Skip to content

Another Angle to the Terrorist Attack on DusitD2 in Nairobi – Dr. Anneli Botha

topBanner_isl_mus_afr

Another Angle to the Terrorist Attack on DusitD2 in Nairobi

Dr. Anneli Botha

Volume 7 (2019), Number 2 (January 2019)

The recent attack directed at the DusitD2 hotel complex in Nairobi once again reminded security officials of the difficulties around dealing with an attack once it is in the execution phase. The reality is that any terrorist attack that reaches this point is categorised as an intelligence failure. While the investigations continue to determine who was involved throughout the operation, how it was planned, etc. the intelligence community, pressured by politicians and public alike would want to know why this attack could not have been prevented. However, all sides of this discussion should be reminded  to bear in mind that intelligence agencies – as part of a broader security apparatus – have to be right every time, while terrorists only have to be able to get through once to reach the public eye and ‘score’ in this never stopping game of manoeuvring and out-manoeuvring to intimidate through senseless violence. The twenty-one people who lost their lives and others injured in the attack, not to mention people living in Kenya and every person who plans to visit the country become pawns in this battle of will between al-Shabaab and other violent extremist organisations on one side and the Kenyan government, its people and every person who worked towards preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism on the other. On face value this attack is tragic to family and friends who lost a love one or those scarred physically and emotionally for life, but it might also have sealed al-Shabaab’s fate.

While al-Shabaab may justify its attacks by linking it to Kenya’s involvement in Somalia, there is so much more to this battle than the withdrawal of AMISOM and Kenyan forces from Somalia. This is especially considering existing troop reductions and also the Concept of Operations (CONOPs), that guides AMISOM’s activities and operations for the 2018-2021 period, marking the final phase of the transition and eventual exit from Somalia. Following UN Security Council Resolution 2372 issued in 2017, the UN has instructed AMISOM to reduce its uniformed personnel to a maximum 21,626 in readiness for a full pull-out in 2020. UNSCR 2372 was met with concern even from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who wrote to the Security Council in July 2018, advising that said plans to cut AMISOM troops were not realistic, especially after al-Shabaab continued to successfully execute attacks in Somalia.[1] Kenya was concerned that a premature withdrawal could reenergize al-Shabaab to start attacking the country after a period of calm (with the exception of smaller attacks in north-eastern Kenya and northern Coastal regions). This attack on 15 January 2019 in Westlands (on the third anniversary of the El Adde attack[2] in Somalia that claimed the lives of between 141–150 Kenyan soldiers, while another 11 soldiers were captured and 12 wounded), barely three kilometres from Westgate proved Kenya’s point. Strategically, by attacking Kenya at the centre of attention will only hurt al-Shabaab, playing into the hands of security officials looking to justify remaining in Somalia till the Somali government managed to ensure peace and security. It would have made sense if al-Shabaab followed the same strategy than in Somalia to outwait AMISOM’s withdrawal and then reclaim areas previously controlled, after the initial tactical withdrawal of al-Shabaab fighters once confronted by a military force they could not withstand. Especially, considering the overall success that extremist organisations till now had by playing the long game through spreading often unnoticed to the public eye throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

In other words, instead of ensuring the withdrawal of AMISOM and Kenyan forces, the attack on DusitD2 might just have secured the remaining of Kenyan forces in Somalia. If this will be the outcome of the attack, Kenya might have suffered an intelligence failure, but al-Shabaab on the other hand could have made a massive strategic blunder.

 

[1]Fred Oluoch. Amisom ready to withdraw. The East African, 12 November 2018. Available at https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/ea/Amisom-ready-to-withdraw/4552908-4845956-ifb46r/index.html (accessed on 15 November 2018).

[2] Robyn Kriel and Briana Duggan. Kenya covers up military massacre. CNN, 31 May 2016. Available at https://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/31/africa/kenya-soldiers-el-adde-massacre/index.html (accessed on 2 June 2016).

 

Iran Educates and Radicalizes Africa through Religion – Dr. Glen Segell

topBanner_isl_mus_afr

Iran Educates and Radicalizes Africa through Religion

By Glen Segell

Research Fellow, Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa

Volume 7 (2019), Number 1 (January 2019)

Since its establishment in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has made enormous efforts to export its revolution around the world. Iranian diplomats, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and subordinate organs are engaged in spreading this and Shiite Muslim doctrine. [1]

The spread of these in Africa, is in part, through the same manner that Christian Missionaries used during the era of colonialism, through education. [2] As then as now Africans face destruction of their culture, religion and education through continued advancement of foreign culture, religion and language to supplant the traditional African.

There is no doubt that Iran is using the Al-Mustafa International University network as a formidable educational tool to export its revolution and Shiite Muslim doctrine. It was founded in 2007, as Iran’s foremost religious institution with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as its highest authority. It now has over one hundred branches across the Islamic world, which train foreign clerics and missionaries around the world.

