpol’s wanted list, is reported to have resided in South Africa and travelled on that country’s passport.
Lewthwaite is widely linked to Somalia’s Al-Shabaab group, which is said to be behind the Kenya attacks that left no less than 65 people dead, and is also the widow of a suicide bomber involved in the deaths of 50 people in the United Kingdom in 2005.
“Our country is not known to host any domestic or international terrorist organisations nor is South Africa located in a neo-political terrorist heart zone. People travelling using our passports don’t attract suspicion as other high risk countries to,” Ryan Cummings, a South African security analyst said recently.
“South Africa passports are widespread in terms of their availability as they are easily forged documents,” he added. The ease with which potential terrorists can get South African travel documents has raised the spectre of insecurity in Southern Africa.
Further, lax security and porous borders mean the region is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, Helmoed Romer Heitman, a defence analyst in South Africa said. A factor that could precipitate an attack on South Africa – and indeed most of the countries in the region ‑ is the policy towards the Middle East and the US, Heitman said.
“We present targets, our security is bad, and there are lunatic fringe groups that associate themselves with al-Qaeda and the like, who are not under their control and might well do something.” Another analyst, Hussein Soloman, says there are “numerous examples” of the ease with which terrorists can infiltrate South Africa.
“The case of Yassin al-Qadi, a US-designated terrorist financier who invested US$3 million for a 12 percent interest in Global Diamond Resources that mined diamonds in South Africa is but one such example. He also controlled New Diamond Corporation, an offshore company that had mining interests in South Africa.
“The case of Abd al-Muhsin al-Libi, also known as Ibrahim Tantouche, also points to how terrorists secure financing in South Africa. He set up two al-Qaeda financing fronts – the Afghan Support Committee and the Revival of Islamic Society. Both operated as charities that raised money for orphans; however, in reality the orphans were either dead or non-existent…
“In South Africa, a seafood business called AOXI is alleged to act as an al-Qaeda co-ordinating unit for jihadis who have been trained in Mozambique and who subsequently illegally enter into South Africa…
“As organised crime syndicates’ tentacles increasingly penetrate the apparatus of state, it is highly likely that terrorist financing would become a bigger problem for South Africa and the world,” Soloman says.
Not just SA
Zambia’s Minister of Interior Edgar Lungu says Al-Shabaab is targeting countries with close ties to Kenya, and this could pose a problem for the government in Lusaka. In a statement this past week, Minister Lungu said they had heightened security measures following reports that Zambia is among the countries targeted for attack.
The timing, targets and methods of attack are not known. Diplomatic sources said Al-Shabaab would be misplaced to attack Zambia as it had normal bilateral ties with Kenya and was not involved in any military action against the group.
“Many diplomatic missions accredited to Zambia are reviewing their security in the country while others are seeking to establish the purpose of the impending attack on Zambia. “This is particularly so because Al-Shabaab prefers carrying out its actions on unsuspecting people and usually in crowded places,” one diplomatic source said. “The reports (of the possible attacks) … should not be treated as mere reports because it is a threat on the country’s peace as well as economic prospects,” another added.
The bigger picture
According to an analysis on UPI, the attack in Kenya is “a fearsome indication of how Islamist terrorism is swelling across Africa”. Militias are already operating in North Africa and are “all heavily armed with weapons seized” in Libya's 2011 war.
“In 2012, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the region's key jihadist organisation, and its Tuareg allies did in northern Mali what no jihadist group had ever done: seized terrain and held it.
“They were driven out in a French-led military intervention in January-February this year, but their brief rule was a chilling warning of growing jihadist ambitions, strengthened by new planning and military capabilities. “They've now taken over southern Libya, still gripped by anarchy two years after Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed.
“It was from there that a 32-strong unit from an AQIM splinter group led by veteran Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar stormed the In Amenas gas complex in southern Algeria, operated by BP and Norway's Statoil, in January.
Most of the attackers and about 40 foreign technicians were killed in a withering assault by Algerian forces. “Two weeks later, Belmokhtar's cadres carried out co-ordinated suicide attacks against a French uranium complex in nearby Niger and a military base.”
Other groups are operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. “In West Africa,” the analysis goes on, “an increasingly important oil-producing region, militants of Nigeria's Boko Haram movement, trained by Algerian and Somalia jihadists, killed about 180 people last week in one of their deadliest raids in a six-year-long insurgency in the northeast of the continent's most populous country.”
And the attacks on Kenya could spell trouble for Uganda, Burundi and Ethiopia, who all contributed troops to the international effort to fight Al-Shabaab in Somalia. A UN report in July said the al-Hijra group is strengthening ties with like-minded organisations in Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi “as an operational priority”.
Al-Shabaab, which recruits fighters aged anywhere between 10 and 25-years-old, was originally a small youth militia arm of the relatively moderate Islamic Courts organisation that rose to power in Somalia in early 2006. However, Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia at the behest of the US that same year saw the group rapidly radicalised as it resisted the military action.
Since early 2008, Al-Shabaab has undergone yet another transformation, this time from a largely nationalist organisation focused on driving out Ethiopia through conventional military means to a hybrid movement that has increasingly embraced transnational terrorism. Reports say it has cultivated ties with al-Qaeda.
The group imposes an extreme form of Islamic law in areas that it controls. All this has seen its core nationalist values being overshadowed and sympathy for the group waning by the day.
Even then, much of Somalia remains under Al-Shabaab control, indicating sophistication on the part of the group’s organisation, under-reported grassroots support for them, or most likely a combination of the two. Internal power struggles threaten to destablise Al-Shabaab, and the organisation’s leader, Ahmad Abdi Godane (aka Shaykh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr), is said to be consolidating his position though a bloody campaign involving the elimination of rivals.