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“African Solutions for African Problems” and Sahel-West African Terrorism – Professor Hussein Solomon


“African Solutions for African Problems” and Sahel-West African Terrorism

by Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 17 (September 2017)

In an ideal world, the protection of civilians lay with their governments and not with foreign actors. In an ideal world, too, classical notions that the state has the monopoly over coercive force within its territorial boundaries will also hold sway. We do not however live in an ideal world. On the 13th August 2017 a restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso was attacked by Islamist terrorists. 18 people were killed and 20 injured. The very next day in Mali an attack on the UN mission there killed seven. In recent years the Sahel and West African region has played host to a number of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Murabitoun, and Ansarul Islam. States in the region have been unable to halt the bloodshed or the proliferation of these militant Islamist groupings.

In a globalizing world, insecurity anywhere threatens security everywhere. Understanding the importance of putting a stop to the Islamist cancer in the region, the US got involved in 2005 with the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI). There is also a recognition on the part of the states in the region that they cannot individually respond to the transnational threat posed. Consequently Mali and Burkina Faso have joined forces with other Sahel countries–Chad, Mauritania and Niger -to form the G-5 Sahel grouping which is a 5,000-strong joint force which is to be fully operational in September 2017. The European Union plans to provide 50 million euros assistance to these troops whilst Germany and France has agreed to provide training and infrastructure to the G-5 Sahel force. This assistance on the part of Berlin and Paris also includes the supply of weapons, ammunition and military vehicles. Burkina Faso has already accepted Germany’s offer to train its soldiers and approximately 1000 German troops are already in Mali. French forces, of course, have been in Mali for some time, whilst an even larger deployment of French troops is in the Central African Republic.

There are some critics who have decried this Western involvement in the region stressing “African solutions for African problems” – that one should work through the African Union and its constituent Regional Economic Communities (RECS).In West Africa such a REC is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Whilst this is indeed a noble position, African solutions are patently not working. The African Union’s proposed African Standby Force (ASF) has not gotten off the drawing board and ECOWAS’ security arm is dysfunctional. A brief review of recent history will suffice to underline the point.

The moribund nature of the RECs became all too apparent in 2012 when Islamists captured northern Mali. The UN Security Council passed a resolution – UNSC Resolution 2071 – on 12 October 2012 calling on ECOWAS to prepare an international intervention force and giving them 45 days to lay out detailed plans[1]. On 7 November 2012, West African army chiefs adopted a plan to expel Islamists from northern Mali. The plan was that 3,000 West African troops would target the main population centres in northern Mali. Nigerian soldiers were to make up the bulk of the force while Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger contributed 500 troops each[2]. This military blueprint was subsequently passed by the ECOWAS regional heads of state. On 26 November 2012, this blueprint was formally presented to, and adopted by the UN Security Council[3]. France, meanwhile, undertook to provide `logistical aid’ to the ECOWAS force and began training the Malian armed forces with a view to retaking the north[4].

While cumbersome  diplomatic processes for authorisations and other necessities were taking place, the Islamists of Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) moved rapidly southwards from their northern strongholds to capture the town of Konna – only a few hundred kilometres north of the capital, Bamako. Worse was the fact that Islamists, having consolidated their position in Konna, began their advance on Mopti, the last major town before reaching the capital. Clearly processes need to be streamlined for sub-regional, regional and international responses to deal with jihadists threats sooner rather than later. Commenting on this issue, Bill Roggio noted that “…any delay in taking action in northern Mali has given the jihadists an opportunity to indoctrinate, train, and organize recruits from West African nations, and then send them home to establish networks there[5].

On realising that if Mopti fell Bamako would be next, former French President Francois Hollande decided to act by launching Operation Serval in January 2013. This began with aerial strikes of the Islamists’ positions in Konna by French helicopter gunships and mirage jets of the French 4th Helicopter Combat Regiment of Pau, which were based in Burkina Faso[6]. Meanwhile, French soldiers based in neighbouring Chad and the Ivory Coast moved rapidly to protect Mopti while dislodging the Islamists from Konna and, eventually, Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu[7].

The pace of events clearly wrong-footed ECOWAS and the 15-member West African bloc had to scramble to send in a force to join the French. Eventually, with other countries like Benin pledging 300 soldiers, the ECOWAS force reached 4,000 and was deployed in northern Mali[8]. As ECOWAS did not have a proper airlift capability, the British sent two military transport aircraft to transport the ECOWAS troops and equipment into Mali[9]. If anything proves that the AU’s much vaunted Peace and Security Architecture, based on the RECs, is little more than a paper tiger, it is this Malian debacle.

