ISIS in Africa: Can the Spread of Religious Extremism be Stopped?

ISIS in Africa: Can the Spread of Religious Extremism be Stopped?


After major setbacks in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State (ISIS) is attempting a comeback in Africa. Some 6,000 fighters have established nine ISIS cells operating in the Sahel region, the Horn of Africa, central Africa and, most recently, the continent's southeastern Swahili Coast. Insurgents are capturing strategic territories by forming temporary alliances with ethnic militias, conscripting child soldiers and using anti-government propaganda to recruit followers — especially among Africa's large population of unemployed and disaffected youths. Experts say the insurgency is being stymied in some areas, with assistance from international and African military forces, but it is spreading in others. The extremists have seized strategic, resource-rich territories, such as gold-mining regions in Burkina Faso and areas with abundant natural gas in Mozambique. As a result, analysts say, Africa has become a front line in the war against jihadists, creating dangerous economic, political and security problems for the continent and, potentially, the world.

Photo of people mourning the deaths of 43 farm workers killed on November 20, 2020, in northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram. (AFP/Getty Images/Audu Marte)
Residents mourn the deaths of 43 farm workers killed last November in northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram, a local Muslim extremist group once allied with al Qaeda and later with the Islamic State. It has since splintered off from both groups. Experts say Africa has become a front line in the conflict with jihadists. (AFP/Getty Images/Audu Marte)

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In early June, three cars and more than 30 motorcycles carrying armed Islamist insurgents arrived in Solhan, a village in northern Burkina Faso near the border with Niger. The rebels attacked workers at a local gold mine and then torched a hospital, shops and houses, killing everyone in sight, witnesses said. When the attackers left, horrified residents found 160 bodies in three mass graves.1

Photo of a gold panner exiting a mine in Sadiola, Mali, on July 8, 2012. (Getty Images/Afrikimages Agency/Universal Images Group/Amadou Keita)
A gold panner exits an artisanal mine in northwestern Mali. Islamic extremists have attacked gold mining areas in West Africa — killing miners, civilians and soldiers — in an effort to secure the lucrative operations to help fund their movement. (Getty Images/Afrikimages Agency/Universal Images Group/Amadou Keita)

It was the deadliest example of how Islamists linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) and al Qaeda have spread into West Africa since 2015, attacking soldiers and civilians despite the presence of a French-led counterterrorism military coalition. Recently, the insurgents have been targeting the lucrative artisanal gold mining operations in Burkina Faso and neighboring Mali and Niger as a source of funding for their movement.

“[I]f these groups want to get big, they need financing,” said Christian Nellemann, director of Rhipto, a nonprofit Norwegian security analysis group. “They desperately need gold.”2

The map of Africa shows attacks by extremist groups by region in 2020.

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In Burkina Faso, thousands have been killed and more than 1 million people displaced, creating one of the world's most acute humanitarian crises and leaving large sections of the region ungoverned. Experts warn the violence in Africa's so-called Sahel region, where a rich seam of gold stretching from Sudan to Mauritania was discovered nine years ago, could potentially spread south to the more stable coastal countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana, and beyond.3

Such violence could create “a domino effect of insecurity, wholesale violence [and a] breakdown of borders, as internally displaced persons spread across the Sahel, first into ‘safer’ countries within the region and then across to Europe,” warned Ayisha Osori, director of the Open Society Foundations based in London, which funds groups that work for justice, democratic governance and human rights.4

But the Sahel is not Africa's only region affected by jihadists. After being defeated in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State and its allies have established nine cells across Africa that are expanding into previously insurgency-free areas.5 Despite resistance from international and African military forces, the swelling ISIS-affiliated groups are capturing strategic territories, using anti-government propaganda to recruit followers, forming temporary alliances with ethnic militias and conscripting child soldiers.6 As a result, experts say, Africa has become a front line in the war against jihadists, creating new and dangerous economic, political and security problems for the continent and, potentially, the world.

The line graph shows ISIS abductions and attacks against civilians in West Africa from 2017 to 2020.

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Moreover, says Cameron Hudson, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, the African groups may have been emboldened by an ISIS affiliate's deadly terrorist attack in August at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, which killed as many as 169 Afghans and 13 American troops.7 The attack “may give [extremist] groups operating in the Sahel the hope that in the long run they will prevail as the U.S. loses interest in the fight,” Hudson says. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan clearly shows that America's commitment to fighting terror has limits, he says.

Extremists in Africa typically recruit followers by exploiting age-old religious and ethnic tensions. They include groups such as al Shabab and Boko Haram, which have been terrorizing the Horn of Africa and northern Nigeria for years, as have other groups in countries in central and sub-Saharan Africa such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Uganda.

Increasingly, jihadists are targeting resource-rich areas and have expanded into Africa's southeastern Swahili Coast, where a simmering Islamist insurgency made international headlines last November after an especially gruesome attack. There, in northern Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province, home to valuable ruby and natural gas deposits, witnesses said rebels used a local soccer pitch as an “execution ground” where they decapitated and dismembered more than 50 people, some of them children.8

Experts say the insurgents have exploited resentment among the province's predominantly Muslim population, who have not benefited from the mineral deposits discovered a decade ago. A militant leader said in a video last year: “We occupy [the towns] to show that the government of the day is unfair. It humiliates the poor and gives the profit to the bosses.”9

In West Africa, restructured French and regional military forces are helping poorly financed national armies push back against the jihadists, and the United States is providing training, intelligence and logistical support to troops in West Africa, Mozambique, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania, among other places. Thousands of U.N. peacekeepers have been stationed in a handful of Central African countries to combat violence. And local self-defense militias have also sprung up across the continent.10

These efforts have had mixed results. The insurgency is being stymied in some areas but is spreading in others, experts say.

Olajumoke (Jumo) Ayandele, a specialist in terrorist activities in the Lake Chad, Sahel and Horn of Africa areas, says regional task forces, aided by funding, equipment and intelligence from international partners, have been “relatively successful.” In the Lake Chad region, for example, such cooperation has reduced the amount of territory controlled by Boko Haram and ISIS-affiliated groups in Nigeria, says Ayandele, a nonresident research fellow at the Center for the Study of Africa and the African Diaspora at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Fatalities have also been reduced in Somalia and the Lake Chad region, she adds.

