From Mozambique on the east coast to Nigeria in the West, terror groups ranging from Boko Haram and Al Shabab have entrenched themselves in the continent, focusing right now on establishing control over oil and other natural resources. But in the quest for resources, Sahel has now acquired prime importance. The Sahel region in West Africa comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger among others, is now rapidly becoming the safe haven for terror groups. A political vacuum is emerging in the region, which is in the grip of rising poverty, inequality and marginalization despite being home to several kinds of natural resources which include oil, gold and uranium.
The French military mission — Operation Barkhane—which came into the Sahel region in 2013 with the aim of keeping off the Islamic terror outfits and local militant groups that are linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) is also in the process of pulling out.
“This is creating a vacuum and terror groups thrive in an environment of flux. The rise in socio-political and economic challenges in the Sahel region have provided several terror groups to breed and eventually operate out of here,” BK Singh, former joint commissioner of Delhi Police, told India Narrative.
The per capita income levels are lower than in other parts of Africa. However, the problem will not remain within the African continent. These terror outfits will soon export their activities to the rest of the world.
“The Covid 19 pandemic and the lockdowns dented their activities but the world needs to be cautious,” Singh said, adding that economic hardships help terror outfits expand their operations as many young people readily join these groups.
Sample this. Though in 2021, the number of overall global terror attacks reduced dramatically, many areas in Sub Saharan Africa were not spared.
“The inability of several Sahelian governments to provide effective security has encouraged terrorist groups to continue their activities, making the Sahel increasingly more violent, with deaths rising ten times between 2007 and 2021,” Vision of Humanity, a research outfit, said.
According to records, deaths caused due to terror attacks have risen across the region other. Apart from Mauritania and Chad, “every country in the Sahel other than Mauritania and Chad recorded at least 40 deaths from terrorism in 2021.”
Total deaths recorded in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in 2021 were 732, 574 and 588, respectively, Vision of Humanity said.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has already said that the pandemic led to an increase in crimes, including fraud, cybercrime, misdirection or exploitation of government funds or international financial assistance, which is creating new sources of proceeds for illicit actors.
During the crisis, which started in 2020 and went on till last year, millions of new accounts were opened using digital onboarding. However, what is worrisome is that not every digital ID is reliable.
“Once the terror groups have a strong hub—wherever it maybe—they will become a threat to the whole world,” another official engaged with the security sector said.
Also read: Morocco dismantles IS cell as terror footprint expands in Africa
Africa could face a spate of terror attacks after Covid restrictions are removed: UN Security Council