Critics of Western involvement in the region, need to ask themselves who speaks for the victims of terrorism? If AU structures – continental and regional – are unable to stop the carnage, surely we need to look at alternative avenues to protect the innocent?


[1]‘Malians Protest Foreign Intervention Plans’, News24, 18 October 2012, Date accessed: 29 August 2017.

[2]Juan Cole, ‘France, ECOWAS Intervene in Mali to Halt Advance of Radical Fundamentalists’, Informed Comment, 13 January 2013, Date accessed: 20 August 2017.

[3]Serge Daniel, ‘Mali Military Intervention Strategy Adopted,’ Middle East Online, 7 November 2012, Date accessed: 21 August 2017.

[4]`Mali Crisis: France to Give “Logistical Aid”, News24, 16 October 2012, Date accessed: 24 August 2017.

[5] Bill Roggio, `US, UN Add Ansar Dine to List of Terror Groups,’ The Long War Journal, 21 March 2013,, Date accessed: 25 August 2017.

[6]Cole, `France, ECOWAS Intervene in Malito Halt Advance of Radical Fundamentalists’.

[7]`Africa, French Forces Target Ansar Al-Din’, Maghrebia, 13 January 2013,, Date accessed: 28 August 2017.



The Challenges Confronting AMISOM – Professor Hussein Solomon


The Challenges Confronting AMISOM

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 16 (August 2017)

August has not proven to be a good month for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al Shabaab militants ambushed a convoy in the Bulamareer district in the Lower Shabelle region, about 140 kilometres southwest of the capital Mogadishu. 39 AMISOM soldiers were killed, including their commander as well as scores more injured.

This incident in August, however, is not something new – it is a deadly trend which began intensifying from January 2016 when Al Shabaab embarked on a dawn raid on the El Adde camp, near the Kenyan border. In this raid more than 100 Kenyan soldiers, who are part of AMISOM, were killed. In another attack near the central town of Halgan, Al Shabaab rammed a suicide car bomb into an AMISOM military base, then stormed inside and proceeded to kill 43 Ethiopian soldiers. Djibouti troops stationed at a nearby base, attempted to stage a counter-attack but were repelled by Al Shabaab fighters. This proved the sophistication and growing confidence of Al Shabaab’s asymmetric warfare.

These attacks are also growing more brazen – striking at the heart of the Somali Federal Government’s power – the presidential palace. A car bomb driven by an Al Shabaab suicide bomber was detonated outside the president’s palace, killing five Somali soldiers and partially destroying two neighbouring hotels. But it is not only the south, southwest and capital being targeted. One of the interesting facets of recent Al Shabaab attacks is their broad geographic scope as well as the ingenuity of the Al Shabaab fighters. The attack on Goofgaduud, 250 kilometres north of Mogadishu was quickly followed by an attack on the northwestern town of Baidoa. The militants detonated a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) to attack a truck carrying weapons and ammunition to the Somali military base at Baidoa – killing 11 soldiers in the process. They then proceeded to make use of the captured weapons to attack Baidoa’s military base, killing five more soldiers in the process. The attack on the truck carrying munitions also suggests that Al Shabaab may have informants inside the Somali security services.

There is a serious need for AMISOM commanders to go back to the drawing board and re-assess their deployment strategies, their perimeter defences, the quality of their intelligence collation and analysis. More broadly given the nature of the African security landscape and the threats confronting African governments and peacekeepers, African militaries need to embrace highly mobile 600 troop battalions as opposed to bigger brigades of 3,000 troops or a corps of 10,000 troops. There also needs to be an urgent discussion on the number of troops deployed. AMISOM was created in January 2007 with 3,500 troops. Its troop strength is currently 22,000. To put matters into perspective, between 1992 and 1993, the United Nations Operation Restore Hope in Somalia numbered 30,000 US and other troops and was infinitely better resourced than the current AMISOM forces. Despite, this, Operation Restore Hope was a dismal failure, unable to halt the spiralling violence following the ousting of strongman Siad Barre. So if 30,000 US and other troops with a budget three times the one allocated for AMISOM could not quell the violence following Siad Barre’s ousting, how could 22,000 under-resourced AMISOM forces be able to crush Al Shabaab?