But ISIS is expanding elsewhere, and experts blame the corruption, poor governance, poverty and local grievances that exist in many African countries. Others point to high unemployment due to a continent-wide youth population bulge and resentment of heavy-handed and extrajudicial police and military actions against extremism.

Photo of soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo inspecting the aftermath of a roadside bombing on April 7, 2021. (Getty Images/Brent Stirton)
Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo inspect the aftermath of a roadside bombing in April, perpetrated by a local ISIS-affiliated group known for its violence against civilians and military forces. The Catholic Church says the group has killed about 6,000 people since 2013. (Getty Images/Brent Stirton)

“Members of these militia groups tend to be socio-economically desperate young men,” who are unemployable “due to lack of investment in skills development by African governments,” says David Matsinhe, an expert on Mozambique at Amnesty International, a global human rights group. In addition, he says, due to ill health, illiteracy, poor living standards, disempowerment and vulnerability to violence, “African youth are stuck in an endless limbo, waiting, and wasting away without an end in sight. There is always a breaking point.”

African governments “siphon wealth from the poor to benefit political elites that are in bed with Chinese and Western multinational corporations,” he says. This is “to make room for agribusiness, logging, mining and oil and gas megaprojects [that] bring no benefits to local communities.”

He calls the continent “a tinderbox going up in flames” and predicts that the insurgencies will intensify because “the egomaniac political elites [are adopting] a war-like posture to maintain their grip on power, unwilling to create space for the youth to develop their potential and reach their dreams.”

Mohamed Haji Ingiriis, a research associate at the African Leadership Centre at King's College London and an expert on insurgencies in Somalia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, blames the situation on local grievances against governments, which he calls “mostly corrupt, oppressive and neglectful.” However, he argues, by adopting Western anti-terrorist strategies, most African governments will “further alienate a large segment of their people” and enable ISIS to continue to expand into other regions.

“The attempts at arresting them [jihadists] have not worked over the past 10 years or so,” he says. “Therefore, it is high time to talk to them to reduce the spread of insurgency. The United States is still preferring force to curb the insurgencies in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere,” he says. “Some European countries would prefer to change the course from violent force to negotiations with insurgencies but [want to] avoid angering the United States.”

He predicts that unless a nonmilitary solution is found, the extremists “will be on the horizon for some time to come.” President Biden may be open to alternative measures, however, given that he advised Afghan leaders to seek a political settlement with the Taliban and has ended U.S. military activities in that country after 20 years.11

Some experts also blame the spread of ISIS on Saudi Arabia, which for decades has been building religious schools and mosques that promote violent Islamic extremism.

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ISIS Emerges

Religion is a powerful mechanism that permeates all aspects of African life. The continent is largely divided into two major religious spheres: North Africa is predominantly Muslim, while sub-Saharan Africa has roughly twice as many Christians as Muslims. Continent-wide, there are about 599 million Christians and 446 million Muslims.12

However, many traditional belief systems coexist alongside those formal religions, potentially leading to dangerous activities, including religious terrorism and insurgencies adopted in the name of safeguarding religious beliefs.

In addition, the continental split between a Muslim north and Christian south creates a volatile center zone, a 4,000-mile strip from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east. This is where al Qaeda bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, its first major terrorist attack.13 Nigeria, with a mostly Muslim north and Christian south, also has struggled with sectarian and ethnic bloodshed.

ISIS first emerged in Africa in September 2014, when the extremist Islamist group Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria pledged allegiance to ISIS. Within a month, 300 fighters in neighboring Libya followed suit.14

Initially an offshoot of the group Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS was defeated in Iraq in 2010. But the Sunni extremist group re-emerged under a radical leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 2014, who declared ISIS a caliphate in Iraq and Syria and announced his aim was to re-establish the ancient Muslim caliphate — an Islamic state with authority over all Muslims worldwide.15 Between 2014 and 2016, ISIS cells emerged in northern and western Africa, establishing Islamic State provinces called wilayat.

After al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. military raid in 2019, ISIS in Iraq and Syria was defeated and redirected its efforts toward Africa. Eventually, affiliates and underground cells emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Morocco.16

“ISIS in Africa is weaker in comparison to the early emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” says Ingiriis, although both groups “are similar in terms of ideology, jihad and program.”

Initially, the Islamic State provinces in Africa largely operated with considerable autonomy, but more recently ISIS's core group, which lost its de facto political capital of Raqqa in Syria, has exercised substantial influence and control over its African affiliates. For example, government officials in Somalia report that the local ISIS affiliate has received funding, weaponry, trainers and uniforms from the core group's affiliate in Yemen. And ISIS was involved in Boko Haram for years before that group split away over policy differences.17

Photo of released Nigerian school girls in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 23, 2018. (AFP/Getty Images/Philip Ojisua)
Some of the 110 Nigerian school girls kidnapped in February 2018 by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram wait to meet with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who helped secure their release in March. Kidnapping school children is a common Boko Haram tactic. (AFP/Getty Images/Philip Ojisua)

The competing jihadist movement al Qaeda first emerged in Africa in about 1991 in Sudan and began recruiting followers in North Africa (Algeria) and West Africa (Mali) following the formation of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2007. But African insurgencies' links with foreign terror groups can often be fluid. For example, Boko Haram, which previously had links with AQIM and al Shabab in Somalia, changed focus and declared its allegiance to ISIS. The group then became the Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP), but later splintered and retained its original name. Further complicating the picture, some African jihadists operate independently of both ISIS and al Qaeda.18

Regardless of the affiliation, terrorist attacks are not uncommon in Africa. According to the Global Terrorism Database, nearly 22,000 terror events occurred in sub-Saharan Africa between 1970 and 2019.19

One of the most notorious was the September 2013 assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, when four al Shabab gunmen from neighboring Somalia entered the busy upmarket mall and began indiscriminately shooting shoppers. A four-day siege ensued. By the time Kenyan forces quelled the attack, 67 people had died, including 62 civilians, five officers and the four terrorists. In 2020, two accomplices received 18- and 33-year jail terms, while a third was acquitted but went missing after gunmen kidnapped him.20

Foreign Involvement

In 2017, France asked the U.N. Security Council to support a joint West African force to combat terrorism and drug and human trafficking in the Sahel. European nations, particularly France, feared that the vast, arid zone had become a breeding ground for jihadist groups that could threaten Europe if left unchecked.