In a speech to students and staff, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei explained Tehran’s mandate to spread ‘pure Islamic thoughts’ and liberate the Islamic nation from ‘the arrogant powers’ hand of oppression and aggression,’ and emphasized the role that Al-Mustafa plays in carrying out this mission. [3] Al-Mustafa explicit goal is also to spread the Iranian regime’s anti-American ideology and promote its self-proclaimed mandate to ‘liberate Palestine’ and ‘eradicate Israel.’ Similarly, the dean of the language and culture department at Al-Mustafa has declared that ‘our goal is the export of revolution.’ [4]

The significance and importance of Africa are apparent. Since 2007, more than 45,000 clerics and Islamic scholars have graduated from Al-Mustafa of which 5,000 were from Africa, and a good portion of them have been hired by the university as teaching staff or missionaries and sent to different countries around the globe. In early 2019 it has more than 40,000 students, half of whom study at campuses across Iran with 5,000 of the totals being from Africa. Of these 5,000 African students, nearly 2,000 study in Iran, some 1,200 of whom learn at the Mashhad campus. [5]

In return for this education, Africans are indoctrinated and encouraged to be radicalized promoting the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary doctrine and to engage in religious wars both locally and elsewhere. In this context, Al-Mustafa works to organize al-Quds rallies in African countries such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Uganda. [6] In December 2015, the centers of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria – a pro-Tehran Shiite organization with thousands of members – was attacked and dozens of activists were killed, one of many such events in the Islam- Christian feuds in that state. [7] A senior Al-Mustafa official took great pride in the fact that well-known radicals and terrorists Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, and Sheikh Zakzaky in Nigeria are fruits of Al-Mustafa’s teachings. [8]

Al-Mustafa acts as a formidable tool for recruiting candidates for the Iranian regime’s activities, including direct participation in Iran’s imperial wars. Since the start of the civil war in Syria and Tehran’s military intervention to save the Bashar Assad regime, there have been numerous reports in the Iranian media about funerals for Al-Mustafa students killed in Syria. In March 2016, one of the university’s directors declared that ‘some of the foreign fighters deployed by Iran and sent to Syria were Al-Mustafa’s students and clerics.’ [9]

The extent of Al-Mustafa’s operations is enormous and widespread. It has seventeen main branches in sub-Saharan Africa and runs some one hundred schools, mosques, and seminaries in thirty African countries. Al-Mustafa’s most important African centers are in Nigeria, a country with several million Shiites, where the university operates five schools and seminaries with nearly one thousand students from Nigeria and neighboring states. [10]

Following in importance in West Africa is Ghana where Al-Mustafa runs the Islamic University College Ghana (IUCG) with nearly one thousand students. Al-Mustafa also has a Shiite seminary in the capital Accra with clerics from Ghana and neighboring countries. In 2015, Al-Mustafa launched the Fatima religious schools for girls in Accra where the Ahl al-Bait Mosque hosts some of its public events. In tandem Iranian diplomatic outreach to Ghana is increasing. In February 2016, the president of Ghana visited Iran and met with Khamenei, signed two memoranda of understanding with the Iranian government and met with Al-Mustafa’s vice president to discuss the university’s activities. [11]

Other Al-Mustafa West African sites include: Cameroon – a branch in Cameroon and two seminaries, one for men and another for women; Guinea – the Ahl al-Bait school; Ivory Coast – the Shiite seminary of Ahl al-Bait and the Zeynab seminary for women; Niger – a branch in the capital city of Niamey; Mali – a branch.; Senegal – a campus in Dakar; and in Sierra Leon – the International Institute of Islamic Studies (IIIS) in the capital city of Freetown and the Imam Hossein Seminary in Makeni. [12]

The Al-Mustafa’s presence in East African countries is noticeable in Tanzania, which operates as a center for neighboring countries. This includes a branch in the capital city of Dar Es-Salaam and a seminary called Imam Sadigh. In central and southern Africa the main centers are: Congo a branch in Kinshasa; Uganda – the Al-Mustafa’s Islamic College; Madagascar – a branch of the university in the capital city of Antananarivo, other affiliated centers include the Imam Sadjad Mosque, the Rasul Akram Mosque and the Islamic Center of Dar al-Quran in the city of Mahajanga; Malawi – a branch in the capital city of Lilongwe; and in South Africa a branch in Johannesburg, which collaborates closely with ICRO’s Islamic Center of Ahl al-Bait in Cape Town. [13]

The Al-Mustafa International University network is just one example of Iran using education to export its Islamic Revolution and Shiite Muslim doctrine. In doing so there is evidence of the ongoing destruction of the traditional culture, religion and education of African states. This might reflect that the Islamic Republic of Iran has succeeded in exporting a form of revolution around Africa. There is a radicalization of the population that are encouraged to engage in religious wars. But as with Christian missionaries, Africa tends to blend and merge their own with the foreign. So there is no indication that Iran has or will succeed in its own Revolution or in converting all Africa to pure Shiite doctrine.

