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MOGADISHU, SOMALIA - 10 JUNE: People inspect damage at the Pearl Beach Hotel after Al-Shabaab terrorist group members attacked the site in Mogadishu, Somalia. The 10 June 2023 attack left nine people dead and injured 10 civilians. (Photo by Hodan Mohamed Abdullahi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Counterterrorism Experts Single Out West Africa as Global Terrorism Hotspot

Half of the world’s terrorism victims in 2022 were killed in sub-Saharan Africa, according to counterterrorism experts at a United Nations panel discussion early this week.

Even though al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates remain active in different regions, “Africa has emerged as the key battleground for terrorism, with a major increase in the number of active groups operating on the continent,” said UN Assistant Secretary-General Mohamed Khaled Khiari.

The growth of terrorism in Africa was highlighted earlier this month when Islamist extremists killed six civilians and three security forces personnel at a hotel in Somalia; security forces had to rescue more than 80 guests after a six-hour siege, the BBC reported. The hotel was popular with government officials, and these types of locations are frequently targeted by al-Shabaab insurgents.

This is not the first time the UN has warned about the emerging terrorism battlefield in Africa—particularly in the Sahel region, where recent instability has enabled Islamic State (IS) factions to try to position themselves as political actors, the Associated Press reported. IS in the greater Sahara is taking advantage of a lack of counterterrorism operations, especially in the tri-border area around Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. In November 2022, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo warned that the Sahel is at risk from rampant militant terrorism, which could spread more broadly. In Mozambique, an Islamic insurgency has carried on since October 2017, displacing 900,000 people and resulting in 3,000 deaths.

West African regions, particularly the Maghreb and the Sahel, “are becoming the epicenter of the Islamist terrorist threat, with the armed terrorist groups expanding their influence, and we see the danger of ISIS being reincarnated as an African caliphate,” said Col. Gen. Igor Sirotkin, deputy director of Russia’s Federal Security Service and head of its National Anti-Terrorism Committee, in the meeting.

The security clashes in the region are exacerbating a dire humanitarian situation. According to a UN report, 4.7 million people in Burkina Faso will need humanitarian assistance this year—up from 3.5 million in 2022. In Mali, 8.8 million people will need help. If left unchecked, humanitarian crises such as droughts, food shortages, and economic collapse can lead to mass migration or extremist activity.

“Decisive progress in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism, and organized crime in the Sahel must be made desperately,” said Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa. “Without significant gains, it will become increasingly difficult to reverse the security trajectory in the Sahel and the continued expansion of insecurity to coastal countries in West Africa.”