Sahel's Jihadist Groups Threaten Libya, Mauritania and Niger

A study by a European think-tank has warned that the security vacuum in countries in Africa’s Sahel region has led to a proliferation of armed jihadist groups that could lead to failed states throughout the region, reports Mohammad Bin Ahmad.

al-monitor A Tuareg nomad stands near the 13th century mosque at Timbuktu, Mali, where US Special Forces trained the Malian army to police the Sahara Desert, March 19, 2004. Photo by REUTERS/Luc Gnago.

Topics covered

jihadists, jihadist salafists, jihadist, azawad, al-qaeda

Dec 11, 2012

A security study issued by the European Monitoring Centre for Organized Crime (OPCO) warned against the collapse of countries in the Sahel region of Africa as a result of the growing influence of the jihadist Salafist groups in the area. The study noted that the region will likely witness further chaos in the coming years.

The center, which is close to research centers belonging to the United States government, expressed concern about the spread of terrorist activity from the Sahel region into European territories. It added that a growing number of Europeans are receiving training for terrorist activities in al-Qaeda camps in the Azawad region.

According to the center, the Azawad region has become a greater threat to European security than al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

A study released last November by OPCO — which is close to the RAND Corporation for American defense studies, based in London — said that countries like Libya, Mauritania and Niger are susceptible to collapse or could lose control of their territory to radical jihadist groups.

According to RAND, this will lead to the deterioration of the situation in new areas of the African continent, which will lead to chaos spread by followers of a radical jihadist Salafist ideology.

The study stated that “what happened in northern Mali or the Azawad region is a prelude [to what is to come]; the collapse of the weakest link, which will have a domino effect that only democratic countries with highly efficient armed forces and professional security services will survive.”

The study pointed to increased “threats facing countries like Libya, Mauritania and Niger as a result of the growing influence of al-Qaeda in the Azawad region, and its control — along with armed groups allied to it — over a vast region.''

The study added: “The number of fighters blinded by jihadist Salafist ideology in North Africa, especially in areas of the Sahel region, will increase alarmingly amid the chaos being witnessed in Libya and northern Mali.''

The number of elements of al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with it in North Africa and the Sahel region ranges between 8,000 and 14,000, most of whom are operational within in the Azawad region and Libya. This number is expected to double in a year or two if the problem of the Azawad region is not solved and the central government in Libya doesn’t control the situation on the ground, especially in southern parts of the country.

OPCO experts hailed France's decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and deploy them in the Sahel region.

The study showed that southern Libya, the Azawad region and northern Niger have become more threatening to the security of Europe than Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal regions. The study said that the decision last year by NATO to intervene militarily in Libya was not well-calculated.

It warned that fighters of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Salafist groups in the Azawad region and Libya are made up of nationals of 11 countries: Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

Almost all countries in the Sahel region are suffering from fragile security and a decline in the capabilities of their armed forces — with the exceptions of Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria. The deterioration in the security situation has led to the increased influence of Salafist groups and criminal groups allied to them.

Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso in particular suffer from severe security and economic problems, are weak militarily, and their security systems can be easily undermined by ideological armed groups.

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