 

Notes:

[1] Michael Axworthy. 2013. Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Kwame Nkrumah. 1974. Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Ghana: Panaf Books.

[3] Hassan Dai. 2016. Al Mustafa University, Iran’s global network of Islamic schools. Iranian American Forum, 12 April 2016.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Al-Mustafa International University, Website at http://en.miu.ac.ir/

[6] Fars News Agency (Tehran), 28 January 2017.

[7] Solomon Timothy Anjide Okoli, and Al Chukwuma. 2017. New Trajectory of Islamic Extremism in Northern Nigeria: A Threat-Import Analysis of Shiite’s Uprising. International Journal of African and Asian Studies, Volume 32, No.1 pp. 41-51.

[8] Gérard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin. 2016. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to ISIS. Sacramento: University of California Press.

[9] Ruhollah Tabatabei, ABNA, TV News, 7 March 2016.

[10] Al-Mustafa International University, Website at http://en.miu.ac.ir/

[11] President of Ghana Visited Iran after 37 Years. Alwaght News, 14 February 2016.

http://alwaght.com/en/News/43057/President-of-Ghana-Visited-Iran-after-37-Years

[12] Al-Mustafa International University, Website at http://en.miu.ac.ir/

[13] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sudanese Intifada 2.0 – Professor Hussein Solomon

topBanner_isl_mus_afr

Sudanese Intifada 2.0

By Hussein Solomon

Volume 6 (2018), Number 20 (December 2018)

On the 30th January 2011 popular protests erupted across Sudan as part of the regional Arab Spring protests against an authoritarian government which did little to uplift the economic plight of ordinary citizens. Dubbed the Sudanese Intifada, these protests dissipated as a result of a combination of harsh security measures and promises of reform. This December, Sudan seems to be going through a second Intifada.

Beginning on the 19th December in the city of Atbara, the protests quickly engulfed the rest of the country of 40 million people. More importantly, while protests began for economic reasons, it quickly morphed into calls for regime change. The initial trigger was the price of a loaf of bread which tripled overnight from one Sudanese pound to three. The current economic crisis was entirely predictable. Sudan’s economy was heavily oil-dependent and with the 2011 secession of South Sudan, Khartoum lost three-quarters of its oil output. To balance the budget, President Omar al Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) embarked on various austerity measures. These only served to impoverish ordinary Sudanese as no meaningful economic reforms were simultaneously undertaken. The lack of such structural economic measures, in turn, resulted in foreign investment drying up. By October 2018, the Sudanese Central Bank felt compelled to devalue the Sudanese pound from 29 to 47.5 Sudanese pounds to the US dollar. Prices increased overnight. Indeed inflation increased by 70 percent. The extent of the economic malaise is seen in the fact that in many cases, citizens cannot withdraw their own money from banks and when they can, withdrawals is restricted to 500 Sudanese pounds (approximately US $10) at a time – hardly enough to cover one’s living expenses for a single day.

Whilst the protests have its origins in economic conditions, as in 2011, it quickly morphed into a political movement given the kleptocratic nature of NCP rule. This was seen by protestors storming government buildings and calling for an end to al-Bashir’s long reign. Al-Bashir initially came to power in 1989 in a military coup. His rule has been characterised by human rights abuses – most egregiously in Darfur where he has been accused of genocide and still has charges to answer for at the International Criminal Court.

The government’s handling of the protests merely served to fuel the protests further. Use of live ammunition on protestors served to further anger ordinary Sudanese. According to official government figures, 12 people were killed. Opposition sources, however, put the death toll much higher. Given the average age of protestors (between the ages of 17-23) government shut down school and universities as well as blocking internet access to prevent social media serving as a platform for popular moblilization as it had during the Arab Spring protests. Curfews and declarations of states of emergency followed. Khartoum also attempted to deny the legitimate grievances of citizens by characterizing the protests as the work of “infiltrators”.

