The problem of instability and Islamist terrorism in the Sahel zone of Africa, stretching from Mauritania in the west of the continent to Somalia in the east, has been widely discussed in New York during the UN General Assembly. The reason for the debate on this critical issue for Africa was the recent terrorist attacks in Kenya and Nigeria, which led to heavy casualties.
The attack on September 21 by the Somali militant Islamic radical group al-Shabab - a branch of al-Qaeda - at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi was a shock for the residents of this peaceful city known as the tourist capital of East Africa. About 70 people were killed by Islamists in the massacre in the shopping center. The group leaders threatened to go further and strike even more telling blows, as the Kenyan authorities rejected their demand to withdraw its troops from Somalia. They promised,"We will strike Kenyans where it hurts the most, turn their cities into graveyards and rivers of blood will flow in Nairobi."
A week after the Kenyan tragedy an assault on a college in Nigeria occurred where the terrorists shot several dozen students. It was the work of a radical Islamic group Boko Haram with which the authorities have been waging war for several years. Formed in 2002 in the north of Nigeria, with the predominant population confessing Islam, the grouping proclaimed the spread of the teachings of the Prophet and Jihad the cornerstone of its ideology, and anyone who does not follow "the law sent down by Allah, sins against him."
By 2011 Boko Haram had transformed from a relatively small organization into a powerful anti-government movement. Terrorist attacks became almost commonplace. The explosions began to rattle both in the north of the country and in the capital Abuja located in its center. In August 2011 the militants blew up a UN office in the city killing 24 people. Overall by the summer of 2013 the number of attacks victims exceeded 12,000 people.
In 2013 the Nigerian authorities have realized that the situation is completely out of control. Martial law was declared in the three northern states, additional army units came there. However, punitive measures caused the opposite effect. Real battles unfolded between the Islamists and government forces in Nigeria.
Terrorist attacks in Kenya and Nigeria shocked the international community which has expressed concern about the scope of activities of religious militant groups in Africa and throughout the world. At the UN General Assembly session, the participants stressed the need for a coordinated approach to eliminate the security threats. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, in particular, pointed out the importance of efforts to combat terrorism and stressed that "terrorism has no borders and global collaborative actions are needed."
Senegal's President Maki Sall said that at the beginning of the year the West African troops with the support of France managed to defeat Islamist militants in Mali, but this did not put an end to manifestations of terrorism in the Sahel Region. "The militants were scattered," he said, "but the threat of terrorism has not been eliminated. Only through concerted action can we counter this threat to the security of Africa." According to the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, "the Sahel Region has become a haven for drug traffickers and terrorists whose destabilizing influence poses a real threat to regional security."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed the importance of developing a long-term strategy to address the threats to the security in the African region. He warned that "radicalism and violent ideology may seem attractive to the young people of the region."
The bloody events in Kenya forced the authorities of the neighboring Uganda to take increased security measures, given that country's military is actively involved in the operations of the African peacekeepers in Somalia. According to police official Yibin Senkunbi, all the important facilities in the capital Kampala and the surrounding area have been taken under heavy guard.
Uganda has already been the target of attacks by Somali Islamists. In 2010, two bombs were blown up in the city center that killed 77 people. The police managed to prevent at least another 15 terrorist attacks planned by al-Shabab militants.
Last week the United States launched the operations to eliminate the leaders of al-Qaeda and al-Shabab which, according to them, were involved in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 that killed 224 people. In Tripoli the American special forces were able to capture Libyan Abu Anas al-Liby who was included in the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists, but the operation in Somalia failed.
Al-Libi once entered the "inner circle" of Osama bin Laden. In response, the Libyan Islamists announced "the start of hunting for Americans," whom they intend to use as hostages in exchange for the release of al-Libi.
In Somalia the U.S. military failed to capture one of al-Shabab leaders on the wanted list, a Kenyan of Somali origin, known as Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir. In an attempt to enter the house in the seaside town Barave, where he was reportedly hiding, commandos were greeted with heavy fire from militants groups, and were forced to retreat. The sortie into Somalia was carried out from American base in the neighboring Djibouti.
Activation of religious terrorist groups in several African countries is largely related to internal problems. According to the director of The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King's College London Alexander Melegru-Hitchens, "poverty, corruption, political crises create a favorable environment for the spread of radical ideas. Simultaneously, African terrorism has a connection with the global militant Islamism, at least at the level of ideology."According to the expert,"the trend of the spread of jihadism in Africa will continue for the foreseeable future simply because the problems it is caused by, such as poverty and corruption, will not disappear immediately."