Terrorism’s new epicenter

After 9/11, militancy and terrorism gripped Asia, with a number of terrorist outfits apart from Al Qaeda — the Taleban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jemaah Islamiyah, to name just a few — spawning all over the continent.

During the new millennium, these terrorist organisations have successfully conducted suicide bombings and attacks on state authorities and civilians in the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. But the epicentre of terrorism appears to be shifting to Africa; the lack of strong states and a remote terrain perfect for sheltering insurgents is to blame for this. The latest news of the kidnapping of seven foreigners from a construction company in Nigeria’s rural north, by gunmen suspected of belonging to the extremist outfit Boko Haram, is an alarming reminder that extremism is on the rise in the continent. The attack on the construction company follows a similar attack last month by militants on a gas facility in Algeria that culminated in death of 39 foreign hostages.

The presence of Islamists on African soil is not a new phenomenon. Since years, Al Shahab, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, has been operating in anarchic Somalia since a decade. Despite the offensive by the Somali Transitional Federal Government troops and its Ethiopian allies a few years ago, it continues to control large swatches of the country’s southern territory.

Somalia is not the only failed state, where a nonexistent central government has made it easy for militants to covertly strengthen their bases and spread their operations. In fact, extremists belonging to motley Islamist outfits, including Ansar-e-Deen and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), had taken advantage of Mali’s political instability, following the government’s ineptness in handling the Tuareg rebellion and the subsequent military coup, to establish their stronghold in the country’s north. While the recent French-led operation against the militants has destroyed militant bases, it has not eradicated threat of guerrilla war continues to loom. Mali’s geographic remoteness — the harsh desert and the barren mountains interlaced with a warren of caves — just like Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, is an insurgent’s paradise and thus excellent for irregular warfare.

It’s clear that in the next decade, African states will not be countering separatists and rebel armies, but, in fact, Islamists.

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