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Time to Crack Down on the Ideological Drivers of Islamist Terrorism in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon

February 8, 2016


Time to Crack Down on the Ideological Drivers of Islamist Terrorism in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 4 (2016), Number 2 (February 2016)

In January 2016, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants attacked the Burkina Faso capital Ougadougou. In a coordinated attack reminiscent of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, gunmen attacked the luxury Splendid Hotel, a café and another nearby hotel. Given the large number of expatriates which frequent the Splendid Hotel, this was the focus of the terrorist attack. An agonizing siege of the hotel then followed and was finally broken following a joint operation by local and French security forces. Whilst four attackers died in the security operation, this was little consolation to the Burkina Faso government. 28 people were killed and a further 56 were injured[1].

As the attack took place, I was inundated by journalists seeking comment. Did the hotel take sufficient security precautions? How could cooperation between French and Burkinabe forces be improved? Should the United States African Command not have a bigger and more effective footprint in West Africa? Whilst responding to these questions from the media, I pointed out that the most important question they were not raising was how to respond to the ideological drivers resulting in radicalization amongst Muslims in Africa. Indeed, this was made clear three years ago when the European Parliament’s Directorate General for External Policies issued a report which identified Wahhabism and Salafism as the roots of global terrorism. The report also noted how various Arab charities were promoting these extremist Islamist interpretations of Islam, including in Africa[2].

Across the African continent, the Islamist ideological roots of the various terrorist organizations is self-evident. In 1978 Nigerian Alhaji Abubaker Gumi established the Islamist Society for the Eradication of Evil Innovation and the Establishment of the Sunna (commonly referred to as the Yan Izala) with Saudi funding. It was the ideological progenitor of today’s Boko Haram. Similarly, Saudi funding led to the creation of the al-Islah organization in Somalia. Its political goal was to establish a theocratic Islamic state not only within Somalia’s borders but also in Somali-inhabited territories of neighbouring states. This is hardly different from the goals of today’s Al Shabaab. The ideological allure of Saudi Wahhabism is also evident in West Africa where Muhammed Ibn al-Wahhab’s Kitab al Tawhid (The Book of the Oneness of God) has had such a profound impact on Islamists that they took inspiration from the title of this book to name themselves the Movement for the Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

Recognizing the dangers inherent in Wahhabism, Dr Abdul Shukor Husin, chairman of Malaysia’s National Fatwa[3] Council declared Wahhabism as “out of place” in Malaysia and called for each Malaysian state to restrict the teaching of the Wahhabis[4]. In similar vein, Jordan is considering banning the works of Ibn Taymiyyah, the 13th century Islamist ideologue given his radicalism which groups like Islamic State quote periodically[5]. Tunisia, meanwhile, tired of an Islamist insurgency and periodic terrorist attacks have opted to close down Salafist-run mosques and radio stations, thereby shutting down the incubators of extremism[6].

It is time for governments across the African continent to adopt similar measures to crack down on the ideological drivers of Islamist terrorism in order to save the lives of the innocent. This terrorist scourge must be stopped at the source.


[1] “Burkina Faso attack: Foreigners killed at luxury hotel,” BBC. 16 January 2016. Internet: Date accessed: 8 February 2016.

[2] Murtaza Haider, “European Parliament identifies Wahabi and Salafi roots of global terrorism,” Dawn. 22 July 2013. Internet: Date accessed: 8 February 2016.

[3] A fatwa is a religious decree.

[4] “Wahhabism out of place in Malaysia, says fatwa council chief,” Free Malaysia Today. 1 March 2015. Internet: Date accessed: 8 February 2015.

[5] “Jordan to ban Wahhabi godfather’s books,” The Centre Star. 10 June 2015. Internet: Date accessed: 8 February 2016.

[6] “Tunisia to close down Salafist-run mosques,” Al Jazeera. 20 July 2014. Internet: Date accessed: 8 February 2016.

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