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Attacks in Congo show Islamic State expansion across Africa

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ISIS’s presence across Africa is expanding amid a recent wave of horrific attacks, and there is growing concern in Washington that the terrorist group, along with other extremist groups like this ci, are using the continent as a staging ground for future jihadist strikes against the West. .

After years of ISIS’s advances across North Africa and in countries like Mali and Nigeria, counterterrorism specialists are now closely monitoring the group’s southward movement in the Republic. Democratic Republic of the Congo, a resource-rich country that is also at the center of an evolving strategic competition. between the United States and China.

While the Pentagon’s Africa Command closely follows terrorist groups operating in the Congo, the bulk of U.S. and Western counterterrorism operations at large in Africa over the past decade have focused north, particularly in Somalia, the headquarters. branch of al-Qaeda al-Shabab, and the Sahel at large.

The vast region, which stretches along the belly of the Sahara and encompasses parts of around 10 countries, is an epicenter of extremism and has been home to many jihadist organizations since September 11. But it is clear that some of the groups are now penetrating deeper into Africa.

A suicide bombing on Christmas Day outside a restaurant in Beni, Congo left at least five dead and more than a dozen injured. Local officials have reportedly blamed the assault on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that has long been active in the Congo, but is now increasingly seen to have ties to a branch of ISIS known as name of Islamic State in Central Africa.

The suicide bombing was the latest in a series of deadly terrorist attacks blamed on the ADF in Congo. In March, the State Department designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization and called its leader, Seka Musa Baluku, a “specially named global terrorist.”

This ruling prohibits US citizens from doing business with Baluku or other persons associated with the ADF. It may also signal high concern that ISIS has increased its focus on central Africa and remains a serious threat to global stability, despite claims by US officials that the group has been “territorially defeated” by a US-led military campaign in Iraq and Syria. during the second half of the last decade.

“The expansion of the Islamic State in the Congo was by no means inevitable, but it was predictable,” said Katherine Zimmerman, resident member of the American Enterprise Institute which closely follows Islamic terrorism in the region. She added that the constant movement of the Islamic State across Africa mirrors that of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including al-Shabab, with the two networks posing direct threats to the West, especially the ‘Europe.

“The rapid expansion of the two transnational terrorist groups in Africa in recent years should give the United States and its allies pause for thought because of how they are transforming the global threat,” she told the Washington Times in an interview. . “North African networks threatened Europe in the 1990s and 2000s and could do so again as the United States and its allies increasingly focus on geostrategic competition with China and Russia. “

This high-stakes competition between the United States and China is also at play in Congolese. In recent years, China has made concerted efforts to essentially monopolize cobalt mines across the Congo, with Chinese companies now controlling at least 15 of the country’s top 19 cobalt mines, according to a recent New York Times report.

Cobalt is used to make jet engines, batteries, and other products essential to Beijing’s efforts to expand its influence, develop its military, and ultimately supplant the United States as the world’s largest superpower.

Analysts say Beijing’s growing presence in the Congo is an example of how China views Africa as fertile ground for its global expansion. China’s first major military installation abroad is in Djibouti, along the northeastern coast of Africa.

The United States, meanwhile, also has troops stationed in Djibouti. The Pentagon has withheld details of its African troop deployments for several years, but there are believed to be around 6,000 US forces on the continent, some of them stationed in Niger, Kenya and elsewhere.

The United States is also conducting air operations against al-Shabab in Somalia, a country ravaged by dysfunction and political turmoil.

“Forest fire of terrorism”

The threat of terrorism is also increasing in other parts of Africa.

At least 41 people were killed last week in a deadly assault in northern Burkina Faso, according to reports in the region.

It was just the latest in a series of terrorist attacks across the Sahel, with major attacks in Niger, Mali and elsewhere claiming thousands of lives in recent years.

U.S. military officials have said that despite multinational counterterrorism efforts – including a long-standing French counterterrorism campaign in the Sahel – extremism has continued to spread.

“I am concerned about the security situation in a strip of Africa,” Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of the US Africa Command, told reporters over the summer as he detailed efforts to combat terrorism on the continent.

“All of this does not seem enough to stop what I’m calling … [the] forest fire of terrorism sweeping this region, ”he said.

Of particular concern is the prospect of an expansion of the ADF-ISIS connection. While the Nigerian group Boko Haram has made world headlines with its direct pledges of allegiance to the Islamic State, the ADF’s ties to the larger ISIS organization have been darker.

It is not clear whether the ADF receives its orders directly from the leadership of the Islamic State or whether it acts more autonomously. What is clear is that the group has adopted some of the brutal tactics put forward by ISIS during its reign of terror in Iraq and Syria for the past decade.

During the summer, for example, ADF broadcast several videos of beheadings. Since then, he has launched numerous car bombings and at least two suicide bombings, including the Christmas bombing in Beni.

The group has killed hundreds of people across Congo and displaced at least 14,000 citizens of the country, according to data compiled by the Counter Extremism Project.

Researchers say that while there are still questions about the exact day-to-day relationship between the ADF and ISIS in general, it is clear that the group has embraced ISIS brutality, its propaganda and its recruiting efforts.

“The debate should no longer revolve around whether the ADF has a formal relationship with ISIS, but rather the nature of that relationship,” researchers from the University’s Extremism Program wrote. George Washington in an ADF analysis earlier this year.

“It is evident that the Islamic State is taking advantage of these activities to demonstrate that it remains a relevant and active movement with broad transnational reach, despite its loss of territorial control across Syria and Iraq,” they said. writing. “With official ISIS affiliates and pro-Islamic groups scattered across Africa, the potential for transnational collaboration and the migration of increased numbers of regional foreign fighters can threaten regional stability. “


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