Category Archives: Africa

ISIS spreading to North Africa

Nearly two months after President Obama first vowed to eradicate ISIS, this cancer is spreading in North Africa — within striking distance of Europe’s soft underbelly.

  •  On Sept. 15, a group of Algerian jihadists broke away from the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb network to pledge allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The self-proclaimed “Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria” proved their worth days later, ambushing a group of French tourists in a popular Algerian national park, kidnapping and beheading one of them.
  •  On Sept. 23, the new group Soldiers of the Caliphate in Egypt popped up, threatening attacks against the country’s anti-Islamist government and US interests. In Egypt’s Sinai, the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis network, the instigator of a costly 18-month insurgency, has increasingly adopted ISIS tactics to intimidate the local population. ABM has taken to publicized beheadings and flash parades-of-force in local villages, while several of its members have admitted to receiving tutelage and funding from ISIS.
  •  In Tunisia, once-struggling guerrillas on the mountainous frontier with Algeria received a boost from jihadists returning from Syria, even as messages of support for ISIS increase from groups fighting in the area.

Ironically, most of North Africa’s jihadist groups declined to associate themselves with ISIS until the United States commenced its intervention in Iraq and Syria.

Terrorist heavyweights such as Abdel Malek Droukdel of AQIM, Mohammed Zahawi of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and Mokhtar Belmokhtar of al-Mourabitoun — men who’d fought alongside Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri — refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS even after it captured vast territory in Iraq in June and declared a caliphate.

Yet now North Africa’s younger jihadist generation is breaking away from al Qaeda’s flailing old guard, seeking instead to get on the ISIS bandwagon to suckle the benefits from its seemingly unstoppable success — primarily its wealth.

And the sporadic US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria seem to have boosted ISIS’ legitimacy in the eyes of North Africa’s jihadists, as shown by a disturbing rise in public pledges of support and allegiance.

The only thing more worrying than the spike in grassroots support for ISIS in North Africa is the readiness of the international community to repeat the mistakes of Iraq and Syria.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Libya — a country primed to allow jihadists of the most dangerous breed to form a terror state mere miles from Italy.

As they did in Syria, Qatar and Turkey have been backing an array of Islamist militias in Libya, many of which work openly with jihadist groups.

In August, these militias took control of the capital Tripoli, forcing the Western-recognized parliament to the secularist haven of Tobruk near the Egyptian border.

A loose coalition of tribes and anti-Islamist revolutionaries led by former Gen. Khalifa Hifter has been on the defensive nationwide. In August, Ansar al-Sharia pushed Hifter’s forces out of their bases in Benghazi, and soon declared the area an Islamic Emirate.

Libya provided a training ground and rallying point for North African fighters heading into Syria. When those fighters return, it will similarly serve as a base of operations against US allies Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

The al-Battar Brigade, a Libyan militia in Syria allied with ISIS, has already returned and established itself in Benghazi, while local groups such as Majlis Shura Shabaab al-Islam in the city of Derna continue to pledge allegiance to ISIS.

Yet when the UAE and Egypt attacked targets in Tripoli in September to help anti-Islamist militias, the US reaction was condemnation.

There are no perfect options, but the West has no choice but to take sides in North Africa’s jihadist fight, lest it face another terrorist behemoth fueled by ultra-fine Libyan crude and armed with hundreds of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles.

This effort must begin with a determined effort to ensure that anti-Islamist militias have everything they need to outgun their Islamist opponents, and to bolster the abilities of Egypt and Algeria to protect their borders.

And the West must finally bring an end to Qatar’s support for extremist groups region-wide.

As the world comes to terms with the horrific consequences of inaction in Syria and Iraq, those who oppose extremism have no excuse for standing on the sidelines as Libya descends into even greater chaos — threatening to drag the entire region down with it.

Daniel Nisman is president of the Levantine Group, a Middle East-based geopolitical risk and research consultancy.