“We cannot afford to let the Sahel region become a new safe haven for terrorists across the world,” French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters.21

The Security Council adopted a resolution in June 2017, calling on the international community to offer operational, logistical and financial support to the G5 Sahel Joint Force, a five-nation, anti-jihadist military alliance established in 2014 by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which has 5,000 soldiers spread across the region. The Security Council also established a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Mali.22

France deployed 5,100 of its troops to help the joint force, but the operation is being replaced early next year with a new international coalition, still with significant support and leadership from France, along with soldiers from the Czech Republic and Estonia. To promote economic development and prevent radicalization of civilians in the Sahel, Germany and the EU joined France and the G5 in 2017 to create the Sahel Alliance, an effort that aims to accelerate effective economic gains. The African Development Bank, World Bank, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain also are supporting the initiative, as are the United States, the Gates Foundation, the Tony Blair Institute and others.23

The Saudis have also been involved in what is happening in Africa. According to Leif Wenar, a professor at King's College, London, three-quarters of the terror attacks in the world over the last 10 years have been carried out by individuals embracing Salafism, a puritanical, intolerant version of Islam practiced by ISIS. It is similar to Wahhabism, the dominant religion in Saudi Arabia. In recent decades, the Saudis have spent billions of dollars building schools and mosques that teach its version of Islam across the world, including in Africa. The Saudis, together with Qatar and United Arab Emirates, also provide scholarships for thousands of African students to travel to Saudi Arabia to study this form of Islam.24

“Part of the deal in terms of the construction of the mosques is that the imam either comes from Saudi Arabia or [is] trained by the Saudis and is given a syllabus in terms of what to say and what to preach,” said Hussein Solomon, a senior professor of political studies at the University of the Free State in South Africa. “And, of course, this is an ill-effect to a continent like Africa which is multi-ethnic, multi-racial and certainly multi-religious.”25

However, the Saudis say they have disavowed the violent extremist tactics of groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda. “There's a fundamental disconnect between Salafism as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia and the Salafism that terrorists have used or misused for their own purposes,” said Ali Shihabi, executive director at the Arabia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.26

Nevertheless, Solomon said Africa's traditional Sufi mysticism form of Islam has been steadily replaced in some countries with Salafism. This gives ideological support to terror groups who reject Sufism. Among other things, they prohibit listening to secular music or wearing Western-style clothing and forbid women from speaking to men who are not relatives.

“We actually are seeing three terrorist attacks per day on the African continent, and [they] are linked directly to Wahabi ideology,” Solomon said.27

Ayandele says Africa's deteriorating social and political conditions have allowed ISIS and similar groups “to manipulate religion in favor or disfavor of certain interests, and this has continued to threaten national as well as regional stability.”

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Current Situation

West Africa

Experts say the stability of Nigeria — Africa's most populous and largest oil producing country — could be threatened by its struggle against Muslim extremism, especially given continued problems of government corruption and resentment over the inequitable distribution of the nation's oil revenues.

The military, under President Muhammadu Buhari, elected in 2015 on an antiterrorism platform, had been unable to stem the violence perpetrated in the country's north by Boko Haram, the group that brazenly abducted 276 Nigerian school girls in 2014. And according to a new study released in June by the U.N. Development Programme, at least 350,000 people have been killed and 3 million displaced since the conflict began 12 years ago, creating one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, with no end in sight.28

The new death toll — 10 times higher than previous estimates — includes those who died due to indirect causes related to the conflict, such as damage to agriculture, water, trade, food and health care. “The full human cost of the war is much greater,” the U.N. report said, adding that more than 90 percent of those deaths are among children under the age of 5, with 170 dying every day.29

In recent years, the insurgents operating in northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region have been beset by their own internal power struggles, with moderate leaders being replaced by more extremist ones, such as those who espouse attacks on civilians.30

In addition, the Nigerian government has decided that military operations alone cannot defeat terrorists. To that end, it has created two programs — Operation Safe Corridor, which provides terrorists with a voluntary exit path from Boko Haram, and another that hires former jihadists to contact terrorists hiding in the bush and persuade them to leave or surrender.31

Photo of soldiers from Ivory Coast participating in a military academy ceremony in Jacqueville on Jun 10, 2021. (AFP/Getty Images/Issouf Sanogo)
Soldiers from Ivory Coast participate in a June ceremony inaugurating a military academy dedicated to training regional forces to combat the rising number of jihadist attacks across West Africa. (AFP/Getty Images/Issouf Sanogo)

In August, more than 1,000 fighters and their families surrendered through the two programs, including Boko Haram's chief bomb expert, his second in command and 335 followers and their families of 746 women and children.32

Across the border in Cameroon, 82 Boko Haram militants from Nigeria and Chad turned themselves in, joining hundreds of others who began surrendering in May, when their leader Abubakar Shekau died. Experts attribute the recent wave of surrenders to Shekau's death, a beefed-up Nigerian military offensive, the establishment of Operation Safe Corridor and ideological differences between Boko Haram leadership and that of the Islamic State in West Africa Province, a splinter group.33

Meanwhile, further west in the Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso region, the ISIS affiliate has gained recruits and upped its game — switching from scattered hit-and-run attacks to coordinated large-scale assaults on military bases. Between May 2019 and May 2020, the group carried out 18 attacks, killing at least 400 soldiers in the three countries.34

With the new G5 task force taking over counterterrorism efforts across West Africa, the French military foothold in the region will be reduced by half in early 2022, and some military bases in northern Mali will be closed.35

Africa's Horn

On Africa's northeastern coast known as the Horn of Africa, the Qaeda-affiliated group al Shabab has been wreaking havoc in Somalia — and sometimes launching strikes in neighboring Kenya — for decades.

