Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant group has been one of the main causes for an increase in terrorist attacks in Africa, according to a US Department of State report on terrorism. The report found that global terror attacks last year fell to their lowest level since 2005, but increased significantly in Africa.
Africa experienced 978 attacks in 2011, an 11.5% increase over the previous year. Boko Haram conducted 136 attacks in 2011, up from 31 the previous year, according to the annual Country Reports on Terrorism.
The Country Reports on Terrorism noted that in Africa, foreign fighters, a small number of al-Qaeda operatives, and other indigenous violent extremists continued to pose a threat to regional security throughout East Africa in 2011.
“Al-Shabaab continued to conduct frequent attacks on government, military, and civilian targets inside Somalia while the group’s leadership remained actively interested in attacking US and Western interests in the region,” the report said.
It added that in the Trans-Sahara region, “al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continued kidnap for ransom operations against Western Europeans and Africans. AQIM conducted small-scale ambushes and attacks on security forces in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Regional efforts to contain and marginalize AQIM continued, as did capacity building efforts of military and law enforcement personnel. Conflict in Nigeria continued throughout the northern part of the country with hundreds of casualties as indigenous terrorist attacks increased. The Nigerian extremist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for some of these attacks.”
Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said that he was very concerned about the activities of Boko Haram. “We have been working to address the issue of insecurity in northern Nigeria. And this is a top priority for the Department. We’re concerned about Boko Haram’s activities. We’ve been engaging with the Nigerian Government in particular at the highest levels to move them towards greater engagement with communities that are vulnerable to extremist violence by addressing the underlying political and socioeconomic problems in the north.”
Nigeria experienced a steady increase in terrorist attacks in 2011, particularly in the northern states of Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau, and Kaduna as well as in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Elements of Boko Haram increased the number and sophistication of attacks in six northern states and the FCT, including two vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) suicide bombings in Abuja, the report said. In the latter half of the year, the lethality, capability, and coordination of suspected Boko Haram attacks rose steadily. Incidents included:
In response to the growing terrorist threat, Nigeria made several legislative and legal efforts to combat the scourge, including the introduction of the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011 in June, which included provisions prohibiting terrorist financing and providing for the seizure of funds and property held by individual terrorists or terrorist organizations. Nigeria also cooperated closely with the US Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance programme and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) programmes, which provided training to bolster the capacity of Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies to address terrorist incidents.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb militants were also active in Niger, and conducted kidnap for ransom operations there. “Porous borders and the huge expanse of Niger not under full government control provided opportunities for terrorists to move about the area,” the Country Report on Terrorism noted. “The presence of Boko Haram (BH) in northern Nigeria also posed a threat. Niger was committed to fighting AQIM and BH, but without external support and greater regional cooperation, Niger will likely remain vulnerable to terrorist activity.”
Niger was a victim of AQIM attacks, kidnappings, and anti-government operations. On January 7, two French citizens were kidnapped from a restaurant in Niamey. The two hostages died during an immediate rescue attempt by French and Nigerien forces near the Malian border. On February 24, AQIM released two Africans and a female French national who had been kidnapped in Arlit in September 2010. Four male French nationals taken in the same incident remained in AQIM captivity at year’s end.
Somalia was another terrorist hotbed, with near-daily IEDs, grenade attacks, and assassinations targeting government security forces and African Union troops leading to the deaths of hundreds of civilians as well as security personnel.
Although the security situation in Somalia remained dire, the State Department noted that in 2011, with the assistance of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somalia’s neighbours, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) made significant gains in degrading al-Shabaab capability and liberating areas from al-Shabaab administration. “However, foreign fighters and al-Shabaab members remained in many parts of south and central Somalia and continued to mount operations within Somalia and against neighbouring countries.”
“A multi-front offensive commencing in February by the TFG, AMISOM, and TFG-allied forces against al-Shabaab resulted in significant territorial gains in the capital city of Mogadishu and key cities of southern and central Somalia. Ethiopia, Kenya, and associated Somali forces liberated areas from al-Shabaab control in the Gedo, Lower Juba, and Hiraan regions of Somalia. In August, al-Shabaab withdrew from many Mogadishu districts, leaving the TFG and AMISOM in control of the majority of districts in Somalia’s capital for the first time since the Ethiopians left in 2009. By the end of 2011, the TFG and its allies were poised to make further territorial advances against al-Shabaab in southern and central Somalia,” the report continued.
“Al-Shabaab remained in control of much of southern and central Somalia, however, providing a permissive environment for al Qaeda operatives to conduct training and terrorist planning with other sympathetic violent extremists, including foreign fighters. The capability of the TFG and other Somali local and regional authorities to prevent and preempt al-Shabaab terrorist attacks remained limited.
“Al-Shabaab’s withdrawal from conventional fighting in and near Mogadishu resulted in a change of al-Shabaab tactics to asymmetrical attacks against AMISOM and the TFG. These attacks resulted in the increased use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that became more advanced. In late 2011, al-Shabaab with increasing frequency employed IEDs against Kenyan and anti-al-Shabaab Somali forces in South/Central Somalia.