None of this served to endear Al-Bashir and the NCP to ordinary citizens. Recognizing the popular rage, they were confronted with, the regime attempted to assuage citizens’ fury with promises of economic reforms which would increase the quality of life of ordinary citizens. There are however several reasons to believe that Sudanese Intifada 2.0 will not dissipate as the initial protests from 2011-2013 did. First, ordinary Sudanese simply do not believe the government. Government made promises before and they have not been kept. Under the current constitution, for example, presidential elections is to be held in 2020 and al-Bashir is ineligible to stand on account of him having served his two constitutionally-mandated terms. However, there is a concerted attempt on the part of al-Bashir and the NCP to amend the constitution and allow him to run for president yet again. Second, the protestors this time round do have a credible opposition political figure to rally around in the form of Sadiq al-Mahdi who recently returned from self-imposed exile to a hero’s welcome. Immediately upon arrival he called for a democratic transition. It should be noted that al-Mahdi was the last democratically-elected president and he was overthrown in the 1989 coup which brought al-Bashir to power. Third, whilst protests initially began amongst disenchanted and unemployed youth, it has quickly spread to other sectors of society including trade unions. Finally the rapid spread of the protests from Atbara to Manaqil, Rufaa, Omdurman, Port Sudan, Um Rawaba and Gadarif suggest this is truly a national Intifada. 2019 ought to be an interesting year for Sudan and the wider region!

Islamic State flexes its’ muscles in Egypt: A counterattack on #Sinai2018 – Sanet Madonsela

topBanner_isl_mus_afr

Islamic State flexes its’ muscles in Egypt: A counterattack on #Sinai2018

By Sanet Madonsela

Sanet Madonsela is a specialist on Political Islam in Egypt. Email: sanet.madonsela@gmail.com

Volume 6 (2018), Number 19 (November 2018)

“Anger is an emotion preeminently serviceable for the display of power”-Walter Bradford Cannon

The November 2, 2018 deaths of seven Coptic Christians have managed to make headlines around the globe. While it might be easy to make assumptions about who did it and how it happened, the question of why these Coptic Christians were killed still hovers.In order to answer this question and avoid applying incorrect remedies, a bit of context needs to be provided.

The Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula has been waging a deadly insurgency since the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi’s ouster in a military coup by General al-Sisi in 2013. Morsi was succeeded by now President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who launched a brutal attack on Islamists in 2013. His government believed that fighting the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters was the only way to end terrorism and establish peace and security in Egypt. This massive crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood left the Islamist field open to extreme groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. This has, in turn, made Egypt the ideal recruitment base for militant jihadist organizations as there was no non-violent avenue. The new Egyptian government failed to establish its legitimacy, because it failed to build public trust in the security sector. Rule of law has been undermined as security actors are not held accountable for torturing citizens. Al-Sisi’s harsh security campaign has also legitimized militant groups as they can appeal to Egyptians based on their shared injustices. Moreover, the Egyptian government’s counter-terrorism attempts have produced more enemies than it has contained. Its crowded prisons have also become a breeding ground for extremism and radicalization.

More recently, the Islamic State opened fire on three minibuses carrying Coptic Christians. They managed to kill 7 people and wounded 19. They stated that they would continuously target Egypt’s Christians as punishment for supporting President al-Sisi. The Egyptian Interior Ministry scrambled to respond to a surge of Christian anger against the government. It stated that the 19 militants responsible for the death of these seven pilgrims have been killed. While this temporarily solves the problem, the question of why these Coptic Christians were killed remains unanswered. The Egyptian state launched a comprehensive operation called the “Sinai 2018” on February 9, 2018. This operation was aimed at removing terrorist and criminal elements and organizations from the Sinai, parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert. The operation has been successful in weakening the Islamic State in the Sinai. The Islamic State, however, regrouped and started responding on 24 October 2018. This day witnessed the deadliest attack on Egypt’s military in years. Twenty-eight soldiers were killed and 30 injured in North Sinai. This was followed by an attack on Coptic Christians on 2 November 2018. It would be flawed to view these as separate incidents. The attack on Coptic Christians also served two other purposes – to gain control over the fertile ground in the Minya province, as well as send a message to the Egyptian state that they are far from being defeated. Additionally, this attack also sought to avenge the death of Abu Hamza al-Maqdisi-who was in charge of the group’s training and planning in the Sinai.

All these attacks form part of a much bigger goal – the destabilization of the Egyptian state. It is important to note that Islamic State seeks to destroy the Egyptian security and economy and has been assisted through the Egyptian state’s negligence and discrimination against citizens in the Sinai. Through this, the Islamic State has managed to convince tribes in the Sinai to cooperate with them in exchange for improved employment in the area. In doing this, they have managed to attain good intelligence, which assisted IS fighters from avoiding being captured whilst initiating fatal ambushes for Egypt’s armed forces. The Egyptian state should accept that this group will not disappear in the near future and that their presence in the country is a symptom of a bigger problem. While probable remedies could include reconciliation talks at a senior level between non-violent Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood) and the state, stopping extrajudicial killings and improved governance, the Egyptian state needs a more serious intervention strategy in the Sinai – one which privileges human security in an attempt to buy back the loyalty of the disparate tribes in the region.