In Somalia's Puntland region, the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS), a jihadist group that competes with al Shabab for recruits, claimed it launched 66 attacks in 2018, mostly against military and police targets. But the group lost several key leaders in 2020 at the hands of Puntland Security forces. The region continues to be the safest in Somalia, despite efforts by ISS to seize control of the area. In July, Puntland Security Forces ambushed and killed four ISIS terrorists in the Timirse village area, an example of how the force keeps the extremists at bay.36

Central Africa

ISIS, one of scores of armed groups operating in the mineral-rich eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is increasing the frequency of its attacks. According to the U.S. State Department, the ISIS-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces is known for “brutal violence against Congolese citizens and regional military forces.” The group has killed 6,000 people since 2013, according to the Catholic Church, massacring 1,200 individuals in the Beni area alone since 2017, according to the U.S.-based Kivu Security Tracker.37

The United States has agreed to send U.S. special forces to help fight the group, and in May, the Congolese president declared a “state of siege” — giving the military full control for a month over the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where hundreds of people have been killed and millions displaced.38

Meanwhile, the long-standing U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC has been largely ineffective, experts say, because of the difficulty of navigating the complicated political, commercial and international interests operating in the country. The U.N. has allied itself with the Congolese military, despite that force's reputation for committing atrocities against civilians.39


After the deadly attack last November in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called on local authorities to “hold those responsible to account.” More than 2,500 people have died and 700,000 have been displaced since the insurgency there began in 2017, initially dismissed as a minor distraction in a region where international companies are developing the continent's second-largest natural gas reserves.40

On March 24, about 200 militants from an ISIS-affiliated group, known locally as al Shabab but not associated with the group by the same name in Somalia, went on a four-day rampage in the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado. Dozens of civilians were killed and the town's food warehouses, banks and a police station were destroyed. Seven individuals were killed during the evacuation of guests trapped at a hotel, most of them foreign citizens working at France's multibillion-dollar Total liquefied natural gas project and other entities.41

The group, which has said it intends to transform the region into a caliphate, had also seized the strategic and tactical port of Mocímboa da Praia.42

Before the March attack, U.S. and Portuguese soldiers had been helping to train the Mozambican military. The government also has sought help from Russian and South African private security forces.43

After the attack, members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) — a 16-nation regional economic development and security coalition — offered to send soldiers to Mozambique to provide security, humanitarian assistance and help restore order.44

Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Tanzania were the first SADC members to send troops in an operation that will eventually involve around 3,000 soldiers. Botswana announced it was sending about 300 troops, while Rwanda (not a SADC member), sent 1,000 troops. These efforts have borne fruit: The government has regained control of Mocímboa da Praia.45

SADC officials expressed concerns about having a noncoalition member — Rwanda — send in troops, but Mozambican officials pointed out that the deployment of Rwandan troops is part of a 2018 memorandum of understanding between Rwanda and Mozambique.46

Some regional analysts are pessimistic about foreign military interventions to remedy the situation in northern Mozambique because outside forces are unfamiliar with the internal politics and parties involved or the reasons behind the conflicts. In addition, the SADC does not have a notable record of military interventions in the area, said Gilbert M. Khadiagala, a professor of international relations and director of the African Centre for the Study of the United States at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

“Rather than the folly of an intervention, the region should be encouraging the Mozambican state to address the grievances of the communities in Cabo Delgado,” he said. An intervention will only “postpone a problem that is not going to go away any time soon.”47

In July the European Union began airlifting humanitarian aid to Mozambique. The EU says it will send military trainers to support the Mozambican army but will not deploy combatants.

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“A Field of Straw”

As the world continues to grapple with controlling the coronavirus and spurring an economic recovery from the pandemic, attention is not focused on terrorism in Africa, says Laura N. Bell, an assistant professor of political science at West Texas A&M University.

“Over the next few years, while the rest of the world is focused [elsewhere,] terror groups will have space to quietly grow in strength and numbers, flying under the radar until they are ready to make themselves known again,” she says.

Linnéa Gelot, a senior researcher at the Folke Bernadotte Academy, a Swedish government agency that seeks to promote peace, security and development, says preventing the further spread of extremist groups in Africa will require addressing “the deteriorating social and political conditions that continue to allow these groups to manipulate the teachings of Islam for their own interest.” To do that, she insists, local, national and international partners must work with communities to find local solutions to the region's complex crises.

“Terrorism didn't come to the region overnight,” she says, and it will take more than five years to defeat it. “But with community-driven solutions there is a feasibility” to bring security to the region.

Governments in mineral-rich regions should follow the examples of Botswana and Ghana, said Khadiagala, of the African Centre for the Study of the United States. Those countries created transparent natural resource governance institutions to ensure that their mineral wealth — oil in Ghana and diamonds in Botswana — is used “for the common good and not to enrich elites.”48

Amnesty International's Matsinhe says private investment, and lots of it, will also be needed. “Sub-Saharan Africa desperately needs massive investments … in health, education, housing, water, sanitation, roads and bridges, transportation, telecommunications, and internet services so that people, especially the youth, can have meaningful work, decent wages, and agreeable standards of living.”

But he is quick to point out that he means private investment, not more foreign assistance. Such aid, he says “was never designed to make African countries productive and self-reliant, but to keep the political elites dependent, unproductive consumerists … [who] enjoy lavish lifestyles thanks to aid.”

As a result, he says, “as aid flows to Africa, governments lose identification and empathy with the people, enabling the ruling elites to misgovern without accountability. The people do not butter their bread; donors do.” And, regardless of whether African leaders “plunder and pillage, violate human rights [or] rig elections, they know they will get paid,” he adds. “These international funding institutions are not benevolent friends of Africa; they have always bankrolled plunder and pillage in this continent.”

He is not optimistic that things will change anytime soon. “Unfortunately, what we have seen from African governments is military chauvinism, exclusive reliance on violence to contain the insurgency, which is counterproductive,” he says. “Violence begets violence; death begets more death.”

He laments that the African Union, established in 2002, has failed in its goal of uniting the continent's 55 countries under a common collective approach to governance. The result is Africa's “continued disunity, divisions and disintegration, with each of the so-called presidents wanting to have his own fiefdom,” he says, adding that the countries are too weak to ward off security threats on their own.

