Yearender: Africa escalates anti-terrorist war

10:41, December 18, 2010      

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One of the major developments marking the year 2010 in Africa is the escalation of anti- terrorist war, which centers on the Sahel-Sahara region in the northwest and the Horn of Africa in the east.


The al-Qaida branch in North Africa (AQIM) hits headlines frequently this year with a series of kidnappings, mainly Europeans. On Sept. 15, the group abducted seven people including five French nationals in Niger, the biggest haul it has claimed this year.

Al-Qaida leader Bin Laden, in an audio tape aired recently, declared the kidnapping as a response to French commandos, who attacked an AQIM camp based in northern Mali in an attempt to rescue a French hostage.

In July, the French soldiers joined Mauritanian troops in a cross-border raid on the AQIM camp in the desert of Mali, killing seven members of the group. The operation failed to free the hostage, who was killed in retaliation afterwards.

AQIM, which was originated from the Salafist movement in Algeria, has been active in Sahel-Sahara countries since 2006, especially in Mali, Mauritania and Niger. It is linked to kidnapping and drug trafficking. Out of the European hostages taken by AQIM, a British and a French have been killed since last year.

The looming threat from AQIM has prompted actions from regional countries this year.

In March, seven Sahel-Sahara countries held an anti-terrorist meeting in Algiers, the capital of Algeria.

Officials from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad made a series of decisions on the anti-terrorist cooperation, ranging from the extradition rule to the opposition to the payment of ransom to AQIM for the release of hostage.

One month after the meeting, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger opened a joint command in the southern Algerian town Tamanrasset, which is situated in the Saharan desert 2,000 km south of Algiers.

The command says it has 25,000 troops in the initial phase and 75,000 troops by 2012.

Mauritania is one of the staunch fighters against AQIM. In September, the army of the northwest African country launched another attack on AQIM in northern Mali, killing 12 terrorists.

The country has suffered repeated attacks by AQIM members, including a suicide bomb attack near the French Embassy in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott in August 2009.

The Mauritanian authorities have also declared headway in its policy to persuade detained AQIM members to renounce violence and reintegrate into society.

In January, dialogue was conducted by the Arab African country's eminent ulemas (Islamic scholars) with AQIM inmates in the Nouakchott prison, leading to repentance declarations by most of the 60 detainees.

One Mauritanian youth, Ould Mohamed Mahmoud Izid Bih, 30, who joined AQIM in 2008, surrendered to the Mauritanian police in November, saying the country's policy rekindled his desire for normal life.

Under the newly adopted law in Mauritania, extremists are likely to be pardoned if surrendering voluntarily.


The anti-terrorist war in East Africa entered a new phase after two blasts hit the Ugandan capital Kampala on July 11, killing more than 70 people watching the soccer World Cup final hosted by South Africa.

Al Shabaab, a Somali militant group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsible for the twin attacks to avenge the Ugandan support for the internationally recognized government in the Horn of Africa country.

That was the first cross-border assault by the terrorist group during its three-year insurgency in Somalia.

Uganda and Burundi contributed most of the 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

After the Kampala bombing, the seven-nation East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development agreed to deploy 2,000 more troops in the Somali capital Mogadishu, before expanding the deployment to 20,000 in the coming months.

Uganda, which became the first contributor to AMISOM in 2007, has been lobbying for a change of the mandate to allow its troops to launch offensive attacks in escalations to uproot insurgents.

Meanwhile, other countries in the region like Kenya has become increasingly wary of the infiltration of terrorist activities from neighboring Somalia.

On Dec. 3, grenade and gun attacks hit the Kenyan capital Nairobi, killing three policemen.

The authorities saw the incident, the latest of its kind this year, as "a clear indication of terrorism."

With a porous frontier in the east with Somalia, Kenya is facing a challenge not only from border control, but an estimated 280,000 refugees from Somalia including those taking shelter in the suburbs of Nairobi.

While al Shabaab is fighting the AMISOM-backed government, an average 4,000 Somali refugees are fleeing into Kenya every month, making East Africa's biggest economy vulnerable to the spill of terror.

One of the slain officers died reportedly in an area hosting Somali refugees.

Police launched a crackdown in Nairobi's so-called "Little Mogadishu" on criminals linked to the killing.

The country suffered a major terrorist attack in 1998, when 224 people were killed in bombings of U. S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Source: Xinhua
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