“In 2011, al-Shabaab and other violent extremists conducted suicide attacks, remote-controlled roadside bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations of government officials, journalists, humanitarian workers, and civil society leaders throughout Somalia. Al-Shabaab also threatened UN and other foreign aid agencies and their staff. Two examples of high-profile al-Shabaab terrorist attacks included a truck bomb that detonated in Mogadishu on October 4, killing over seventy.”
Neighbouring Ethiopia was threatened by instability in Somalia, as well as domestic groups, such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Despite the Ethiopian government’s peace agreement with the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF) and a faction of the ONLF in 2010, elements from both groups, as well as the OLF, continued their attempts to target Ethiopian government officials and infrastructure.
Kenya suffered a number of terrorist incidents in 2011, including:
In response to a series of kidnappings of Westerners, Kenya initiated military action in Somalia against al-Shabaab militants on October 16, 2011. “Al-Shabaab responded to the Kenyan incursion into Somalia by threatening retaliation against civilian targets in Kenya. Arms smuggling, reports of extremist recruiting within refugee camps and Kenyan cities, and increased allegations of terrorist plotting enhanced recognition among government officials and civil society that Kenya remained vulnerable to terrorist attack,” the report said.
Elsewhere in Africa, the Country Reports on Terrorism document said that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo there were three principal foreign armed groups that posed a threat to security and stability: the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (known by its French acronym as FDLR) and two Ugandan armed groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU). 2011 witnessed numerous attacks by the LRA, FDLR, and ADF. The ADF remained active but has suffered setbacks due to a number of FARDC offensives. MONUSCO attributed 32 attacks to the LRA in the month of June, making it the most active month, while September was the least active with only five registered attacks.
The report noted that the DRC’s inability to control its porous borders and its lack of authority over remote areas provided opportunities for terrorist organizations seeking safe havens. “The Government of the DRC lacked complete control over some areas of its territory, especially in the East where various armed groups operate, and had very limited capacity to monitor and disrupt potential terrorist threats,” the report said.
Insecurity also affected the DRC’s neighbour Rwanda, with at least six reports of grenade explosions or attacks in Kigali or along Rwanda’s border with the DRC in January, March, and July 2011. The grenade attacks typically targeted areas where Rwandans congregated, such as transportation hubs and markets, resulting in up to 61 people injured and two killed.
Mali experienced a significant uptick in terrorist activity during 2011, including:
Mali’s law enforcement efforts have increased over the past year, including the arrest of Bechir Sinoun for the attempted bombing of the French Embassy in Bamako, the detention of two individuals affiliated with AQIM in Bamako, and the arrest of two individuals implicated in the Hombori kidnapping.
Mauritania continued to address terrorism threats proactively, according to the US State report. AQIM remained a threat, which was most visibly demonstrated by the group’s attempt to mount a coordinated attack in the capital in February. Other incidents included the December 20 abduction by AQIM of a gendarme from his post in Adel Bagrou, following a series of successful Mauritanian military operations against AQIM.
On July 5, the Mauritanian military successfully repelled an AQIM attack led by a 17-vehicle convoy against a garrison in Bassiknou, near the southeastern border with Mali, and killed six terrorists. AQIM stated the strike on the outpost was planned as retaliation for a joint Mauritanian-Malian raid on June 26 in Mali, known as Operation Benkan, which killed 15 AQIM members and left two Mauritanian soldiers dead.
“While these events occurred in the border zone with Mali, Nouakchott was the target of a foiled truck-bombing plot on February 1-2. The Mauritanian military successfully interdicted three vehicles attempting to attack the French Embassy and assassinate President Aziz. Mauritanian forces captured one vehicle containing 1.2 tons of explosives, munitions, and logistics equipment roughly 200 kilometers south of Nouakchott, along with two of the three individuals involved. The Mauritanian military then neutralized a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) 12 kilometers southeast of Nouakchott, killing both terrorists involved. This was the third attempted suicide attack in Mauritania after AQIM attacked the military barracks in Nema by VBIED in August 2010, and a lone suicide bomber targeted the French Embassy in Nouakchott in August 2009,” the report stated.
Mauritania continued its efforts to convict major terrorist suspects in judicial proceedings. The Mauritanian judiciary convicted 33 terrorists in 2011, bringing the number of convictions to a total of 140 since 2009.
Other flashpoints in 2011 included South Sudan, which suffered about twenty-five Lord’s Resistance Army incidents.
The Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 document included a statistical annex prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center, part of the US intelligence community, that showed that the overall number of terrorist attacks worldwide fell to 10 283 last year from 11 641 in 2010.
The number of worldwide fatalities fell to 12 533 last year from 13 193 the year before, according to the statistics, which NCTC issued in a report published on June 1. That was the lowest level since 2005, when there were more than 11 000 attacks and more than 14 000 fatalities. The general decline in terrorism-related fatalities – which peaked at more than 22 000 in 2007 – reflects, in part, less violence in Iraq.