Jihadist groups extend their operations in the Sahel

By on June 11, 2020

Jihadist groups operating in the central Sahel, between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, have opened a new front that is increasingly consolidated in the Gulf of Guinea countries. Togo, Benin, Ghana and the Ivory Coast have detected in recent months a growing presence of radicalized groups connected with Ansarul Islam (linked to Al Qaeda) or the Islamic State of the Great Sahara (related to the Islamic State, ISIS for short). English). These two organizations are responsible for the increase in violence in Burkina Faso in the last four years. But it is more than that. The northern regions of the countries of the coast have become a refuge, and also sources of financing and supplies for Sahelian terrorism.

Comoé National Park in northern Ivory Coast is one of the largest in West Africa. In it you can find antelopes, panthers, leopards, baboons and crocodiles under cover of dense vegetation. And it was northeast of this protected area, a few days ago, when a joint military operation between the armies of Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast ended with the death of eight suspected terrorists, the arrest of 38 suspects and the seizure of various weapons. General Lassina Doumbia, head of the Ivorian General Staff assured Radio Omega: “This is only the beginning. The terrorists have managed to unite. “

Like Comoé, numerous natural parks and forest reserves cover northern Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, and Benin on its border with Burkina Faso. In the past two years, these spaces have become the new front for terrorist groups operating in the Sahel. In February 2019, the Spanish Salesian Antonio César Fernández was assassinated on the border between Togo and Burkina; Three months later, two French tourists were kidnapped and their guide was killed in the Pendjari National Park in Benin. Very close and connected to each other, the Burkinanese reserves of Arly; and of W, in Niger, have become jihadist sanctuaries. “The terrorist threat is real and the pressure is very strong, we feel it a little more every day,” Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé told France Press in late February.

“An obvious but subtle contagion is taking place,” says Lori-Anne Théroux-Benoni, director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Dakar, “the coastal countries already serve as a transit, financing and supply area for armed groups operating in the Sahel. ” According to this analysis center, the gold extracted in radical controlled mines in Burkina Faso is sold in Togo and Benin, poaching and illegal trafficking of ivory or animals from the natural spaces of these countries inject funds into jihadists and the motorcycles used in the attacks in Mali or Burkina Faso come from Nigeria via Benin. “It is a dimension that should require more attention,” he says.

Two of the factors that have led to the progressive establishment of these armed groups in the north of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea are the porosity of the borders but also the increasing pressure exerted on them in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso by the French operation Barkhane, the G5 of the Sahel and the national armies. “Local recruitment is taking place, which is supported by inter and intra-community tensions, conflicts between pastoralists and farmers and a certain investment deficit on the part of these countries,” adds Theroux-Benoni.

To counteract the radicalization and accession of local people to armed groups, these four countries plus Burkina Faso launched the Accra Initiative in September 2017, which also aims to combat cross-border crime that funds terrorists. Soon after, Mali and Niger joined. The idea is to share information, train security officers, and conduct military operations on the ground. However, it is also intended to combat the root causes of radicalization. For this, Benin has the Agency for the Development of Transboundary Spaces or Togo with the Committee for the Prevention of Violent Extremism, which tries to attract investment and aid for the most vulnerable population in these regions.

Terrorist groups in the Sahel are in the process of internal reorganization, trying to become strong in new areas where there are dynamics of cooperation or conflict between them. As occurred in the Sahel or northern Mozambique, penetration into Togo, Benin, Ghana and the Ivory Coast is carried out in stages, first with the arrival of preachers or radical sects that rely on the most disadvantaged or excluded to favor recruitment and local complicity; then with the development of illegal activities that open up a source of income, and finally with the adhesion to a jihadist franchise that provides them with logistics and operational capacity to carry out terrorist actions, whether they are kidnappings or attacks on military posts, schools or health centers .

 

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