Terrorism In North Africa Remains Potent Threat
Terrorism in North Africa: Global Reach and Implications
The Maghreb—Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia—as well as adjacent parts of the Sahel—Chad, Mali, and Niger—and for the past several years also Nigeria, have emerged as some of the most worrying strategic challenges to the international community.
The Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies reports that in the last ten years terrorist attacks by violent North African groups have increased more than 500 percent from their low point in the period, to reach 204 attacks in 2009.
In congressional testimony, Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution said political instability in the Maghreb is a global threat because it is becoming a major exporter of violence and terrorism.
“Not only does instability in one regional state affect its neighbors, but the Maghreb in general is an exporter of radicalism. A recent Washington Institute for Near East Policy study found Tunisia and Libya – more even than traditional producers of radicals like Saudi Arabia – was a source of suicide bombers for the Syrian conflict,” he contended.
Africa: A Continent At A Crossroads
Dr. Valentina Bartolucci of the University of Pisa addressed the growing threat posed by radical Islam in North Africa in The Diplomatic Courier.
Bartolucci sees Africa as a continent “on the verge of either falling into the dragnet of terrorists or of realising its true democratic potential,” but is quick to caution analysts of not recognizing the historical differences between individual nations.
Engagement, Not Avoidance, Needed To Combat Radical Islam In North Africa
Byman recently warned US lawmakers that from North Africa would hamper efforts to combat terrorism in the region.
He testified that “threats will not disappear simply because the US chooses to ignore them,” so it would be wiser to “bolster, not draw down,” its presence in North Africa.
In the months after the attacks on the embassy of Benghazi, many policymakers suggested it would be wise to lighten American presence in Libya and other nations where security was precarious.
“Unfortunately, the political and bureaucratic lesson of Benghazi is clear – avoid risks at all costs. American diplomats and spies will be more confined to well-guarded parts of capital cities and more removed from local populations. This will keep them safer, but U.S. intelligence is likely to decline, and U.S. statecraft to diminish. In the long-run, diminishing U.S. capabilities could pose a grave danger to U.S. security, increasing the risk of a surprise attack or a regional development that catches the United States unawares. In addition, jihadists may point to any U.S. retreat after Benghazi as proof of U.S. cowardice,” Bynan told a House committee.
A Different Approach May Be Required
Bartolucci expresses the belief that a different approach to these groups may be necessary given the region’s history.
“Even if violent components are present in all countries, political Islam in the region has a long history of pacifism. Following the historical repression of Islamists and its consequences, it can be argued that a different approach, based on dialogue and mutual comprehension with secular parties rather than open confrontation, is necessary to avoid a new spiral of violence,” Bartolucci advises.