A weakened al-Qaeda is seeking to regroup and re-energize by linking up with established Islamist movements in Africa, a new report from Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said Wednesday.
Deprived of its base in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden’s terror network appears to be seeking influence in Somalia, North Africa and beyond, raising the prospect of a new “arc of regional instability”, the study said.
“The focus of anti-jihadist counter-terrorism is shifting to Africa,” wrote Valentina Soria, a research analyst at the RUSI defense think-tank.
Her report details “disturbing new trends” across the continent which pose fresh challenges for Western countries such as Britain and the United States, whose citizens may be increasingly targeted in Africa and which could even be attacked themselves, although there is no public evidence of this so far.
“If correct, this assessment would raise the worrying prospect of an arc of regional instability encompassing the whole Sahara-Sahel strip and extending through to East Africa, which the now weakened al-Qaeda-core could well exploit to re-group, re-organize and re-invigorate its terrorist campaign against the West,” the report said.
Using a tested model from Yemen, the home of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the network has forged alliances with the Shebab movement in Somalia and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, while remaining separate and focused on local issues, has shifted towards more spectacular attacks reminiscent of Al-Qaeda, the report said.
Al-Qaeda “appears to be adopting a strategy of ‘going native’, which implies seizing upon and exploiting local grievances with the ultimate aim of securing a stable foothold in volatile countries”, the report said.
The African groups benefit from al-Qaeda’s expertise to plan and carry out high-profile attacks and to disseminate propaganda, as well as physical support in the form of fighters, finances and weapons.
However, the report said the decision to link up with Bin Laden’s group could cause internal divisions and also scare off potential recruits, noting that Shebab’s reliance on foreign fighters may not be a choice but a necessity driven by the alienation of the Somali movement’s African supporters.