Al-Qaeda chief declares new branch in Indian-subcontinent

Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri declared Wednesday in a video message that the global Islamist extremist movement has launched a new branch to lead its struggle in the Indian sub-continent.

In the video, found in online jihadist forums by the SITE terrorism monitoring group, Zawahiri said the new force would “crush the artificial borders” dividing Muslim populations in the region.

Al-Qaeda is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where its surviving leadership are thought to be hiding out, but Zawahiri said “Qaedat al-Jihad” would take the fight to India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“This entity was not established today but is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian sub-continent into a single entity,” he said.

Founded by Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan by US commandos in May 2011, Al-Qaeda has long claimed leadership of the jihadists fighting to restore a single caliphate in Muslim lands.

But since the death of its figurehead, it has been somewhat eclipsed, first by its own offshoots in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and now by the so-called “Islamic State” fighting in Iraq and Syria.

While still regarded as a threat to the West, the group has never managed to repeat the spectacular success of the September 11, 2001 attacks by hijacked airliners on New York and Washington.

But, in launching “Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian sub-continent,” in a video partly in his native Arabic and partly in the Urdu of his presumed Pakistani base, Zawahiri attempted to regain some of the limelight.

“It is an entity that was formed to promulgate the call of the reviving imam, Sheikh Osama bin Laden. May Allah have mercy upon him,” Zawahiri said.

He called on the “umma,” or Muslim nation, to unite around “tawhid,” or monotheism, “to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty and to revive its caliphate.”

He said the group would recognize the overarching leadership of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, be led by Pakistani militant Asim Umar, and employ a spokesman.

Islam Banned in Angola

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While the constitution in Angola guarantees freedom of religion to all of its citizens, this right no longer seems to apply to the followers of the now banned religion of Islam. According to numerous newspapers in Angola, the African nation has banned the Islamic religion. It has become the first country in the world to take such a harsh stance against Muslims.

On November 22, the Angolan Minister of Culture Rosa Cruz e Silva said that “[t]he process of legalization of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights [and so] their mosques would be closed until further notice.” Why the religion needs to be legalized has not been definitively stated by Cruz e Silva.

Cruz e Silva has also said that the closing of mosques is the most recent move in Angola’s effort to but a stop to so-called illegal religious sects. Under new laws in Angola, many religious sects have suddenly become criminal.

On November 24, Angola President José Eduardo dos Santos said that the country is working toward putting an end to Islamic influence in Angola once and for all. Again, there is no word of what or who has been influenced and why it needs to stop.

The Governor of Luanda, Bento Bento, has said that “radical” Muslims are not welcome in the country and that the Angolan government will not be legalizing mosques or other places of worship for Muslims.

Islam Banned in Angola

The African country of Angola’s citizens primarily practice indigenous religions. Recent surveys show that 47 percent adhere to traditional indigenous beliefs while another 38 percent of the population practice Roman Catholicism and 15 percent practice Protestantism.

The now banned religion of Islam is practiced by a very small percentage of the 18.5 million inhabitants of Angola. Only about 80,000-90,000 Angolans practice Islam. These Muslims are primary migrants from West Africa and Lebanon.

While the means of becoming a “legal religion” is Angola is not clear at this point, the government is very harshly cracking down on the illegal sects. Minister of Culture Rosa Cruz e Silva has made it known that there are nearly 200 different illegal religious sects in Angola so it is not just Islam that has been banned in Angola.

Rosa Cruz e Silva has also said that there are more than 1000 applications that have been submitted by religious groups in an effort to legalize their sects. Islamic groups have made up some percentage of these many applications but it is not clear when or if they will ever be approved. Rosa Cruz e Silva said that the legalization process of Islam has simply not been approved and, therefore, mosques must remain closed “until further notice.”

While some mosque could theoretically reopen again in the future, some are gone forever. After Angola banned Islam, one of the country’s few mosques had its minaret was taken down in October. The city of Zango had its only mosque completely destroyed after the ban as well.

By  Nicci Mende


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