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Illustration by Security Management

UN Report Finds Africa Hardest Hit by Terrorism in 2021

While Iraq and Syria remain the core conflict zone, factions of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al Qaeda extremism groups have been inflicting high casualties and spreading their influence in Africa during the first half of 2021, particularly in parts of west and east Africa, according to a July report from the United Nations Security Council.

“One of the most troubling events of early 2021 was the deterioration of the security situation in Cabo Delgado Province in northern Mozambique, where the local ISIL affiliate stormed and briefly held a strategic port near the border with the United Republic of Tanzania before withdrawing with spoils, positioning it for future raids in the area,” the report said.

The attack on the town of Palma in late March 2021 forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee as Islamic State-linked militants overran the town, killing dozens of civilians and trapping hundreds of foreign workers and contractors. A liquefied natural gas project led by French energy group Total was halted at a nearby site because of the violence. Cabo Delgado is a valuable area for IS-linked groups, including the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP), the report said, because it is an easy arena for groups to use to transfer personnel, host trafficking activities, and ferry drugs into Africa from Asia.

“The autonomy of ISCAP, the large number of small operational cells, and the absence of significant counter-terrorist measures have effectively turned the group into a major threat with the potential to develop further,” the report said. A focused propaganda campaign from the ISIL core supports the franchise group’s development.

Across Africa, new recruits are lured in with the promise of loans, employment, or community, and the terrorist groups have the revenue streams to support their recruitment efforts.

The UN report noted that terrorist affiliates have grown their fundraising and weapons capabilities in Africa, including drone use for aerial reconnaissance. Some UN member-states reported that terrorist groups are using cattle-rustling revenues to fund activities, and in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Togo, terrorists are motivated by access to gold-mining resources. In central and southern Africa, ISCAP collected between $1 million and $2 million by looting local banks, as well as raiding administrative buildings to steal identity cards, driver’s licenses, and passports.

The UN noted that ISIL and other terrorist groups continue to engage in illegal excavations, looting, and thefts from archaeological sites or museums in conflict zones. “The gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on international travel is expected to increase the flow of artefacts illegally removed from Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic,” among other conflict areas, the report said.

In addition, kidnapping for ransom remains a primary source of funding, and expatriate workers have been targeted in recent months, the UN found. Mass kidnappings in northwestern Nigeria were confirmed as criminal for-profit activities.

“…Criminals and terrorists may have opportunistic links,” the UN report said. For example, when crime groups open corridors through multiple countries, terrorists can leverage those inroads to establish safe havens.