West Africa and Maghreb
Under-governed spaces in West Africa and the Maghreb created an environment in which al Qaeda’s affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), established safe havens. AQIM currently operates out of the Western Sahara desert, including parts of Algeria, northern Mali, and western Libya. It has benefited financially from smuggling routes that cut through the region and is known to have received millions of dollars in ransom payments for kidnapped Westerners. AQIM coordinates its activities with Ansar al Din and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) in Mali, and with Ansar al Sharia in Libya. It is also strengthening ties to Boko Haram in Nigeria.
This section includes analysis of those issues.
IN THIS SECTION
ISIS informally recognized a new branch operating in the Sahel region of West Africa on October 30, 2016. The group had been operating under the ISIS name for over a year, but only demonstrated any real attack capability in September and October 2016.
Economic protests resembling those that sparked the 2010 Jasmine Revolution are spreading throughout Tunisia and may grow into nationwide civil unrest, providing an opportunity for Salafi-jihadi groups to attack government or economic targets.
ISIS is developing the ability to conduct a low-level insurgency in Tunisia. Its presence in neighboring Algeria and Libya, and now on the ground in Tunisia, strengthens the group.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are competing to be the dominant Salafi-jihadi group in Algeria.
ISIS is maintaining a cell near Sabratha, Libya to conduct attacks into Tunisia. This cell is threatening the last, fragile success story of the Arab Spring and demonstrates, once again, the challenges of trying to contain ISIS within uncontested safe-havens.
A militant Islamist attack in Tunis on March 18 that killed at least 20 foreigners represents a major inflection point in a country where terrorist attacks are rare. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, and if confirmed, it would signify the arrival of ISIS’s presence in Tunisia.
Degrading al Qaeda leadership is central to American counterterrorism strategy, but the leaders today are not the same as they were in 2001. Al Qaeda leaders are no longer necessarily connected by formal networks and many operate outside of any formal affiliation to the al Qaeda network.
Terrorist attacks in Algeria and French military operations in Mali have raised questions about the impact of ongoing unrest in West Africa on the United States.
The unfolding developments in Mali and across West Africa deserve close attention, particularly given the region’s emergence as the new front in jihad.