The Somali Federal Government’s security forces meanwhile consist of 12,000 army personnel and 5,000 police officers. To put matters into perspective – at the height of his power – Siad Barre’s security services were in excess of 100,000 members. Of course, numbers alone do not quell insurgencies; it is also the quality of the troops and the overarching strategic framework in which they are deployed. On the latter point, it needs to be acknowledged that the interface between the different national contingents within AMISOM has not been good, neither has the interface between AMISOM and the Somali National Army been very effective. In a nutshell, command and control has been a problem whilst Al Shabaab’s unified command has clearly given it dividends on the battle space that is Somalia.

Under the circumstances, should the international community not think of a strategy of containment with regards to the Somali imbroglio?

North Africa in the Japanese Media: Coverage of the Arab Spring in the Asahi Shimbun – Virgil Hawkins and Miho Takenaka


North Africa in the Japanese Media: Coverage of the Arab Spring in the Asahi Shimbun

By Virgil Hawkins and Miho Takenaka

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 15 (July 2017)

The news media in Japan has a tendency to be highly insular (generally low levels of coverage of the outside world) and lopsided in the what little coverage there is. Coverage of Africa is indicative of this state of affairs, with the continent accounting for just 3.4% of world news coverage in Japan’s top three newspapers (Asahi, Mainichi and Yomiuri) in 2015. But Africa is not ignored all the time, and the so-called Arab Spring, beginning in Tunisia in late 2010, is one series of events of which the media in Japan did take notice, at least for a while. But how did this coverage play out? Which countries attracted media attention, and when? Using one of the top three national daily newspapers in Japan, Asahi Shimbun, this article attempts to answer this question, using data collected by Global News View (GNV)(LINK TO:

The graph below shows the total quantity of coverage from 2010 to 2016 (measured by a count of the number characters) in the Asahi Shimbun of seven North African countries, aligned according to the quantity: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Mauritania. It includes not only coverage related to the Arab Spring, although it is fair to say that content related to the Arab Spring and its aftermath largely dominated the coverage.

Egypt was easily the most-covered country, with almost double the level of coverage of the second-placed Libya. On the other end of the scale, the three least covered countries: Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, remained virtually invisible in the newspaper. Western Sahara, for example, was the subject of just three articles, and Mauritania just one short article, over the entire seven-year period examined. And while readers may be tempted to assume that Japan has no political or economic interests in this part of the world, it is worth noting that more than 70 percent of Japan’s octopus imports (along with a significant amount of several other popular varieties of seafood) come from Morocco (including the waters off the coast of occupied Western Sahara) and Mauritania.

Breaking down the levels of coverage by year (from 2010 to 2016) gives us further clues into media interest in the region. The graph below shows coverage by year for the region, excluding Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania given the almost complete lack of coverage.

On the whole, the massive rise in coverage from 2010 to 2011, and the slow fadeout of coverage almost reaching 2010 levels by 2016 shows the power of the Arab Spring in generating media interest.

At a country level, coverage of Egypt remained consistently high (relatively speaking) between 2011 and 2013. The overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the establishment of a new government under President Mohamed Morsi, and his subsequent overthrow in 2013 kept Egypt either in or not far from, the media spotlight during this period. While the powerful economic and strategic position of Egypt in the region, as well as its attraction as a tourist destination can help to explain the Japanese media interest, it is also worth pointing out that the Asahi Shimbun maintains only two bureaus on the African continent – one in Cairo and the other in Johannesburg.

Coverage of Libya over the seven years observed, on the other hand, was concentrated almost entirely in just one year – 2011. The uprisings culminating in the fall of Muammar Gaddafi dominated coverage, and the fact that his fall took place over a much longer (and more violent) period of time than Mubarak, and involved military intervention by NATO, meant more coverage was allocated for Libya than was for Egypt for that year. But regardless of how tumultuous the years that followed in Libya were, the fall of Gaddafi appeared to signal the end of media interest, and coverage disappeared almost entirely from the Asahi Shimbun from 2012 onwards.

The levels of coverage of Tunisia were far lower than those for either Egypt or Libya. The Japanese press was slow in recognizing the significance of the events unfolding in Tunisia in late 2010, and the revolution was over before substantive amounts of coverage were devoted to it. Media interest in the country largely disappeared in the years that followed, with the exception of 2015. The prime source of the brief resurgence in media interest was the Bardo National Museum attack, in which three Japanese tourists were among those killed. The winning of the Nobel Peace Prize by the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was a secondary source of interest for the same year.

