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Instability increasing in North Africa, Sahel as global militancy rises

Somali militants.Nearly 12 000 destabilising events were recorded in North Africa and the Sahel in 2016, an increase in 16% compared to the previous year, while the number of attacks around the world from terrorism and insurgency rose dramatically compared to 2015, with 24 000 attacks in 2016.

According to new information from MEA Risk LLC, the North Africa and Sahel zone witnessed a 16.0% increase in the number of destabilizing critical incidents in 2016 to a total of 11 916. “Despite such increase, MEA Risk’s Instability Index, measuring the crisis intensity for the region, dropped 15.2% as a result of lesser terrorism-related incidents and a shift to less deadly forms of critical incidents,” the company said.

“But the Instability Index still remains elevated, putting the region in the low-end of the Severe/High-Risk Zone. The death toll from critical incidents for the region fell by 37% year over year to settle at 8 511, as violence in some areas subsided a bit as a result of more proactive military and law enforcement engagements to reduce terror acts.

“However, MEA Risk expects 2017 to be another year of heightened instability in many key regions of North Africa and the Sahel, driven by political uncertainty, a spike in social unrest as governments roll out new austerity measures, weak economic performance, and sustained pressure from militant groups.”

MEA Risk noted that in 2016, crime and unrest increased dramatically in key areas. “Incidents of criminality and those due to social unrest (including labour unrest) led to an increase in the number of arrests in large urban centres, with at least 41 000 people arrested for various offenses during the year across the region, mostly due to political and social conflicts. Arrests for criminal activities such as drug and contraband smuggling have increased, so did the number of arrests of illegal migrants.”

2016 data collected by MEA Risk shows that Libya remains North Africa’s most unstable country. Elsewhere, despite an improvement, Egypt was ranked the second most unstable due to violence, general and labour unrest and broad political tension, compounded by an economic crisis.

Looking forward, “there is a strong likelihood of a resumption of terror activity in 2017 owing to the return to their home countries of North Africa militants who have been fighting in Syria and within Libya,” says Arezki Daoud, MEA Risk Analyst. “Countries of the region will also be confronted with bigger governance, economic, environmental and social issues, which will mean a continuation, and a possible increase in the overall instability rating,” said Hakim Briki, head of North Africa research.

In a separate study, IHS Markit noted that there were 18 987 terror and insurgency attacks globally in 2015 compared to 24 202 attacks in 2016, marking a 25% increase.

“In 2016, there was a notable rise in the number of attacks compared to 2015,” said Matthew Henman, Head of the IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC). “We saw more lower-level asymmetric attacks this past year and increases in longer-term conflict zones like eastern Ukraine. JTIC compiles figures for the annual Global Attack Index using open source data.

The latest report noted that Syria and Iraq account for 45 percent of all attacks worldwide, with 7 497 attacks taking place in Syria and 3 350 in Iraq. The Islamic State accounted for almost 18 percent of all recorded attacks worldwide and 39 percent of all non-militant fatalities. The intensification of insurgencies in Yemen and Turkey led to increases in the recorded number of attacks of 76 percent and 110 percent, respectively.

As in the past two years, the Islamic State was the most operationally active, non-state armed group tracked by JTIC. The Islamic State conducted 4 236 attacks, which resulted in 10 807 non-militant fatalities. “While both figures represent only what could be definitively attributed to the group in open sources, and are likely far lower than the true total, the Islamic State accounted for 18 percent of all recorded attacks worldwide and 39 percent of all non-militant fatalities,” the report said.

“In 2016, we saw activity attributed to or claimed by Islamic State outside of the Middle East rise,” Henman said. “These kinds of attacks account for 16 percent of all Islamic State attacks in 2016, but this is a marked increase from just 8 percent in 2015.”

In addition to centrally directed and conducted operations, such as the two attacks in Brussels on 22 March, the group also claimed a growing number of attacks conducted by its supporters in the West, including the nightclub shooting in Florida and the vehicle-impact attack in Berlin. “Further such violence is increasingly likely through 2017 as the Islamic State tries to advance the victimhood and revenge narrative that has become increasingly prominent in the group’s response to territorial losses in Iraq and Syria,” Henman said.

While the Islamic State is almost certain to lose what remains of its territorial holdings in Iraq and Syria across the course of 2017, it will likely look to offset this with further creations of affiliates, the report said.

“In southeast Asia, there is an increased likelihood that the Islamic State will declare an official wilaya or province in 2017,” said Otso Iho, senior analyst at JTIC. “The Islamic State could use the declaration as a way to project its influence globally at a time when its fortunes in Iraq and Syria are waning. It will want to show the group can still play at a global stage even as territory losses escalate in its heartlands of Iraq and Syria.”

“In 2017, the threat posed by Jabhat Fath al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, will likely capture more and more headlines,” Henman said. “The group poses a potentially longer-term and equally serious threat as the Islamic State.” In 2016, 687 attacks were claimed by or attributed to Jabhat Fath al-Sham, a 20 percent increase from 2015. A priority for the group in the coming months is a merger of opposition groups in Syria, which will enable it to further extend its reach and control within opposition areas.

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