Turkey-Africa Relations – Professor Hussein Solomon

topBanner_isl_mus_afr

Turkey-Africa Relations

By Hussein Solomon

Volume 6 (2018), Number 18 (November 2018)

Opening the second Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum last month in Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared, “We want to improve our relations, built on mutual respect, in all areas on the basis of win-win and equal partnership” to the 3000 delegates attending. The forum was co-hosted by Turkey’s Ministry of Trade and organized by its Foreign Economic Relations Board and the African Union (AU). The forum is important since it indicates Ankara’s revitalized interests on the African continent as well as its desire to move from bilateral to multilateral engagements.

Several reasons account for Turkey’s revitalized thrust into Africa. First, Africa provides economic opportunity with its 1.2 billion people. This is set to more than double to 2.5 billion by 2050. This demographic dividend could provide a source of cheap labour for Turkish companies as well as a market for Turkish exports. The latter takes on added significance if one considers that Africa is urbanizing at a rapid pace and that its middle class is expected to grow significantly in coming decades especially if the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement comes into effect. Second, and a concomitant of the first point, Ankara is being opportunistic in that it seeks to expand its footprint on the African continent at a time when Western states, specifically Trump’s America, is retreating from the continent. Whilst other players, specifically – China, has aggressively entered the African space, Ankara has a Muslim identity and is a successor to the Ottoman caliphate which it seeks to exploit. Early last month, for instance, President Erdogan visited Algeria, Mauritania, Senegal and Mali – all predominantly Muslim countries. The Ottoman aspect of the relationship comes out with Turkey recently securing a long-term lease and rights to restore Ottoman-era buildings on Khartoum’s Suakin Island in the strategic Red Sea. Third, there is the underlying philosophy and personal ambitions of Turkey’s strong-man president, which seeks to remake Turkey into a global player under his leadership. Since coming to office in 2003 as Prime Minister, Erdogan has made more than 30 visits to the continent.

One of the major reasons accounting for Turkish successes in Africa is that Ankara is far less risk-averse than many other countries. In 2011 when many international actors was fleeing from Somalia on account of a growing terrorist insurgency, famine and drought and a failing government, President Erdogan and his wife landed in the Somali capital Mogadishu and began negotiating a Turkish presence in the country. The successes of Ankara has been undeniable. There are currently 41 Turkish embassies in Africa that Ankara hopes to increase to 54 in the next few years. Turkish airlines, moreover, operates in 50 African destinations. Turkish trade volume with Africa has quadrupled from US$ 5.4 billion to more than US$ 20 billion between 2003 and 2017. Nevertheless, this is by no means a “win-win” or “equal partnership” that Erdogan speaks of. Consider for instance Turkey’s bilateral trade ties with Ethiopia. Whilst Ankara currently exports US$ 440 million to Ethiopia, it only imports US$ 36 million from Ethiopia. More than just the trade volume, however, is what Turkey actually exports to African countries. Turkey has a highly developed textile industry and in countries like Kenya, cheaper Turkish textile imports is hurting the Kenyan textile sector.

The full extent of the downside of Turkish relations with the African continent is perhaps best seen in Somalia where the entire state seems to have been “colonized” by Ankara. There is the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital for those who are ill. A Turkish company runs the airport in Mogadishu. The roads are built by Ankara and refuse collection is done by the Turkish Red Crescent. The recently established Turkish military base in Somalia raises serious question over Somali sovereignty. Critics also argue that the contracts, Turkey secured from Mogadishu seems to have been skewed in their favour. The Somali state is notorious for its corruption.

Beyond the economic dimensions, there is also the political dimensions of the relationship that is often neglected. Africa has suffered terribly under various strong-men: from Amin and Bokassa to Mugabe and Bashir. Erdogan’s Turkey is increasingly autocratic and has the dubious reputation of having incarcerated the most number of journalists in the world. Africa has no need to emulate Turkish authoritarianism. Erdogan’s friendship with others of his ilk like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court, undermines Africa’s attempts to democratize.

There is also a danger that Erdogan is externalizing his domestic problems onto the African continent. The Fethullah Gulen movement is an Islamic social movement which follows the teachings of reformist Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen. Gulen was an ally of Erdogan but after a falling out, Gulen has been in self-imposed exile in the United States but his movement is very active in Africa establishing schools and working in the health sector closely allied to African civil society. Erdogan has been using his African outreach to pressurize African governments to purge the movement in their respective countries calling the Fethullah Gulen movement a virus despite the positive work they are doing on the African continent.

African countries need to approach Ankara’s embrace with much more caution.

 

 

Islamic State Activity in South Africa: A Critical Analysis of what is currently Known – Dr. Barend Prinsloo

topBanner_isl_mus_afr

Islamic State Activity in South Africa: A Critical Analysis of what is currently Known

By Dr. Barend Prinsloo

North-West University, South Africa

Volume 6 (2018), Number 17 (October 2018)

  1. Introduction

Media reports are rife with the recent arrests of 11 suspects who are seemingly connected to the Islamic State (IS) and believed to be responsible for several attacks in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. These attacks include the attack on the Shi’a Mosque in Verulam in 2018 and the placement of home-made bombs which could be remotely detonated via a mobile phone.