Algeria was another example in which media coverage (while at very low levels overall) was heavily concentrated around a single event. While the government in Algeria did not fall during the Arab Spring, it was certainly impacted, but this was not the source of media interest in Algeria, nor were any other political developments. As much as 97 percent of coverage of Algeria in the Asahi Shimbun in the seven years examined was devoted to a single event – the Amenas hostage crisis, in which ten Japanese nationals were among the dead at the gas plant attack in 2013.

The results of this examination of coverage of North Africa by the Asahi Shimbun reveal very limited and lopsided patterns of coverage. Egypt was the only country in which moderate levels of coverage were sustained for some time following the Arab Spring, with the other countries only attracting interest at their most tumultuous periods, or when the lives of Japanese citizens were directly impacted in those countries. Given the overall limited quantity of news and the imbalances therein, one can conclude that even avid consumers of Japanese news media will be left with little access to information, and therefore limited understanding, of the region and the issues it faces.

(This article is an adaptation of an article (LINK: by Miho Takenaka published in Japanese on the Global News View (GNV) website).


Another Gaddafi for Libya? – Professor Hussein Solomon

Another Gaddafi for Libya?

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 14 (July 2017)

The recent release of former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif-al Islam from prison in Zintan has raised speculation that he may preparing for a political comeback of sorts in this strife-torn country. The younger Gaddafi was captured on the 19th November 2011 and held as a prisoner by the Abu Bakr al-Siddique Brigade in their stronghold of Zintan. The battalion’s commander, Ajmi al-Atiri announced Saif-al Gaddafi’s release as part of an amnesty law passed by the parliament. It should however be borne in mind that the parliament Al-Atiri refers to sits in the eastern part of the country and is not recognized in Tripoli. Indeed, in July 2015 a Tripoli court sentenced in abstentia Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to death for the role he played in suppressing protests against his father’s rule in 2011. Tripoli’s Prosecutor-General made clear that the enactment of the amnesty by the parliament sitting in the east of the country has no bearing to his court and that the death sentence for Gaddafi junior still holds.

The real reason for Gaddafi’s release however has less to do with legal processes and more to do with the fractious politics that has characterized Libya currently. The Abu Bakr al-Siddique Brigade is known to be allied to renegade General Khalifa Haftar’s forces and some believe that the general intends to boost his campaign for military supremacy and legitimacy in the country by allying with Saif-al Islam Gaddafi.

Those who support a political role for Gaddafi point out that other former Muammer Gaddafi-era politicians have occupied position of power in the new Libya and that the younger Gaddafi was known as a reformist during his father’s rule and was known for his negotiation skills. After all, it was the younger Gaddafi who talked his father out of his nuclear ambitions. It was Saif al-Islam Gaddafi who compensated the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and restored cordial ties with the West. Saif-al Islam’s lawyer stresses that his client’s negotiation skills could greatly assist national reconciliation efforts in Libya. These supporters of Gaddafi also point out that Libyans are tired of the wanton death and destruction that has plagued Libya post-2011 and are beginning to look at his father’s draconian rule as a time of peace and stability. Whilst this may be true, it is also true that the wounds inflicted on the Libyan people by Muammar Gaddafi’s repressive regime has run deep. This was reflected in an attempted assassination on Saif-al Islam Gaddafi in May 2017 whilst in prison in Zintan.

It is interesting to note that Western nations who played such a key role in the ousting of his father, have been muted in their reaction to the son’s release. Some have speculated that the Western-trained Saif-al Islam Gaddafi’s political ambitions might well be encouraged by Western powers as they seek stability in Libya. Consider two factors: migration and terrorism. Europe is awash with migrants using the ungoverned spaces of Libya as a springboard to cross the Mediterranean and into Europe. According to the Italian Interior Ministry, 90 percent of all illegal migrants entering Italy emanate from Libya. The number of migrants from Libya to Italy jumped to 176,554 in 2016. This was eight times higher than the 2013 figure. On the issue of terrorism, the local Islamic State franchise remains centred on Sirte, the birthplace of the Muammar Gaddafi and where many of his most loyal supporters remain. If Saif al-Islam can bring about a functioning national government – one which can control its borders – it will certainly be welcomed by Europe. In addition, if he also convinces those in Sirte to switch their allegiance from Islamic State to a new national government, this too will be welcomed by the West.

Such an embrace of Saif-al Islam Gaddafi by the West will however be complicated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant out for Saif al-Islam’s arrest!