Ultimately, the conflict is an intergenerational one between “the old guard and the hopeless youth with nothing to lose,” the most dangerous type of fighter, he adds. “The whole continent is a field of straw, needing only some deviant ideology to set it aflame.”

One long-term solution is for foreign stakeholders to revise how they support Africa, said Jon Temin, director of the Africa Program at the human rights organization Freedom House. Writing in the October issue of Foreign Affairs, he said the United States “needs to demonstrate to Africans that it cares about them because of their inherent value and potential, not because of their role in great-power competition. That will mean abandoning tired talking points and offering competitive alternatives to Chinese economic support.”49

In addition, he continued, donor countries should elevate their relationships with “institutions over individuals” — local institutions that check executive overreach, uphold the rule of law and expose kleptocracy, such as courts, legislatures, the media and commissions that focus on fair elections, combating corruption and defending human rights.50

“Senior officials should invest as much in relationships with these institutions as they do in relationships with heads of state,” he said.51

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Can the tactics used to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria work in Africa?


Olajumoke (Jumo) Ayandele
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Center for the Study of Africa and the African Diaspora; Nonresident Fellow, Center for Global Affairs, New York University. Written for CQ Researcher, October 2021

One of the unexpected consequences of the “war on terror” has been the militarization of counterterrorism that has given rise to practices that make counterterrorism a form of warfare in its own right. This approach has allowed policymakers to employ military tactics against terrorists and their supporters that range from symbolic punitive attacks to the systematic destruction of terrorist personnel and infrastructure, with success defined in terms of victory or defeat. Indeed, in assessments of the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, policy and security analysts have mostly focused on military success indicators, such as the retrieval of territory, the killing of foot soldiers and key commanders and the surrender of ISIS fighters.

Learning from the above countries, we are aware of the important role of multilateral security cooperation in defeating the group. In both Iraq and Syria, international alliances, the incorporation of local actors in each country and the political will to defeat ISIS helped lead to the decline of the group. By December 2017, ISIS was considered effectively defeated, although the group continued to hold territory until March 2019.

So, what can Africa learn from the tactics used in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS? In our fight against violent extremism, military operations with regional and international partners as well as the incorporation of local actors are important factors in retrieving and protecting territory formerly held by militant jihadist groups. But most important is the need for African states to have the political will to engage in “collective self-defense” against such groups by adopting a more ambitious coordinated response with national agencies, neighboring countries and other partner countries to combat violent extremism.

We will also have to go a step further by addressing the many complex root causes that have enabled African militant jihadist groups to extend their zones of influence, given Africa's unique population demographics. Promoting community-driven solutions that can address the region's complex crises while ensuring the security of vulnerable populations may at least decrease the ability of militant jihadist groups to recruit and mobilize foot soldiers from the region's burgeoning youth population. Military operations remain important, as Syria and Iraq illustrate. However, given the continent's unique demographic challenge, military approaches should be operationalized along with nonmilitary measures, and not after the fact, in reinforcing national institutional capacities and in bolstering community and youth resilience.


Laura N. Bell
Assistant Professor of Political Science, West Texas A&M University. Written for CQ Researcher, October 2021

Strategic military decisions made in battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq were likely easier than on the African continent. ISIS held a large swath of territory in Syria and controlled parts of the border for some time, so the coalition partners and their allies on the ground had a clear geographic space in which to target the group. Eventually, ISIS lost its resource stream as it lost access to border crossings and to revenue from selling oil and antiquities on the black market.

As evidenced by the August 2021 attack by ISIS-Khorasan on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the war on terror is clearly not over as some in the West liked to believe in recent years. In Africa, jihadist terror groups are wreaking havoc across the continent. And fighting ISIS in Africa is much more complicated than simply reducing access to border towns and eliminating revenue sources. The number of governments involved is much greater than in Syria and Iraq, and the jihadi groups are not concentrated in one geographic location. Western powers will have to coordinate with many governments, some of which have high levels of corruption and engage in repressive tactics that Western powers cannot condone. This makes partnering with them difficult and complicated. In addition, unlike in Syria, African countries are typically not failed states and still maintain sovereignty.

Thus, multiple geographic and political challenges make combating terrorism in Africa difficult. In addition, in the United States, particularly, the political will to spend “blood and treasure” to combat terrorism in Africa is likely weak to nonexistent. I suspect the same is true of other Western powers. France, for instance, recently announced a drawdown of troops in Mali — a move criticized by the Malian government.

If no one is willing to combat the terrorist threat in Africa, an even larger and stronger threat from Islamic State groups could emerge, with a center of operations in Africa that could enable it to launch significant attacks worldwide. If no international efforts are undertaken in the fight against the spread of terrorism in Africa, its citizens' livelihoods and lives are in danger. Africans will continue to experience significant instability, reduced economic opportunities and potentially the loss of loved ones due to terrorist attacks. Bombings, assassinations and the kidnappings of school children that have occurred in recent years will continue with impunity.

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Discussion Questions

Here are some issues to consider concerning Islamic State (ISIS) in Africa:

  • Some experts say the violence in West Africa's desert regions could spread to the more stable coastal countries, creating “a domino effect” of insecurity that could cause a surge of new migrant flows heading north into Europe. Do you agree? If so, what would halt this cycle?
  • Despite military interventions by African and overseas countries, militant groups such as al Shabab and Boko Haram have been terrorizing the Horn of Africa and northern Nigeria for decades — even before the appearance of ISIS in those areas. Why do you think those groups have been able to operate for so long?
  • Many ISIS recruits come from Africa's large population of desperate, unemployed and disaffected youths. Analysts blame this on corrupt governments that have not invested in skills development among African youths. But anti-terrorist military strategies, the analysts say, likely will further alienate this population; they instead suggest community-driven solutions. What kind of nonmilitary community solutions do you think would remedy this situation?
  • The Saudis have spent millions building schools and mosques across Africa that teach the puritanical version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and embraced by ISIS. Three-quarters of the terror attacks in Africa in the last 10 years have been carried out by individuals embracing this form of Islam. Is there anything African or Western governments can do to prevent militants from being able to manipulate Islamic teachings for their own interests?
  • In recent months, thousands of extremists associated with the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria have surrendered to authorities after their leader died, and the government allowed them to surrender if they apologized for past violent acts. The government is even paying some former militants to recruit others to surrender. Do you think this tactic would work elsewhere in Africa, especially with ISIS?
  • One African specialist says private investment — rather than more foreign aid — would help solve Africa's problems because aid “was never designed to make African countries productive and self-reliant” but instead has “bankrolled plunder and pillage” by corrupt, unaccountable leaders. Do you agree? If so, why would foreign investors feel confident about investing in unstable African countries with corrupt leaders? And would huge amounts of private funds pouring into Africa help eliminate the corruption?