 

  1. Facts

During the past two years, at least four unprecedented attacks or incidences occurred in South Africa, some of which are attributed to IS activity in South Africa. These four incidences will be factually discussed to determine their relationship, if any.

 

  1. The Thulsie twins and Fatima Patel

The Thulsie twins (Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie) were arrested in Johannesburg on July 2016. They were charged with 12 counts relating to contraventions of the Protection of the Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (Pocdatara); and one charge for fraud, linked to the alleged use of fake passports. They were allegedly plotting a series of attacks on behalf of IS against Jewish targets and the embassy of the United States of America (USA).  It is also alleged that the twins were attempting to join IS in Syria. Two years after their arrest their matter is yet to go on trial after being postponed about 30 times.[1] Fatima Patel was arrested in Johannesburg around the same time as the twins but no connection were evident between her and the twins. She was later released and she moved to KwaZulu-Natal.[2]

 

  1. Rodney and Rachel Saunders

In February 2018, Britons Rodney and Rachel Saunders were kidnapped in KwaZulu-Natal. Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio (38) and his wife Fatima Patel (27) were arrested during the same month for the crime. Del Vecchio claimed to be a member of IS at the time.[3] Del Vecchio grew up in Durban North, although his family originally hailed from Mozambique.  He was known as Thomas Vecchio before he converted to Islam.[4] In March 2018, two more suspects,ThembamandlaXulu (19) and Ahmad Jackson Mussa (36), were arrested in connection with the crime.  The investigation concluded that the Britons were killed and their bodies discarded in the uThukela river.[5] In July, Dutch authorities arrested Mohammed Ghorshid – trying to buy bitcoins with a credit card belonging to one of the murdered Saunders couple.  Ghorshid was on a watchlist due to his links with IS.[6]

 

  • The Imam Hussein Mosque attack in Verulam

On 10 May 2018, an attack was launched on the Verulam Mosque in KwaZulu-Natal. Three knife-wielding men killed one person, attempted to kill two others, tried to set the Mosque alight and left a home-made bomb which was discovered a few days later.[7] Between March and August 2018, Durban and surrounding areas were plagued with several incidents of placing home-bombs in especially Woolworths stores, including widespread hoax calls.[8] Late in October 2018, 11 suspects were arrested originating from South Africa, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. FarhadHoomer, Ahmed Haffejee‚ ThabitMwenda‚ Mohamad Akbar‚ Seiph Mohamed‚ Amani Mayani‚ Abubakar Ali‚ Abbas Jooma‚ MahammedSobruin‚ NdikumanaShabani and Iddy Omaniwere charged with 14 criminal counts including murder, attempted murder, arson, extortion and the violation of Pocdatara.Hoomerwas identified as the leader of the group.[9]  The state are claiming the following as evidence of the group’s involvement and ties to IS:

 

  • A white Hyundai Getz and VW Polo Vivo, allegedly used in the mosque attack and a Woolworths store in Gateway in Umhlanga, were registered in the name of FarhadHoomer.[10]
  • Hoomer’s house in Reservoir Hills was used as a training premises for the group.[11]
  • Hoomer is also the owner of the house where a victim was found kidnapped.[12]
  • Eight IS flags, propaganda manuals and bomb-making material, including a mobile phone resembling those used for these makeshift explosives were apparently discovered inside this house during a raid by the Hawks.[13][14] A device similar to the device used in the mosque attack and those found at Woolworths stores was found at Hoomer’s home.[15] In addition, the police’s explosives unit uncovered that all bombs found in various areas in Durban had the signature of the same manufacturer and could be detonated remotely.[16]
  • The State alleges this group of men is supportive of IS and its teachings about “financial jihad”. (This involves punishment of non-believers by robbing them of their wealth.)[17] Evidently, copies of the IS magazine Rumiyah were found where a directive was given to carry out “financial jihad” by targeting the enemies of wealth through extortion, theft and fraud among others.[18]
  • Three victims of extortion in the matter had previous dealings with Hoomer, and stated that they received an SMS demanding $100 000 (about R1.4m) in order for the accused to allegedly continue with their activities.[19]
  • One of the suspects (not identified) is a part of a WhatsApp group called Jundillah, which is a Sunni militant organisation based in Iran.[20]

 

  1. The Malmesbury mosque attack in the Western Cape

On 14 June 2018, two worshippers were killed (one South African and one Somali national) and several wounded in a stabbing attack at a mosque in Malmesbury in the Western Cape. The attacker was shot dead by police.[21] Witnesses later stated that the attacker introduced himself as Somali, and said he was on his way to Vredenburg on the West Coast. The man asked for a place to overnight and remained in the Mosque. At about 03:00, the man just got up and started stabbing people. He did so calmly and unhurriedly. Later, when confronted by the police he was shot dead when attempted to stab the police too.[22] The police later issued a statement confirming that no elements of extremism were found in the attack.Not motive was identified by the police and they identified him as 23-year-old NurArawal from Somalia.[23] However, the Chairperson of the Somali Community Board of South Africa identified the attacker as Noor Abdullah and stated that Abdullah was known in the community to suffer from bipolar disorder.[24] Thereby, de facto attributing the motive for the attack to mental illness.