France’s Macron returns to Mali to boost regional anti-terrorism force – France 24

France’s Macron returns to Mali to boost regional anti-terrorism force – France 24


French President Emmanuel Macron attends a security summit in Mali on Sunday to boost support for the creation of a regional counter-terror force. But while he may be hoping for an exit strategy for French troops, that prospect still seems far off.

This will be Macron’s second trip to Mali, where France has been militarily engaged since 2013, since he took office barely two months ago: His initial visit, made during the first week of his presidency, was an important symbol as it was his first visit outside of Europe as France’s president.

This weekend, Macron will return to Mali to attend a summit hosted by Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta with leaders from neighbouring countries Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania – a group known as the G5 Sahel. They will be talking about a joint force that could equal the deployment of about 5,000 regional troops into the vast, arid Sahel region that remains a breeding ground for human traffickers as well as arms and drugs smugglers.

“This force is first going to secure the borders, particularly in the areas where terrorist groups have developed,” French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian said in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde.

He further stated that accompanying the new G5 military force would be a priority for Operation Barkhane, France’s ongoing anti-jihad mission for the Sahel region, which is based in Chad.

Macron is clearly throwing his weight behind the project – which he may see as part of a (very) gradual exit for French troops.

“We think that we should call on (the G5 states) in this mission, because security for Africans will ultimately only come from Africans themselves,” Le Drian underlined while in Nouakchott, Mauritania, last month.

That said, the G5-Sahel force isn’t even operational and there are already questions about its success. So, in short, it doesn’t look like France will be pulling out of Mali anytime soon.

Security forces traffic jam

To understand the context, here’s a quick military history. France’s active military engagement in Mali dates back to the January 2013 military intervention (at the Malian government’s request) to oust a motley mix of jihadist groups who seized control of northern Mali. That same month, the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, also deployed forces as part of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA, or in French, MISMA).

In July 2013, the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, was launched, absorbing and replacing AFISMA. Are you still following?

In July 2014, Operation Serval was replaced by Operation Barkhane, a French force based in the Chadian capital to fight Islamist extremists across the entire Sahel region, which includes Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.

In short, there are a lot of different forces wearing a lot of different hats running around Mali. Now, we also have G5 Sahel to add to the mix.

In an open letter to the UN Security Council, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, raised questions about the co-existence of multiple security missions under multiple commands.

“Already, the juxtaposition of MINUSMA, the French Barkhane counter-terrorism operation, Malian security forces, the various armed groups – the peace agreement’s signatories and others – makes for a busy security picture,” Guéhenno wrote in his open letter. “The benefits of introducing yet another force, which is envisioned to be formed by the G-5 (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) and/or the smaller G-3 comprising Burkinabe, Nigerien and Malian forces, are unclear. So too is the role either force would play; as a result, their deployment risks aggravating what amounts to a security traffic jam.”

Still dangerous

To make the security situation even messier, there are still multiple armed groups running around Mali, some of them linked to al Qaeda and Boko Haram. Despite the 10,000 UN peacekeepers and the 4,000-strong French regional Barkhane contingent on the ground, security in Mali remains precarious.

Huge swaths of the area remain beyond the control of Malian, French and US forces and, despite a peace deal signed between Tuareg rebels and the Malian government in Algiers in June 2015, deadly attacks continue.

Indeed, MINUSMA is the UN’s deadliest ongoing peace operation. In the past four years, 118 peacekeepers have been killed as extremists target their convoys with improvised explosive devices and 1,000-pound car bombs.

“Armed groups are more numerous, they clash more frequently with Malian and international forces, and violence has spread to central Mali,” wrote Guéhenno in his open letter to the UN Security Council.

Worryingly, the new G-5 force may actually undermine the struggling MINUSMA as there is some speculation that Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger may simply re-hat some or all of their 4,100 soldiers now serving in the UN mission to make up the regional force.

In an interview with French media on Sunday, Chadian President Idriss Deby, whose troops are considered the most battle-hardened in the region, seemed to say as much.

“We have reached our limit,” Deby said. “Even if we had financing, Chad would be either in the G5 or MINUSMA. Choices will have to be made.”

Chad isn’t the only country complaining about being short on resources. The United States, the leading financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, objected to the original French-drafted Security Council resolution that would create the G-5 force because it was deemed too costly (the total bill for the force is estimated at €400 million). The EU has already agreed to give €50 million to the new anti-jihad force, though the revised resolution (post-US objections) states that the five countries involved will have the responsibility of finding adequate resources.

Is military the only answer?

