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Analyst Says East Africa Fertile Ground for Terrorist Groups

  • Raymond Thibodeaux

British and Italian authorities say the four chief suspects in the July 21 attempted bombings in London come from the Horn of Africa, a region that counter-terrorism experts say is fertile ground for al-Qaida-linked terror groups.

Two of the four suspects in the July 21 attempted bombings in London came to Britain from Eritrea 15 years ago. A third suspect in British custody was born in Somalia, and the fourth suspect, who is being held in Italy, was born in Ethiopia.

Extreme poverty, lax security, porous borders, proliferation of weapons and the growing influence of Islamic extremists make the countries of East Africa and the Horn fertile recruiting ground for terrorists, says Matt Bryden, East Africa senior analyst for the Brussels-based research organization, International Crisis Group.

Mr. Bryden says terrorist networks are attracted to East Africa and the Horn countries because conditions in emerging democracies allow terrorists a level of freedom that enables them to move around undetected.

"It's because you do have developing states who have often got weak administrations and may, in some cases, be corrupt, and where it's quite easy to move freely," he said. "Also, given the fact that these countries are on the path to democratization - or a long way down that path - people enjoy freedoms [such as] the freedom to move and associate without a restrictive security presence."

East Africa has suffered three deadly al-Qaida-linked attacks since 1998, including the U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. A 2002 suicide bombing of a tourist resort in Mombasa, Kenya, coincided with a separate missile attack against an Israeli airliner. Fortunately, for the 271 passengers aboard that flight, the two shoulder-to-air missiles narrowly missed their target.

In 1993, members of the Somali terror group, al-Ittihad, took partial credit for downing two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in Mogadishu, an incident that led to the eventual pull-out of U.S. forces from Somalia.

Deputies of Osama bin Laden, who lived in nearby Sudan from 1991 to 1996, reportedly trained the al-Ittihad fighters.

A July report by the International Crisis Group identified Aden Hashi Ayro, an al-Qaida-linked Somali trained in Afghanistan, as the leader of a small, but ruthless terrorist network that appears to be growing in Mogadishu. The network has allegedly carried out a number of assassinations in Somalia.

To contain and fight terrorism, U.S. troops in Djibouti, part of the U.S. led war on terrorism, are bolstering the ability of many East African and Horn countries. U.S. troops are helping regional authorities gather and share intelligence, and tighten border security.

The effort seems to be working. It's one of the reasons Mr. Bryden sees cause for hope.

"What's probably most remarkable about a place like Somalia is that, after so many years of crisis and the widespread poverty and hardship for people there, combined with the efforts of various militant groups to recruit there over the years, what's most surprising is that jihadis have not made greater progress than they have so far, and that jihadism and terrorism remain very unpopular minority trends," said Mr. Bryden.

Meanwhile, Haroon Rashid Aswat, a British citizen suspected of helping to carry out the July 7 London suicide bombings that killed 52 people, was deported Sunday from Zambia in southern Africa to Britain. U.S. authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Aswat for allegedly seeking to set up an al-Qaida-style training camp in the western state of Oregon.

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