 

  1. Conjectures made by analysts and the media

 

  • The Thulsie twins and Fatima Patel are connected. Fact: there is no supporting evidence in the public domain that they knew one another or were working together.
  • Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, Fatima Patel, ThembamandlaXulu and Ahmad Jackson Mussa were part of a larger IS affiliated grouping. Although evidence is mounting that at least Del Vecchio and Patel were committed and somehow in contact with other IS members, their main motive was to obtain funding for IS and there is no evidence that they formed part of a larger IS grouping in South Africa.
  • The 11 suspects in the Verulam attack, given their diverse nationalities, IS paraphernalia, alleged training facilities and alleged criminal acts, are clearly indicating that IS is moving in greater numbers to South Africa. Facts: The suspects and their modus operandi were more indicative of an ideologically inspired criminal gang with no formal training in bomb making and motivated by personal greed. They also happened to be Muslims. Having IS paraphernalia does not make them IS affiliated members. Perhaps it is best to refer to them asIS inspired members.
  • The Verulam and Malmesbury mosque attacks suggest that a conflict is brewing between the Sunni and Shi’a groupings. Fact: The Verulam mosque is a Shi’a mosque but the Malmesbury mosque is Sunni – so there is no relation or reason to think this is true.

 

  1. Conclusion

These occurrences are certainly worrisome and the likelihood is high that IS will inspire more people to continue such attacks and conform to extremist views in South Africa.  What makes South Africa different, however, are the strong relations and platforms for dialogue which exist among the Islamic community within South Africa.  The trigger factors to lure people into the world of extremism is very low in South Africa and is more found in global affairs. South Africans, and the authorities, should thus be wary to definitively link these events with IS; where instead it should be linked to ideological inspired criminal behaviour (which has many forms). Nevertheless, South Africa will need to understand that they should start to institute proper counter-terrorism measures which are different than the old focus on “terrorism” and measures to fight terrorists. South Africa does not have a terrorist problem.Finally, there is no known evidence which links these four incidences.

 

[1]https://www.iol.co.za/the-star/two-years-and-30-postponements-later-thulsietwins-have-yet-to-go-on-trial-16334099

[2]https://issafrica.org/iss-today/is-islamist-terrorism-starting-to-emerge-in-south-africa

[3]https://northcoastcourier.co.za/104284/isis-suspect-resident-umdloti/

[4]https://northcoastcourier.co.za/104284/isis-suspect-resident-umdloti/

[5]https://northcoastcourier.co.za/105830/search-continues-bodies-isis-attack/

[6]https://issafrica.org/iss-today/is-islamist-terrorism-starting-to-emerge-in-south-africa

[7]https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/verulam-mosque-attack-caretaker-in-hiding-20180516

[8]https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/2020636/woolworths-to-stop-searching-customers-after-bomb-threat-suspects-arrested/

[9]https://www.all4women.co.za/1614770/news/south-african-news/kzn-mosque-woolworths-bomb-suspects-linked-to-isis

[10]https://www.all4women.co.za/1614770/news/south-african-news/kzn-mosque-woolworths-bomb-suspects-linked-to-isis

[11]https://www.all4women.co.za/1614770/news/south-african-news/kzn-mosque-woolworths-bomb-suspects-linked-to-isis

[12]https://www.all4women.co.za/1614770/news/south-african-news/kzn-mosque-woolworths-bomb-suspects-linked-to-isis

[13]https://www.enca.com/news/investigators-convinced-isis-operating-durban

[14]https://ewn.co.za/2018/10/24/isis-inspired-group-planned-series-of-attacks-in-areas-around-durban

[15]https://www.all4women.co.za/1614770/news/south-african-news/kzn-mosque-woolworths-bomb-suspects-linked-to-isis

[16]https://ewn.co.za/2018/10/24/isis-inspired-group-planned-series-of-attacks-in-areas-around-durban

[17]https://www.enca.com/news/investigators-convinced-isis-operating-durban

[18]https://ewn.co.za/2018/10/24/isis-inspired-group-planned-series-of-attacks-in-areas-around-durban