But for Hussein Solomon – a senior professor in the department of political studies at the University of the Free State in South Africa and an expert in terrorism across the African continent – the response is flawed for another reason.

“Yes, we need a military response – but dealing with a counter-terrorist threat with only military means is a problem,” Solomon told FRANCE 24. “There are grievances that are driving the conflict that have to be addressed.”

For Solomon, the forces hoping to quell violence in Mali need to recognise that there is a long history of struggle for independence. “The Tuaregs in the north of Mali have been fighting for a homeland for the past 500 years,” he said. Yet he also says that desertification is now playing a prominent role in fueling the grievances that drive people to terrorism.

In his open letter to the UN Security Council, Guéhenno also suggested reorienting to focus more on addressing these deep-rooted, festering issues.

“The UN Security Council should reorient MINUSMA, whose mandate it will renew in June … particularly by strengthening its political and civil affairs components and giving the mission a greater role in local reconciliation,” he wrote. “The ensuing challenge for the state is to foster ‘nomadic public services’ across the immense and sparsely populated territory – a long-term project, although one for which the government could start laying foundations.”

In May, Macron pledged to ensure that unfulfilled development promises from both France and the wider international community would materialise. Solomon hopes that he’ll keep his word.

“I would hope to see the G5 working closely with the EU so the development goals of the EU involvement in Mali can be integrated with what the G5 forces are doing,” he said. “Otherwise, the structural grievances behind the rebellion will still exist.”



As Africa Faces More Terrorism, Experts Point to Saudi-spread of Fundamentalist Islam – Voice of America

As Africa Faces More Terrorism, Experts Point to Saudi-spread of Fundamentalist Islam

By Salem Solomon

June 20, 2017

On June 5, Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of funding extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State.

In response, Qatar said it was the victim of a policy of “domination and control” by its larger neighbor and that Saudi Arabia was, in fact, the one responsible for backing extremism.

FILE - A view shows Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque in Doha, Qatar, June 9, 2017.

FILE – A view shows Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque in Doha, Qatar, June 9, 2017.

So what is the truth? Fundamentalist strains of Islam, including Saudi-born Salafism and Wahhabism, form the ideological bedrock for most terror groups. According to a study by Leif Wenar of King’s College London based on the Global Terrorism Database, three out of four terror attacks in the last 10 years have been conducted by people espousing Salafist ideology.

Wenar said Saudi Arabia is the chief exporter of Salafism around the world, spending tens of billions of dollars to build mosques, fund madrassas, finance preachers and offer scholarships to students to study the rigid form of Islam.

FILE - Muslim boys rest their heads on their desks during a language class at Al-Haramain madrassa at the Islamic Complex in Cameroon's capital Yaounde.

FILE – Muslim boys rest their heads on their desks during a language class at Al-Haramain madrassa at the Islamic Complex in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde.

The effort is possibly the most expensive ideological campaign in human history, Wenar told VOA.

“Saudi Arabia is not the only factor, of course, in the spread of violent extremism. But for 50 years Saudi Arabia has been funding schools and mosques and radical preachers worldwide who have set down their particular narrow and puritanical version of Islam, which has in many places mutated into the violent extremism we see today,” Wenar said.

FILE - Muslim pilgrims make their way at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016.

FILE – Muslim pilgrims make their way at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016.

Saudi Arabia said it has changed, stating publicly that it wants to take a hardline stance against radical Islam. In May, it welcomed 50 world leaders to Riyadh to commemorate the opening of a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. It said it has also increased oversight of charitable organizations that may be linked to terrorism.

Ali Shihabi, executive director at the Arabia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, said that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, Saudi Arabia has become a world leader in fighting terror.

“It is extremely, actively involved in police and security measures in the region against terrorism, and it is using its religious establishment now to fight terrorism,” he said. “It is turning this whole infrastructure that it has, this whole religious, what some people even call Wahabi, infrastructure, into a tool to fight terrorism.”

FILE - A Muslim holds Prayer beads outside a mosque in the town of Koui, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.

FILE – A Muslim holds Prayer beads outside a mosque in the town of Koui, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.

Shihabi draws a line between the “quiet Salafism” spread by Saudi religious organizations that teach respect for authority and rejects violence and the “revolutionary Salafism” that promotes attacks on authorities and non-believers.

“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,” Shihabi said.

Exporting religion to Africa

The impact of Saudi Arabia’s support of conservative Islam is felt across the African continent. Hussein Solomon of the University of the Free State in South Africa has studied the phenomenon and said Africa’s traditional Sufi form of Islam has been steadily pushed out of some countries in favor of Salafism.

