01/26/2023 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The Sahel region of Africa is a belt of land immediately south of the Sahara Desert that stretches east to west across the African content. The region has garnered global attention due to the rise in extremism over the past decade, in what is now considered an epidemic of jihadism.
Mali is known to be the epicenter of the Sahel’s insurgency ever since jihadists hijacked a coup attempt in 2012 and established a caliphate. Though French military troops drove out the jihadists just months later, the northern portion of the country has remained a hotbed of terrorism. Many extremist groups call northern Mali their safe haven and continue to train and recruit their militants from there while conducting attacks across borders into Niger and Burkina Faso.
In 2021, Burkina Faso experienced a record year of conflict and replaced Mali as the epicenter of Sahel terrorism. On June 4, 2021, the country underwent the bloodiest attack in its six-year struggle with jihadists. Al-Qaeda affiliates killed more than 135 civilians over two nights. Seven months and several attacks later, soldiers staged a coup and announced a military-run government.
In Niger, attacks doubled in 2021 compared to 2020. In March 2021, insurgents raided three villages in Niger’s Tahoua region, bordering Mali, and massacred 137 civilians. Blamed on affiliates of the Islamic State, the attack followed a January attack that killed 100, as well as an attack weeks earlier which left 58 civilians dead.
In addition to Niger, Boko Haram has some presence in Chad and Cameroon. Most of the Boko Haram activity, however, remains in northern Nigeria where they have maintained an insurgency for 13 years. Now split into two factions, Boko Haram seems to be making a comeback after its territory was significantly reduced in 2015, the year it pledged allegiance to Islamic State and created the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP). Boko Haram soldiers, largely forced out of northern Nigeria, entered the lake Chad Basin where weak governance has enabled them to regain strength.
As jihadists continue to gain momentum throughout the Sahel, they will deepen their influence across borders and claim territory further into Western Africa. If left without international intervention, 2022 is projected to be a year of expansionism for radicals on a quest for global Jihad.
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