South Africa has not been identified as having any major terrorist threats, according to a new US Department of State report, which warns that jihadist terrorism remains a major security threat across Africa.
The “Country Reports on Terrorism 2012” report details how terrorists are taking advantage of post-revolutionary turmoil across North Africa and warns of insecurity in the Sahel and West Africa, where 175 terrorist attacks and 15 cases of kidnapping were confirmed by the end of 2012.
The US government report did not record any terror activity in South Africa. However, in October, the government opened its testimony as the prosecution witness in a case involving Henry Okah, the leader for the Movement for Defense of the Niger Delta. Okah, a South African citizen since 2003, stood trial in the Gauteng South High Court for his role in the twin bombings during the October 2010 Independence Day Anniversary celebrations in Abuja, Nigeria, that killed and wounded scores of people.
On January 21 this year, Okah was found guilty on 13 counts of terrorism, and on March 26, was sentenced to 24 years in prison. This case is one of the first to be prosecuted under the 2004 Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorism and Related Activities Act.
The report said that South Africa has recently taken steps to address document fraud and border security vulnerability, with the Department of Home Affairs introducing more secure passports and an electronic accounting system to combat corruption.
South Africa participated in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance programme, attending courses on Maritime Interdiction, Explosive Ordinance and Forensics, Land Border Interdiction, Management of Special Events, Document Fraud, and Crime Scene Management. South African officials also participated directly with the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Gaborone, Botswana.
“Unfortunately, South African attendance at these courses was plagued by poor participation and it attendees were often unaffiliated with counterterrorism activities,” the report said.
It also criticised a lack of cooperation with US officers working on counterterrorism issues, who “have been largely prevented from engaging their counterparts…This has also inhibited coordination and information exchanges between some South Africa government agencies and western interlocutors on counterterrorism issues.”
Overall, the Country Reports 2012 document outlined significant terror threats in the rest of Africa, including Mali, Somalia, Nigeria and Algeria. In its assessment of world-wide terrorism and money-laundering activities in 2012, the State Department also accused Iran, Cuba, Syria and Eritrea of sponsoring terrorism or harbouring terror organisations and operatives.
The “Country Reports on Terrorism 2012” said that while the threat of al Qaeda has been diminished, the group retains the capacity to inspire, plot and launch transnational attacks from safe havens in western Pakistan. Leadership losses have also driven al Qaeda affiliates to become more independent. Both al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have taken steps to seize land and impose their authority over local populations, the report said.
It also notes a remarkable increase in the number of al Qaeda inspired and affiliated terrorist groups in Africa. In East Africa, the report said Somali militant groups al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, which claim allegiance to the Yemeni-based AQAP, remained active throughout 2012, carrying out attacks inside Somalia and Kenya while extending tentacles into Tanzania.
The report cites the arrest of al Qaeda and al Shabaab associate Emrah Erdogan in Dar es Salaam in June 2012. It also accuses Eritrea of sponsoring elements of al Shabaab for operations in Somalia.
“(In 2012), al Shabaab continued to control large sections of rural areas in the middle and lower Juba regions, as well as Bay and Bakol regions, and augmented its presence in northern Somalia along the Golis Mountains and within Puntland’s larger urban areas. Areas under al Shabaab control provided a permissive environment for the group to train operatives, including foreign fighters, and plot attacks. The ability of Somali federal, local, and regional authorities to prevent and pre-empt al Shabaab terrorist attacks remained limited,” the report said.
In Central Africa, the State Department said acts of terror were recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Chad and the Central Africa Republic by the Ugandan rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony.
Despite the setbacks suffered by the Pakistani-based al Qaeda, its affiliates AQIM and AQAP, the State Department said the Arab Spring revolutions which swept across North Africa led to a proliferation of home-grown jihadist groups fomenting the insecurity presently prevailing across the Maghreb, Sahel and West African regions.
“Though the al Qaeda core is on a path to defeat, and its two most dangerous affiliates have suffered serious setbacks, tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa have complicated the counterterrorism picture.
“The dispersal of weapons stocks in the wake of the revolution in Libya, the Tuareg rebellion, and the coup d’état in Mali presented terrorists with new opportunities. In Libya, the security vacuum in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution provided greater opportunity for terrorists to operate. This vacuum, combined with the weakness of Libya’s nascent security institutions, allowed violent extremists to act, as we saw too clearly on September 11 in Benghazi, when J Christopher Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya, and three staff members, died during attacks on US facilities,” the report read.
In Egypt, the report pointed out a resurgence of terror groups which have repeatedly launched attacks against Israel from the Sinai desert, and a rise in Salafist militant Islam in Tunisia where French targets were attacked.
Terrorism also remained a serious problem in Morocco and Mauritania although security forces were able to foil various plots and make pre-emptive arrests which resulted in the dismantling of a number of terrorist cells.
However, Algeria remained the focal point for transnational terrorism in the region with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Mali-based Movement for Jihad and Oneness in West Africa (MUJAO) and several other home-grown offshoots of al Qaeda active throughout the year.
“AQIM remained a significant security threat to Algeria in 2012,” the report said. “AQIM operated primarily in the mountainous areas east of Algiers and in the expansive desert regions near Algeria’s southern border. The deteriorating security situation in neighbouring northern Mali, the proliferation of weapons smuggled out of Libya, and the emergence of the Mali-based Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which targeted Algeria on several occasions, all contributed to the terrorist threat to Algeria. Within Algeria, AQIM remained the most active terrorist threat. The group’s Algeria-based contingent remains dedicated to the overthrow of the Algerian government.
“Despite Algeria’s counterterrorism efforts, AQIM continued to execute suicide attacks, attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and ambushes in areas outside Algiers. In total, Algeria’s National Gendarmerie reported at least 175 terrorist acts in 2012. The majority of these attacks occurred in the northern Kabylie region,” the State Department said.
“Following the March 2012 coup that toppled the elected government of President Amadou Toumani Touré, northern Mali – representing 10% of Mali’s population and over half of its territory – was taken over by terrorist groups including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Ansar al-Dine (AAD),” the State Department said.
Further, it noted that although the French-led military intervention has succeeded in stabilising most of northern Mali, terror groups have been dispersed into other countries.
“AQIM and other terrorist organizations were able to operate within undergoverned spaces in Nigerien territory, in particular the border areas with Libya, Algeria, and Mali. Porous borders and the huge expanse of Niger that lacks a permanent government presence provided terrorist groups with an environment conducive to recruiting, contraband smuggling, and kidnapping.
“Arms from Libya, including heavy weapons, have been trafficked into and through Niger, despite the government’s efforts to disarm mercenaries of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Historic tensions with Tuareg rebel groups, traditionally associated with cross-Sahara smuggling in northern Niger, contributed to the potential establishment of a breeding ground for future terrorists, as limited job opportunities for former rebels and returnees from Libya may provide recruits.”
According to the report, in 2012 Nigeria continued to face a more serious security threat from two Islamist groups – Boko Haram and its splinter movement, the Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa (Ansaru) – which conducted killings, bombings and kidnappings, mostly in Yobe, Adamawa, Kano, Bauchi, Kogi, Plateau, Kaduna, Borno, Gombe, Taraba States and the capital Abuja.
The report also praised ongoing counter-terror and anti-money laundering collaborations between various arms of the US security services and several countries in Africa saying this is the only way the continent can win the war on terrorism.
Yesterday Nigeria formally declared Boko Haram and Ansaru terrorist groups and issued a law to ban them. The law prescribes a prison term of “not less than 20 years” for anybody who solicits or supports the groups. Boko Haram has killed around 3 600 people since 2009.