This has given an ideological backing to terror groups who reject Sufi mysticism and forbid things like secular music, Western-style clothing and women speaking to unrelated men.

In some countries, such as Mali, Salafists have conducted attacks against non-Muslims or Muslims they consider to be heretics.

FILE - Soldiers attend to wounded and casualties in the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack who ripped through a camp grouping former rebels and pro-government militia in troubled northern Mali left 40 people dead on Jan. 18, 2017 in Gao.

FILE – Soldiers attend to wounded and casualties in the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack who ripped through a camp grouping former rebels and pro-government militia in troubled northern Mali left 40 people dead on Jan. 18, 2017 in Gao.

“We are seeing a tremendous escalation of terrorist attacks,” Solomon told VOA. “We actually are seeing three terrorist attacks per day on the African continent, and [they] are linked directly to Wahabi ideology.”

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates offer scholarships to young Africans to attend religious schools in the Gulf states. According to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the number of East African students enrolled in Gulf state universities has grown from several hundred in 2010 to nearly 10,000 in 2014.

Solomon said he has interviewed parents whose children have returned home from these schools with radically changed, hardline views.

One Malian boy came home and denounced his father for listening to music and smoking cigarettes, and his mother and sisters for not wearing a full hijab. “It caused tremendous ruptures just inside the family,” Solomon said.

Saudi Arabia has also built hundreds of mosques around the continent. Solomon said the divisive form of Islam taught in these mosques has caused tension between Muslims and Christians in areas where they live side-by-side.

“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, and, of course, this is an ill-effect to a continent like Africa which is multi-ethnic, multi-racial and certainly multi-religious,” he said.

Wenar said he has also reviewed textbooks published in Saudi Arabia that compared Christians and Jews to animals and taught children that they are prohibited from befriending infidels.

“This really is quite an archaic and extreme ideology that the Saudis have been sending, and it seems [that] to check it, we should make the world more aware of what’s going on,” he said.

Fighting extremism

Shihabi said the rise of Islamic extremism in some African countries is not a result of textbooks or what is preached at Saudi-funded mosques. Mainly, he believes, extremists twist religious doctrine to fit their own local, political purposes.

“And people realize that if you want to be a revolutionary today and you want to attract attention, you put on this Islamic cloak, and it gets you much more attention than if you just package yourself as a domestic player with no transnational reach,” he said.

In a recent New York Times story, William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar, accused Saudi Arabia of being “both the arsonists and the firefighters” when it comes to Islamic extremism.

Shihabi argues that is no longer the case. “Saudi Arabia may have been… an accidental arsonist in ways in the past if part of its ideology was misused, but now it has certainly become a very dedicated fireman, and it’s been doing that for the last fifteen years.”


This article is taken from the Voice of America Website.

The link to the source is:


Intelligence and its failures in preventing and combating terrorism – Dr. Anneli Botha


Intelligence and its failures in preventing and combating terrorism

By Anneli Botha

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 13(June 2017)

In the aftermath of every terrorist attack, from 9/11 to the recent attack targeting Muslims after leaving the Finsbury Park mosque after prayers to the recent attack in Mali, the public and policy makers demand explanations from the intelligence communities as to why these attacks were not prevented. Although every intelligence officer and larger agency is driven to prevent each and every attack, these agencies need to be correct every time. The unfortunate reality however is that the enemy (terrorists) need to be right only once in achieving their objectives. Since the public is not prevue to hear or even learn more of potential or foiled attacks – for a multitude of reasons – the impression is that these agencies failed to protect the public. Although I will later briefly discuss the reasons for intelligence failure, I’m starting addressing the impression that the majority of the public have no idea what needs to go into every operation to prevent an attack.

To start of this discussion intelligence comes in many forms, most notably: Imagery intelligence that refers to the study and analysis of photos, videos and satellite images; Signals intelligence that refers to the study and analysis of signal communications, particularly radios, phone intercepts; Measurement and signature intelligence that includes the study and analysis of unique signatures produced by objects on the ground (obtained through aerial reconnaissance); Human intelligence – possibly the most important source of information – that refers to the collection and analysis of information gathered by human sources, such as informants and agents; and Open-source intelligence that refers to the study and analysis of information available in literature, the press, or the Internet, etc. Each of these have a unique role and will be applied depending on the specific needs in forming a ‘picture’.

