The US State Department’s annual counterterrorism report for 2008 says Africa is talking tough about fighting terrorism on the continent but is still doing comparatively little to fight the scourge.
The Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 document`s Africa Overview notes that many African governments have “improved their cooperation and strengthened their counterterrorism efforts” over the last year.
“Both the African Union (AU) and African regional organisations continue initiatives to improve counterterrorism cooperation and information sharing,” the report adds.
“The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has publicly condemned all forms of terrorist activities and has expressed its readiness to work with the international community in the fight against terrorism. Despite its intentions, however, SADC`s current capabilities and its efforts to date in fighting terrorism are limited.”
Elsewhere in Africa, the report says a limited number of al-Qa`ida (al Qaeda) operatives in East Africa and more numerous al-Shabaab militants in Somalia continue to “pose the most serious threat to American and allied interests in the region.”
Somalia remains a permissive operating environment and has emerged as a safe haven for both Somali and foreign terrorists. “Its unsecured borders and continued political instability provided opportunities for terrorist transit and/or organization. Al-Shabaab and Islamic extremists in Somalia continue to disrupt peacemaking efforts, and desire to establish a harsh, abusive rule of law.”
A limited number of East African al-Qa`ida operatives in Somalia will continue to represent a long term threat to the international community, the report cautions.
“This threat has demonstrably increased; on October 29, terrorists carried out five near-simultaneous suicide car bomb attacks against the United Nations Development Program and local government buildings across Puntland and Somaliland, killing at least 21.
Al-Shabaab, which the United States designated as a terrorist group on March 19, 2008, has seized control of key parts of South and Central Somalia, including the port city of Kismayo and its environs.
In the North and West of the Continent, al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) expanded the scope of its terrorist operations in the Sahel, conducting terrorist operations in Mauritania and Mali.
On February 1 (2008), the Israeli Embassy in Nouackchott, Mauritania and a nearby nightclub were attacked, which resulted in the wounding of one French civilian. In February, AQIM took two Austrian civilians hostage and released them eight months later after a ransom was paid. In September, AQIM murdered and beheaded eleven Mauritanian soldiers.
“According to Associated Press reports, AQIM kidnapped two Canadian UN diplomats on December 14, 2008 in Niger and held them hostage in Mali,” the report further adds.
Efforts to curb the flow of money to terrorists also need more attention. It says the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), as the international standard-setting body to address threats of money laundering, terrorist financing and other related crimes, recognises two regional bodies in sub-Saharan Africa: the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) and the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorist (GIABA).
“Like FATF … they conduct mutual evaluations, conduct typologies exercises, work on various issues with framework and implementation, and provide training for their members.”
But despite “the existence and activities of these groups, Africa remains the single region in the world without FSRB coverage over wide swaths of its countries.”
The US response, the report adds, includes support for the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), a “multi-faceted, multi-year strategy to combat violent extremism and defeat terrorist organisations by strengthening individual country and regional counterterrorism capabilities, enhancing and institutionalizing cooperation among the region`s security and intelligence organizations, promoting democratic governance, and discrediting terrorist ideology.
“The overall goals are to enhance the indigenous capacities of governments in the pan-Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger, as well as Nigeria, and Senegal) to confront the challenge posed by terrorist organisations in the trans-Sahara, and to facilitate cooperation between those countries and US Maghreb partners (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia).”
The report also has a country breakdown that highlights that:
· Angola’s borders remain porous and vulnerable to movements of small arms, diamonds, and other possible sources of terrorist financing. Angola`s high rate of dollar cash flow made its financial system an attractive site for money laundering, and the government`s capacity to detect financial crimes remain limited.
· Terrorists could use Botswana as a transit point due to its porous borders, as evidenced by a 2006 report of organized smuggling of immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan, the large number of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants living in Botswana, and a 2007 report that suspected Islamic militant Haroon Rashid Aswad resided in Botswana in 2005 prior to his arrest in Zambia. In April last year newly-inaugurated President Ian Khama established Botswana’s first intelligence agency, which is responsible for both domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. The Botswana Defense Force designated a squadron as its counterterrorist unit and sent several officers to US-sponsored counterterrorism training.
· Burkina Faso continues to lack the resources necessary to protect its borders adequately and to monitor the movement of potential terrorists. There is no formal method for tracking the movement into and out of the country at border checkpoints, or at either of the country’s two commercial airports. Burkina Faso has the potential of becoming a terrorist safe haven because of its close proximity to several countries in which terrorist groups currently operate and because its borders are porous, especially in the sparsely populated north.
· Burundi`s counterterrorism efforts are hindered by domestic ethnic tension, the unsteadiness of a transitional period after more than a decade of civil war, a lack of mature governmental institutions, considerable corruption, and porous borders that enabled various rebel groups in Tanzania and Eastern Congo to freely enter Burundi. The government of Burundi has supplied troops to AU operations in Somalia; these deployed Burundian troops faced continued attack from al-Shabaab. Burundi’s lack of capacity to regulate its financial system and investigate financial crime made it a likely location for money laundering or other terrorist financing. Burundian officials are nonetheless responsive to all offers of aid, assistance, and training.
· International terrorism concerns in Comoros focus on Comorian national Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (aka Harun Fazul), who is suspected of involvement in the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. He is believed to have maintained contacts in the Comoros. The Comorian government’s security forces had limited resources and training in counterterrorism and maritime security, so the country remained vulnerable to terrorist transit.