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Terrorism in Africa: The Rise of Islamist Extremism and Jihadism

Africa is the springboard for al-Qaeda’s global terrorism in modern history. The U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya in August 1998 put al-Qaeda on the map and led to major counter-terrorism operations throughout parts of Africa. Bin Laden made a strategic decision to use Africa as a launching pad for al-Qaeda’s global network and appeal. The linkages of Jihadist terrorism in Africa trace back to the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Today, al-Qaeda and ISIS continue to use Africa as an important locale of operations. If improvements in human security, economies, politics, education, conflict resolution, and wealth distribution are not addressed, then the continent will continue to experience history repeating itself involving Jihadist terrorism in Africa.

Terrorism in Africa The Rise of Islamist Extremism and Jihadism
Then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright looks at the damage caused by the al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998. ALEXANDER JOE / AFP / Getty Images
 

Introduction1

Major developments in the Middle East, South Asia, and Cold War politics have led to al-Qaeda strategically using Africa as the springboard for its global “Jihadist”-based violence in the post-Cold War era.2 The U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya on August 7, 1998 put al-Qaeda on the map in the most sinister way. The attacks killed more than 250 people and injured hundreds. The bombings brought al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden into the center of the West’s radar. Most of the victims of the embassy bombings were African and Muslim civilians.

This paper presents the details of al-Qaeda and related violent Jihadist groups’ exploitation of African “safe havens” from which al-Qaeda has launched regional and global operations. Since the early 1990s until today, al-Qaeda and its ideological offspring, such as the ISIS, have come full circle from and to the continent of Africa. In addition, the definitions, terms, concepts, and ideologies pertaining to al-Qaeda, Jihadism, and violent Islamist extremism are explained. The thesis of this paper posits that, due to mostly conflict-related human and physical security deficiencies along with repressive governments in parts of Africa, which present violent extremist organizations (VEOs) with so-called soft targets, al-Qaeda and related groups have been able to operate from safe havens and launch their regional and global operations mostly with impunity. Therefore, good governance with simultaneous human security improvement is imperative. These factors presuppose that conflicts are resolved ensuring peace and justice for the long term.

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