Monday, September 23, 2013

AQIM and violence, coast to coast

What do various instances of terrorism-linked violence in Algeria, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, and Somali have in common? For a time, very little beyond the fact that all tended to be driven by terrorist groups striving for some form of an Islamist state. But more recently, intelligence points to linkages between these groups, stretching from one side of Africa to the other. The ongoing tragedy in Nairobi, Kenya--the attack on an upscale mall that has left at least sixty people dead--is the latest piece of what appears to be a much larger puzzle on these linkages.

The Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahidin group--also known as al-Shabaab--has claimed responsibility for the attack. Al-Shabaab is ostensibly a Somalia-based terrorist organization, but after Kenya interjected itself into Somalia's affairs several years ago, members of al-Shabaab openly threatened Kenya with retaliatory violence. The mall attack represents the fulfillment of this promise.

But here's the rub: al-Shabaab is no longer particularly independent. It appears AQIM (which I've discussed previously) is slowly assuming control over the group and ultimately bending the Somalian-based fighteres to its (AQIM's) will. For those unaware, AQIM stands for "Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb." It is less than clear who is currently leading AQIM. For a long time, Mokhtar Belmokhtar was thought to be at the top of the group, but as I detailed in the linked-to piece, he appeared to have split from AQIM some time back (though he and his new group, the Signatories in Blood, remained loyal to the greater al Qaeda). Reports of his death in March of this year (at the hands of troops from Chad, but in Mali) have never been confirmed and he still seems active.

But his interests--and AQIM's--were once thought to be largely limited to establishing control over Algeria and at least parts of Mali, quite a long ways from Kenya and Somali:

Meanwhile, somewhat closer to Algeria and Mali, yet still separated by other nations, there is Nigeria and the violence there, largely orchestrated by the group Boko Haram, which I've also discussed previously. The goals of Boko Haram have always seemed restricted to Nigeria, proper, and are largely about the elimination of "western" ideas, particularly those ideas in conflict with Islam. Thus, Nigeria's Christian population has remained in the crosshairs.

But as of last year, experts on the region began to posit the idea that Boko Harum was no longer so restrictive in its vision:
Ham said there is a move "to establish a cooperative effort amongst the three most violent organizations." Ham said: "Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram may be sharing funds, training and explosive materials." According to AFP, the US State Department has said that Khalid al-Barnawi, one of the three leaders of Boko Haram that the U.S. designated as "global terrorists" has links with Al Qaeda. According to the US State Department, Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar [now dead], who was also designated a "global terrorist," have "close links to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb..."

AFP reports that sources close to Boko Haram say that Abu Mohammad [also dead] and Barnawi formed an alliance with the faction of Boko Haram led by Abubakar Shekau, who was also designated a "global terrorist." According to sources that AFP quotes, the three formed an alliance in which Mohammad and his group would carry out abductions for ransom, part of which would go to financing Boko Haram operations. Boko Haram, in turn, would provide security cover for Mohammad's group.
Barnawi had apparently fled Nigeria at one point and ended up in Algeria, where he established closer contacts with AQIM and perhaps helped run a training camp for the group (and for Boko Haram).

The larger picture fits the story I posited in my analysis of the situations in Algeria and Mali: location-specific organizations like Boko Haram and al Shabaab are being infiltrated by people more loyal to AQIM than to the goals of these orgs. This is exactly what happened in Algeria, though without the clear AQIM umbrella. Mokhtar's group effectively usurped the movement for a Tuareg homeland (which would most definitely be Islamic, to be fair) in service to more strictly Islamist goals, to the extent that those concerned with the former were pushed out (and often killed).

Al Shabaab, supposedly concerned with establishing control over Somalia, first and foremost, no longer can be called independent from AQIM as a whole. Boko Haram is falling into the same pattern, as its goals are morphed into those of AQIM.

All of which suggests a growing AQIM and therefore a growing al Qaeda, exactly what was supposed to not be the case. This is not just bad news, it's bloody terrible news.

Cheers, all.

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