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2001–2009ISIS splits off from Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
2004Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian Muslim extremist, joins al Qaeda and forms AQI.
2009Boko Haram insurgency emerges in the Lake Chad Basin of West Africa under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau.
2013–PresentJihadist groups in Africa pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).
2013Police arrest 69 terrorists associated with the Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab running a “child indoctrination camp” for more than 50 children in Tanga, Tanzania…. In one of the most notorious terrorist attacks in Africa, four al Shabab gunmen kill 67 people during a four-day siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
2014The U.S. Department of State estimates that there are “hundreds to a few thousand” Boko Haram fighters…. The group kidnaps 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria…. A group called Soldiers of the Caliphate, based in Algeria, pledges its allegiance to ISIS, becoming the first ISIS affiliate in Africa.
2015U.S. intelligence officials estimate that there are 4,000 to 6,000 “hard-core fighters” in Boko Haram, which pledges allegiance to ISIS and becomes the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP); the group soon increases its attacks, especially suicide bombings carried out by women and children…. The Islamic State in Mali emerges, and later becomes the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS)…. The Islamic State in Somalia emerges.
2016An ISIS cell called Jahba East Africa is established stretching across parts of Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda; it begins launching terror attacks…. Tension mounts within ISWAP; the group splinters into a new ISWAP offshoot and a new Boko Haram spinoff. ISIS in Somalia takes over the port town of Qandala and holds it for several months.
2017Jihadists ambush and kill eight police officers in Tanzania…. Security maneuvers in Kenya eventually force al-Shabab to mobilize elsewhere and its fighters establish alliances with Islamist fighters in Tanzania and northern Mozambique…. ISGS executes a surprise attack at the village of Tongo Tongo in Niger, killing four U.S. soldiers and five Nigerien counterparts.
2018The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that an ISIS affiliate in the Sahara region has about 300 fighters, who carry out 15 attacks…. The ISIS affiliate in Somalia launches 67 attacks.
2019ISIS claims responsibility for a Dec. 24 attack in Burkina Faso, in which seven soldiers are killed and many others wounded.
2020ISIS increases its attacks in Africa and expands into the southeastern Swahili Coast, home to valuable ruby and natural gas deposits. In northern Mozambique, witnesses say rebels used a local soccer pitch as an “execution ground” to decapitate and dismember more than 50 people, some of them children.
2021In a four-day rampage, 200 ISIS-affiliated terrorists attack Palma, a town in northern Mozambique, killing dozens and destroying the town's food warehouses, banks and a police station. The group, which says it intends to create a caliphate in the region, also seizes the strategic and tactical port of Mocimboa da Praia (March)…. Islamist insurgents in Burkina Faso attack workers at a local gold mine in Solhan, killing 160 (June).

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Short Features

Mauritania Hailed as Anti-Extremist Success Story

“The government has restored its authority and control over border regions.”

In Africa's Sahel region, Islamist militant groups have stepped up their activities, with attacks doubling every year since 2015.1

One country, however, has proved to be an exception: Mauritania, which had 10 attacks between 2005 and 2011 but none since then.2 Experts say this northwestern African country of 4 million people, which undertook military and other reforms, is no longer a terrorist haven and provides lessons for other places on the continent fighting extremists.

The most notorious terrorist groups carrying out attacks throughout the Sahel — which stretches across west and north-central Africa from the Sahara Desert in the north to the humid savannas in the south — are the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) and Ansaroul Islam. These groups are responsible for about two-thirds of the violence in the region. Some 2,000 people have died as a result of the violence, and more than 900,000 have been displaced, including about 500,000 in Burkina Faso alone.3

African specialists are encouraged by Mauritania's transformation from a weak fighter of terrorism to the most resilient. It was the first country in the Sahel to experience attacks by militant groups, when 15 soldiers were killed in 2005 at Lemgheity, near the border with Mali and Algeria.4 Mauritania also became a haven for terrorists who frequently kidnapped Westerners across the Sahel. At the time, Mauritania was an easy target, possessing all the necessary terrorist magnets: poverty, political and economic instability, high unemployment, a weak military and deep-seated ethnic tensions.5

Since 2011, however, the government has gained the upper hand against Islamist terrorists and has avoided the cycles of catastrophes characteristic of the Sahara, North Africa and other Sahelian countries, according to Anouar Boukhars, a professor of counterterrorism at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a research group at the National Defense University.6

He and other African specialists say the turnaround began in 2008, after Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) captured and beheaded 12 soldiers at Tourine, in Mauritania's northern desert. The attack drove home how weak the country's military was.

Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, angered that President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi had reached out to Islamist extremists and freed several terrorism suspects, seized power in a coup.7 Coincidentally, the country was experiencing a mining boom at the time, which strengthened the economy and boosted government revenues, enabling the president to undertake military reform. (The country is a leading producer of copper, silver, gold, iron ore, oil and gas).8

Photo of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. (AFP/Getty Images/Thomas Samson)
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz helped implement military and security reforms that have cut the number of terrorist attacks in his country to zero. Mauritania was the first West African nation to experience attacks by Islamic militants and had once been a haven for terrorists. (AFP/Getty Images/Thomas Samson)

Aziz increased defense spending and troop levels, improved training and weaponry and established special forces groups. Mauritania also changed the military's counterterrorism tactics, which were outdated and resulted in slow responses. Gen. Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, the then National Defense High Council leader, created eight special intervention groups that were well-suited to deal with the smaller, defter jihadist groups operating from hidden bases in the country's vast desert region. Based in the desert town of Lemreya, these intervention units have kept the terrorists at bay since 2015.