[19]https://www.all4women.co.za/1614770/news/south-african-news/kzn-mosque-woolworths-bomb-suspects-linked-to-isis

[20]https://ewn.co.za/2018/10/24/isis-inspired-group-planned-series-of-attacks-in-areas-around-durban

[21]https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/attacker-shot-dead-after-fatal-stabbing-attack-at-malmesbury-mosque-20180614

[22]https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/mosqueattack-worshippers-thought-attacker-needed-a-place-to-sleep-didnt-want-to-turn-him-away-20180614

[23]https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/malmesbury-mosque-attack-hawks-find-no-element-of-extremism-20180705

[24]https://www.vocfm.co.za/mjc-meets-somali-ambassador-amid-malmesbury-mosque-attack-speculations/

Tehran in Africa: Reflections on Iran-Moroccan Relations – Professor Hussein Solomon

topBanner_isl_mus_afr

Tehran in Africa: Reflections on Iran-Moroccan Relations

By Hussein Solomon

Volume 6 (2018), Number 16 (October 2018)

Relations between Rabat and Tehran this past decade could be characterized as `on-again’ and `off-again’. In 2009, Morocco cut-off ties with Iran on the basis of its attempt to sow internal tensions in the north African kingdom. Iran’s cultural attaché used his diplomatic cover to distribute books promoting Shia Islam as well as granting up to 120 scholarships per annum to Moroccan students to study in the Iranian religious city of Qom and to propagate this form of Islam in predominantly Sunni Morocco. A similar development was occurring in neighbouring Algeria where Iranian “diplomats” were engaged in aggressive proselytization and offering scholarships to Algerian youth. Consequently, the number of Shia in Algeria increased from 3,000 in 2013 to 100,000 by the end of 2017. This caused great disquiet inside Algeria’s Ministry of Religious Affairs. To be clear, this is not merely a theological issue but one of great strategic importance. Iranian proselytization, according to Abdurrahman Saidi, an Algerian Member of Parliament, seems to be linked to Tehran’s attempt to create a regional Shia movement called the Maghreb Party.  Thus, developments inside Morocco cannot be separated from broader regional developments.

Diplomatic ties between Morocco and Iran remained severed between 2009 and 2016. Diplomatic ties were restored in December 2016 but this proved short-lived as Rabat once more cut-off its relations with Tehran on 1 May 2018. Once again, the reason for the cession of diplomatic contact was Iran’s attempt to destabilize Morocco. The attempt to destabilize Morocco took many forms. These included Tehran’s offer to protect Morocco’s Shia community from so-called religious discrimination as well as support for the Polisario front via Iran’s proxy – Lebanese Hezbollah. These linkages are well documented. As early as 2016 Hezbollah established a committee to support the “Sahrawi people”. Hezbollah officials then visited theTindouf camps in Algeria to begin providing this support. Members of Polisario then underwent military training by Hezbollah as well started receiving heavy weaponry. Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also assisted in this training of Polisario. Hezbollah, with its experience in tunneling, is also assisting Polisario to build a series of tunnels that would bypass the security wall Morocco had built. It should be noted that Hezbollah has a strong presence in West Africa and is now seeking to establish a presence in North Africa and is seeking to connect its West African and North African proxies as part of a broader regional strategy. This penetration of Iranian and Hezbollah influence is also taking place at a time when the Trump Administration has taken its eye off the ball on the African continent.

The difference between Morocco severing diplomatic ties in 2018 from its 2009 experience, is that it has decided to go on the offensive against Iran regionally and internationally. The Arab Quartet Committee met and after receiving evidence from Rabat condemned Iran’s attempt to “arm and train elements to destabilize Morocco” as well as its attempt to “disrupt security and stability in the region”. Moreover, Gulf countries – including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar endorsed Morocco’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Tehran. Even Polisario-friendly Algeria was compelled to take action following evidence provided by Rabat regarding the activities of the Iranian embassy’s Cultural Attaché to Algeria, Amir Al-Moussawi, Al-Moussawi, it was alleged, was more powerful than the Iranian ambassador, having direct connections to Ayatollah Khamenei’s strategic advisors. Al-Moussawi subsequently announced his departure from Algiers in a Facebook post. Rabat has also gone on the offensive internationally – specifically lobbying the US to take stronger action against Tehran. The fruits of this strategy became evident in October 2018 with a US House Resolution that criticizes Iran for meddling in North Africa.

It should be noted that Iran and Hezbollah’s malevolent activities in North Africa also undermines the African Union’s (AU) attempts to stabilize this troubled region. Morocco has only recently rejoined the continental body and there are attempts to repair bilateral ties between regional foes Algeria and Morocco. Moreover, there are efforts to settle the thorny Western Sahara question through a plan granting greater autonomy to the region. Tehran’s involvement threatens all this.