Following on the heels of the Algerian incident, six construction workers were seized in Nigeria. At least one is believed to be Italian, another Greek and there are also unconfirmed reports that at least one British citizen was also seized. While there have been several key victories in fighting hard-lined Islamics in the Middle East Africa is quickly growing into a hot spot and an area few foreign governments are looking to intervene in.
The potential spread of Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups has been supported by recovered internal documents stating Al-Qaeda’s desire to increase their presence in Africa. In the document senior Al Queda operative Abu Musab Abdul Wadud clearly referenced the need to establish a safe haven for mujahideen warriors in Africa and that in order to do so Al-Qaeda would have to cooperate with local groups and gain the trust and support of the population.
Interestingly, the document urged both restraint in pushing for the implementation of sharia law and also letting local groups take the “spotlight.” The senior Al-Qaeda official urged his subordinates to show patience as the local people were not ready for sharia law and would be alienated by its application. By gaining the population’s trust they could slowly educate them and slowly roll out sharia laugh. Further, by allowing local groups to take the spot light and to “take charge” Al-Qaeda would be able to gain important allies and also attention from Western military forces.
As Al-Qaeda has deftly figured out, by allying themselves with and supporting such local groups could greatly expand their own international and regional reach. With conditions becoming more and more complicated throughout the Middle East, North and West Africa must be looking more and more attractive, especially given the lack of willpower that the United States and most of its allies have for intervening in African affairs.
Now in Nigeria the terrorist group Ansaru, which is linked to Boko Haram, has seized 7 hostages, including hostages from Lebanon, Greece, Italy, and reportedly also at least one British citizen. At least one guard was also killed when the group invaded a workers’ camp. The group claims that this action was carried out in retaliation to Western attacks on Muslims in Afghanistan, Mali, and elsewhere. Boko Haram is believed to be aligned with Al-Qaeda and has released statements in support of the group.
Could the recent attack have been influenced by Al-Qaeda and could it be proof that Al-Qaeda is spreading its influence? So far there is no evidence to support this but certainly increased activities in Nigeria and throughout the region would be in line with Al-Qaeda’s plans.
Many African nations are already overwhelmed fighting a wide range of problems including poverty, undeveloped economies, poor infrastructure, poor military and police training, ethnic and tribal conflicts, and numerous other set backs. Many African governments simple lack the military capacity and central authority of their Middle Eastern counterparts and may not be able to stave off the rise of Islamists without outside assistance.
If Al-Qaeda and similar groups are able to establish a strong hold in North Africa it calls into question the entire effectiveness of the United States’ already controversial War on Terror. If Al-Qaeda is able to establish itself in North African then the War on Terror will have failed to little but waste hundreds of billions of dollars and having forced Al Queda to simply relocate. Indeed, according to Abu Musab Abdul Wadud’s document Al-Qaeda main aim is to establish a new base from which to launch regional and international terrorist efforts.
With the United States and its allies already overstretched in the Middle East and trying to shore up weak domestic economies, the possibility of Al-Qaeda being able to spread its influence unchallenged throughout West and North Africa is now very real. The United States will have to figure out how to continue its fight against radical Islamists to Africa, likely without the use of extensive military force, if the nation hopes to ever truly stamp out terrorism.