Although human intelligence is the most valuable, it is also the most difficult to attain, as a person already in the organization or cell needs to be recruited (turning against the rest of the cell or organization) or security agents need to infiltrate the cell or broader organization. To be even able to recruit or infiltrate a small decentralized cell consisting of family members or close friends (the preferred structure used to execute recent attacks) is an obvious challenge in itself. Leading to an associated obstacle, even if the particular person raised concern to decide when to arrest a suspect is not as straight forward as what is expected for the following reasons: Arresting a suspect without evidence or arresting a suspect too soon without identifying all actors involved in the plot will not count as a victory for the following two primary reasons: For investigators to show their hand too soon, the suspect will be able to determine what authorities know while being released. Secondly, those part of the plot who were not already identified will disappear (going underground) allowing them to either continue with the existing plot or plan another. Another challenge the public is seldom aware of is that gathering information and turning it into intelligence (through the intelligence cycle that includes analysis) is extremely expensive and time consuming. Although a person in a cell can be approached and ‘turned’ for many incentives with money as the most popular, building a relationship of trust between the handler and source or an agent infiltrating a cell or organization to be trusted and included in discussions takes time. It is also for this reason that intelligence operations cannot be turned ‘on’ or ‘off’ when needed.

To know where to look agencies conduct regular risk, vulnerability and threat assessments. This requires a positive relationship with the public, but also for the security agencies not to fall out of touch with realities on the ground. It is especially for this reason that security agencies (including intelligence agencies) need to be representative of the community, to enable it to understand its sub-culture, values and conduct. At the same time, it is critical that the right officer is recruited with objectivity being paramount.

Understanding why intelligence failures will always be a reality, despite everything done to prevent it, one needs to briefly stand still with the process information is transferred into intelligence. From planning, collection, processing, analysis and dissemination, intelligence failure can occur at each of these steps. While not being able to address every potential risk of failure, the following will only present the most prominent:

One of the reasons is a result of ignorance, or underestimating a potential threat which can also be described as the perception that ‘it will never happen to us’. This also occurs when intelligence personnel, despite being warned, disregard information that points to a threat. It also happens when intelligence agencies inform the political leadership of a state of a potential threat, and the latter refuse to act on this information. The second reason for intelligence failures is overconfidence as a result of above, but when intelligence personnel are convinced that they have sufficient information on a particular threat – and the resources to properly process this information are not being utilized. This also manifests in an attitude on behalf of intelligence officers that they know ‘everything’ and nobody can make them any wiser. It is therefore vital that intelligence agencies develop and encourage an institutional culture that always strives to know and learn more from all available sources. Manifested in the 9/11 report, the third reason for failure is as a result of a lack of communication within and between agencies. Rooted in the institution due to a lack of clear lines of reporting and sharing of information, the biggest reason is as a result of human nature in not trusting or ‘liking’ his or her counterpart, inter-personal resulting in inter-agency competition for better resources etc. Restrictions on the circulation of sensitive information can often result in information becoming entirely unavailable as a result of over classifying.

Furthermore, when a threat is underestimated it invariably leads to insufficient resources being made available to enable the gathering of information. It might also lead to analysts not concentrating on a particular threat on a full-time basis. For example, as a result of being overstretched by the threat presented by Islamist extremists and returning foreign fighters, British intelligence agencies did not focus on a home-grown right wing reactionary threat. As mentioned earlier, intelligence gathering and analysis cannot be done for limited periods. Policy makers are often the most responsible for this failure due to not making sufficient resources available or influencing intelligence agencies to rather concentrate on areas ‘they’ identified as a threat to their regime security. Consequently, intelligence agencies no longer serve the interests of the public, but rather the interests of a political party against legitimate political opposition parties. Recent developments in Crime Intelligence in South Africa points to this concern.

The last reason to be referred to deals with a failure ‘to connect the dots’, particularly as a result of the situation described in the preceding point, occurs when those responsible for transforming information into intelligence do not have the ability, training or experience to do so. To put this differently, information comes from different sources and in bits and pieces over a period of time. Although computer software exists to assist analysts, this function cannot rely on a computer program.

To conclude, the saying ‘information is power’ is true, but then this valuable resource need to be utilized to identify those presenting a threat to the safety and stability of a country, but also beyond a country’s borders, track down suspects, and their operational and logistical networks, warn against potential acts of terrorism, without creating panic, manage an actual or potential crisis by providing information in time to decision makers, provide tactical information essential to carry out counter-terrorism operations and lastly to disrupt the operations of terrorists, including command and control, recruitment, etc.