“The government has managed to restore its authority and control over border regions, which militant Islamist groups in the Sahel have often exploited to their advantage,” wrote Boukhars.9

The intervention groups used powerful trucks with heavy machine guns to patrol areas along the country's borders. And the government created a new military zone covering nearly 62,000 square miles where civilians were banned and any movement was closely monitored.10

“Any car driving there would be spotted and checked,” said Hassane Kone, a senior research associate on West Africa and the Sahel at the International Institute for Security Studies in Dakar, Senegal. The military also deployed U.S. military weapons and a Brazilian Embraer 314 Super Tucano light attack aircraft.11

However, the military cannot do it alone, according to Gen. Ghazouani. “We need development, to fight against the extreme poverty of a population that has no water, no food, health facilities,” he said. “There cannot be a rich army and a poor population.”12

Boukhars said one Mauritanian military unit known as the Nomad Group, which operates in the desert, “is improving the living conditions of populations to build loyalty to the government, which in turn pays dividends in terms of intelligence collection regarding any suspicious movements of trafficking and armed groups.”13

Mauritania has also increased cooperation with neighboring countries. It is a member of the G5 Sahel Group, a five-nation anti-jihadist task force established in 2014 with Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger. In early 2020, the group's military chiefs of staff agreed to allow defense forces from each member state to pursue terrorist fighters up to 100 km (62 miles) into neighboring countries.14

At a summit meeting in February, the five countries — together with France — agreed to deploy a new military battalion from Chad, maintain a robust French military presence and build a European unit. The leaders also stressed the importance of employing and restoring state mechanisms aimed at boosting development in the region.15

But critics of Mauritania's approach, according to Boukhars, fear that the absence of attacks since 2011 indicates that the government secretly reached a nonaggression pact with extremist groups. They cite two incidents: In 2010, according to documents seized in the 2011 U.S. raid in Pakistan that killed Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his group wanted to work out a peace agreement with the Mauritanian government in which Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb would promise “not to carry out any military activity in Mauritania,” initially for a year. (Senior U.S. intelligence officials, however, said they saw no evidence that any such deal was ever done, or that the militant group had contacted anyone in Mauritania to make the proposal.)16

The second incident occurred in 2015, when Mauritania released Sanda Ould Bouamama, a spokesman for the Mali-based terrorist group Ansar Dine. In early 2013, when French and African forces intervened to liberate northern Mali from the group, Bouamama had fled to Mauritania and surrendered to authorities there. Mauritania angered Malian officials, when, after negotiating with members of Bouamama's Bérabiche Malian Arab tribe, it released him on the promise that he would not pose any terror threat to Mauritania.17

Mauritanian authorities have denied those claims.18

— Daniel Muraga

[1] Pauline Le Roux, “Responding to the Rise in Violent Extremism in the Sahel,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Dec. 2, 2019,

[2] “Country Reports on Terrorism 2019: Mauritania,” Bureau of Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State, 2019,; Hassane Koné, “How has Mauritania managed to stave off terror attacks?” Reliefweb, Dec. 6, 2019,

[3] Le Roux, op. cit.

[4] Marie-Pierre Olphand, “Bloody Attack on an Army Base,” Radio France International (RFI), June 6, 2005,

[5] Anouar Boukhars, “Mauritania's Precarious Stability and Islamist Undercurrent,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Feb. 11, 2016,; Geoff D. Porter, “The Renewed Jihadi Terror Threat to Mauritania,” CTC Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, August 2018,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Christopher Boucek, “Mauritania's Coup: Domestic Complexities and International Dilemmas,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Aug. 14, 2008,

[8] “Mauritania,” The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Oct. 13, 2021,

[9] Anouar Boukhars, “Keeping Terrorism at Bay in Mauritania,” African Center for Strategic Studies, June 16, 2020,

[10] James André and Taoufik Mjaied, “Mauritania: fighting the invisible enemy,” France 24, Oct. 28, 2011,

[11] “Inside Mauritania's winning strategy against Sahel terrorists,” Africanews, Feb. 25, 2020,; Serge Caplain, “The rebirth of the ‘army of the sands.’ Successes and challenges of the Mauritanian armed forces,” Areion24 News, March 6, 2020,

[12] Alain Faujas, “Mauritania: The Rebirth of an Army,” Jeune Afrique, Nov. 15, 2017,

[13] Boukhars, “Keeping Terrorism at Bay in Mauritania,” op. cit.

[14] “Mauritania,” The World Factbook, CIA,

[15] Sylvie Corbet and Sam Mednick, “France, West Africa step up counterterrorism efforts,” The Associated Press, Feb. 16, 2021,

[16] Boukhars, “Keeping Terrorism at Bay in Mauritania,” op. cit.; Mark Hosenball, “Al Qaeda leaders made plans for peace deal with Mauritania: documents,” Reuters, March 1, 2016,

[17] “Mauritania to Boost Border Security with Mali,” The Economist Intelligence Unit, Aug. 28, 2015,

[18] Hosenball, op. cit.



Warner, Jason, et al., The Islamic State in Africa: The Emergence, Evolution, and Future of the Next Jihadist Battlefront, Hurst, 2021. This continent-wide survey by four Africa specialists examines the rise of eight ISIS cells across Africa and describes how these groups are influencing local politics and Africa's future.


“Burkina Faso says most of attackers in village massacre were children,” Reuters, The Guardian, June 24, 2021, The government of Burkina Faso and the United Nations say child soldiers recruited by Muslim extremists carried out a deadly attack on villagers in June.

“Mozambique: Macomia Town Completely Destroyed, Says Administrator,” AllAfrica Global Media March 10, 2021, District Administrator Tomas Badae reports that Islamist terrorists who occupied the town of Macomia, in Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique on May 28, 2020, destroyed all of the town's infrastructure.

Burke, Jason, and Peter Beaumont, “Isis claims deadly attack in northern Mozambique,” The Guardian, March 29, 2021, After claiming responsibility for a recent massacre in the port town of Palma in Mozambique, ISIS militants withdrew to nearby forests and fields.

