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Africa Facing Sharp Rise In Islamic Extremism

ICC Note

The activities of Islamic radicals are increasing in Africa. The Islamists, who fight to impose Sharia law, routinely attack Christians.

07/06/2012 Islam (Al-Arabiya News)-From east to west Africa, a rise in Islamic extremism has led to a surge in deadly attacks and kidnappings by groups linked to Al-Qaeda, sparking fears of a new “arc of terror” on the continent.

While these groups are mostly occupied with domestic issues, their anti-western rhetoric and targeting of foreigners pose a wider challenge. So too does growing evidence of ties between armed groups from the Sahel and east Africa and Nigeria, observers say.

The three main al-Qaeda-linked groups are Somalia’s Shabaab in the Horn of Africa; al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which is active across the Sahel; and Boko Haram, which has sharply increased its attacks in Nigeria since 2010.

“We do have enough evidence of some communication between Boko Haram and AQIM and affiliated groups,” a Washington DC-based analyst focused on the Sahel told AFP.

However while both Boko Haram and AQIM had claimed support or training from Shabaab, this had not been confirmed, he added.

General Carter Ham, head of U.S. African command AFRICOM, warned in September 2011 that the various Islamist groups had said they wanted to “more closely collaborate and synchronize their efforts” in training and operations.

“If left unaddressed, you could have a network that ranges from East Africa, through the center and into the Sahel and Maghreb, and I think that would be very, very worrying.”

The seizure by hardline Islamists of northern Mali has also stoked fears abroad.

AQIM grew out of the Algerian Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat which linked with Al-Qaeda in 2006.

“We pray to God that they will be a thorn in the side of the American and French crusaders and their allies,” al-Qaeda’s then number two and now leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said at the time.

In January a United Nations report said ties had been established between Boko Haram in Nigeria and AQIM, along with its splinter group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) -- and the Islamist fighters Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), who currently control Timbuktu in Mali.

Northern Mali lawmaker Abdou Sidibe has said “a good one hundred” Boko Haram fighters had been seen in Gao, which is controlled by MUJAO. They are believed to be attending a MUJAO-run training camp.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram has dramatically stepped up attacks on churches, government installations and other targets since resurfacing in 2010 after being crushed in a deadly government offensive a year earlier.

The U.S. State Department, which last month designated three Boko Haram leaders as global terrorists, says the group has killed more than 1,000 people since the beginning of 2011.

On Monday, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga expressed concern the Shabaab “could link up with other terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria.”

He was the day after masked gunmen killed 17 people in attacks on two churches, the worst such attack for a decade.

Nevertheless, some experts such as Ahmedou Ould Abadallah, creator of the Centre for Strategy and Security for the Sahel and Sahara, are convinced the ties run deeper.

“It is a real danger. They all consider themselves fighters for Islam.”

Shehu Sani, author of The Killings Fields: Religious Violence in Northern Nigeria, said he believed the various groups were “relating with each other even if they are not working together.

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