Islamic State replaces Al-Qaeda as enemy number one in the Sahel
Article RadarTHIS ARTICLE CONNECT:
- Al-Qaeda Al-Qaeda is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin...[+]
- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
Brutal attacks that have killed nearly 300 people in less than two months have propelled the Islamic State to the status of the Sahel’s most-feared jihadist group, eclipsing al-Qaeda, experts say.
The vast fragile region on the southern rim of the Sahara has been battling an escalating insurgency by violent Islamists, beginning in Mali in 2012 and then spreading to Niger and Burkina Faso.
Until recently, groups under the banner of al-Qaeda were in the forefront of the bloodshed.
But their position has now been overtaken by an Islamic State (IS) affiliate, providing the group with an image of resurgence in West Africa after its decline in Syria and Iraq.
“The priority is the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS),” French President Emmanuel Macron declared on Monday at a summit gathering France and its five Sahel allies — Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The ISGS “has emerged as our main enemy, against whom we should focus our struggle,” Burkina President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said on Facebook.
“Everyone has probably underestimated the ISGS,” said Mahamoudou Savadogo, a Burkinabe researcher at a Senegal-based think tank, CERADD.
“There has been a major rise in (its) power.”
The ISGS leapt to world prominence after an ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo in Niger in 2017 that claimed the lives of four US special forces and four Nigerien troops.
Its leader is Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, whose nom de guerre derives from his birthplace in the Western Sahara.
His history of militancy dates back to fighting in the Polisario Front, which aims to end Moroccan control over the Western Sahara.
He became a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which then merged with a group led by one-eyed Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, forming Al-Mourabitoun.
He then broke with Belmokhtar to declare allegiance to IS, which the group recognised in 2016.
Savadogo said that from then until 2018, the ISGS prepared the groundwork, recruiting followers and raising funds — and putting down roots in a region where the borders of Burkina, Mali and Niger meet.
“In 2019, they were ready,” he said.
That time spent in training has led to the bloodiest attacks in the history of the insurgency in the Sahel, all of which have been carried out in a range of 200 kilometres (120 miles).
Source: France 24