Meservey, Joshua, “Salafis, Sufis, and the Contest for the Future of African Islam,” Hudson Institute, July 27, 2021, A senior policy analyst at the conservative think tank reports that primary reasons behind the spread of Salafism in Africa are globalization, an international educational-religious-NGO complex fueled by Arab petrodollars from the Gulf states, and local conditions in African countries that favor those challenging traditional religious elites.

Reports and Studies

“Boko Haram and the Islamic State's West Africa Province,” Congressional Research Service, March 26, 2021, A report by Congress' research service finds that since 2009, Boko Haram and ISIS in West Africa have killed tens of thousands of people, triggering a huge humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

“Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province,” Report No. 273, International Crisis Group, May 2019, A report on the operations of ISIS in West Africa says the Nigerian government should increase its military efforts against the insurgents and try to weaken their appeal by exercising good governance and offering better public services.

“United States Africa Command — The First Ten Years,” U.S. Africa Command, 2018, The report describes how the U.S. military has provided intelligence, training and logistical support for African governments.

Bell, Laura N., “Terrorist assassinations and societal unrest in Africa: a research brief,” Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict, July 5, 2019, pp. 242-256, A professor of political science at West Texas A&M University examines social unrest that occurs after terrorist assassinations in Africa.

Rolbiecki, Tomasz, Pieter Van Ostaeyen and Charlie Winter, “The Islamic State's Strategic Trajectory in Africa: Key Takeaways from its Attack Claims,” CTC Sentinel , Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, August 2020, Researchers at an antiterrorism institute at the U.S. Military Academy conclude that the Islamic State has established itself in Africa.

Thompson, Jared , “Examining Extremism: Allied Democratic Forces,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 29, 2021, A research associate examines extremism in Democratic Republic of Congo and reports that in 2019, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an ADF attack and first referenced its “Central Africa Province.”

Warner, Jason, and Charlotte Hulme, “The Islamic State in Africa: Estimating Fighter Numbers in Cells Across the Continent,” CTC Sentinel , Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, August 2018, Researchers at the U.S. Military Academy estimate that as of July 2018, 6,000 Islamic State fighters were in Africa, spread over nine “cells.”

Warner, Jason, et al., “Outlasting the Caliphate: The Evolution of the Islamic State Threat in Africa,” CTC Sentinel , Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November/December 2020, Africa specialists at West Point trace how ISIS emerged as a threat in Africa.

Zenn, Jacob, “Boko Haram's Factional Feuds: Internal Extremism and External Interventions,” Terrorism and Political Violence, March 13, 2019, pp. 616-648, An adjunct assistant professor of security studies at Georgetown University examines the factions, leadership structure and internal organization of Boko Haram.

Zenn, Jacob, “ISIS in Africa: The Caliphate's Next Frontier,” Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, May 26, 2020, An expert on African armed movements provides an in-depth look at the status of the Islamic State in Africa.

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The Next Step

Boko Haram

Asadu, Chinedu, “15 Nigerian women, children escape from Boko Haram captivity,” ABC News, Oct. 12, 2021, Six women and nine children abducted by Boko Haram rebels in Nigeria escaped after months in captivity.

Maclean, Ruth, and Ismail Alfa, “Thousands of Boko Haram Members Surrendered. They Moved In Next Door,” The New York Times, Sept. 23, 2021, Large numbers of Boko Haram fighters have defected and are living with their families while participating in a government-sponsored de-radicalization program in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.

Onapajo, Hakeem, “Nigeria has a plan to de-radicalise and reintegrate ex-terrorists. But it's flawed and needs fixing,” The Conversation, Sept. 30, 2021, A political scientist argues that Nigeria's program for deradicalizing former Boko Haram fighters fails to address the concerns of victims, who view the rehabilitated combatants as still dangerous.

Foreign Involvement

“Mali approached Russian military company for help: Lavrov,” Al Jazeera, Sept. 25, 2021, As France prepares a troop drawdown in Mali, Russia says the Malian government has asked Russian mercenaries to help fight armed Muslim extremists linked to al Qaeda and ISIS.

“Southern African nations agree to deploy forces to Mozambique,” Al Jazeera, June 23, 2021, A group of countries in Southern Africa agreed to send troops to Mozambique to address escalating violence by ISIS-linked fighters in the Cabo Delgado area.

Peralta, Eyder, “France Kills Top West Africa ISIS Leader In Drone Strike,” NPR, Sept. 16, 2021, France conducted a drone strike in August that killed the top ISIS leader in West Africa, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, who had claimed responsibility for a 2017 attack that left four U.S. soldiers dead.


“Mozambique: ISIS-linked Group Using Child Soldiers,” Human Rights Watch, Sept. 29, 2021, The global rights watchdog reports that ISIS-linked extremists in northern Mozambique have abducted hundreds of boys and trained them to fight against government forces.

Gardner, Frank, “Mozambique: Why IS is so hard to defeat in Mozambique,” BBC, March 31, 2021, The insurgency in northern Mozambique has opportunistically cloaked itself with the banner of the Islamic State and attracted world attention through its graphic violence near the largest and richest liquid natural gas project in Africa.

Wadekar, Neha, and Ali Rogin, “Mozambicans fleeing IS-affiliated insurgents feel failed by government, exploited by big business,” PBS, Sept. 30, 2021, Widespread frustration with the government and competition between local residents and multinational corporations for the region's natural resources has fueled an ISIS-affiliated insurgency in northern Mozambique.

Sahel Region

“UN peacekeeper killed in blast in Mali's troubled north,” Al Jazeera, Oct. 2, 2021, A U.N. peacekeeper was killed when an improvised explosive device went off in Mali, following an April attack against Chadian peacekeepers in the same area, as armed ISIS-affiliated fighters step up activity.

Aina, Forlahanmi, “Mapping the contours of Jihadist groups in the Sahel,” The Conversation, Sept. 24, 2021, A research analyst explains the overlapping histories and fates of the seven insurgent groups scattered in six countries in West Africa's Sahel region.

Burke, Jason, “Isis-linked groups open up new fronts across sub-Saharan Africa,” The Guardian, June 25, 2021, Local leaders in the Sahel region have acquiesced to ISIS insurgents, making the Islamic extremist group a formidable challenge to armed forces and authorities.