News / Africa

East Africa Considered Testing Ground for Terror

Gabe Joselow

In the 10 years since September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, U.S.-led efforts to defeat al-Qaida have focused on South Asia and the Middle East.  But the international terror group has long had a foothold in East Africa, and analysts say the group's link to Somalia's al-Shabab militants continues to pose a major regional threat. 

Embassy bombings

Three years before al-Qaida operatives crashed planes into New York's twin towers and the Pentagon outside Washington, DC, the terrorist group struck in East Africa.  On August 7, 1998, suicide bombers destroyed the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, killing hundreds of people and wounding thousands more.

Israeli rescue worker calls to colleagues as they stand on what remains of building in front of US embassy in Nairobi, four days after deadly bomb attack, August 10, 1998. Photo:AFP .

Mark Schroeder, an Africa analyst with Stratfor.com, a global news and analysis company, says because the region has been loosely governed for so long, East Africa was an ideal place for al-Qaida to practice acts of terror.

“It was a great place to try some methods and tactics and strategies that was very much below the radar and I would still say, in a way, it's still below the radar - not to the same extent," explained Schroeder.

He says that after 9/11, the United States really began to expand its presence in East Africa, recognizing that al-Qaida posed a major threat.

“After the embassy bombings in 1998, it wasn't like the region was neglected, but I think the 9/11 event was definitely a turning point in taking a kind of global, comprehensive approach to understanding al-Qaida, and trying to isolate and minimize them as a threat,” Schroeder said.

Strong terror links

Today, that threat has evolved.  The attacks in 1998 were organized by al-Qaida's central command under the guidance of Osama bin Laden.  But now, the attention is on Somalia's Islamist militant group, al-Shabab.

“Al-Shabab is the most significant threat in East Africa," said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Karl Wycoff, "and I would say, just to put all of this in context, that Al-Shabab is not only a terrorism threat but its also a stability threat - a threat to stability both in Somalia and in the region.”

The group has had strong links to al-Qaida.  Case in point: the man behind the embassy bombings, known as Fazul Harun, was both an al-Qaida operative and a top commander in al-Shabab.

But the power structure is complicated.   Al-Shabab is a highly factionalized organization, with some members adhering to a global jihadist philosophy, and others focused on the local fight within Somalia.

US response

In order to combat such a threat, Wycoff says the United States relies on its regional partners, such as Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, or TFG.

“I would also point out in terms of how things are playing out, that Harun Fazul, who was involved in the attacks on the U.S. embassies back in 1998, for instance, was killed by TFG forces, by transitional government forces, there in Mogadishu," noted Wycoff.  "And that's, I think, an example of the way things are moving: that we're trying to enable our Somali partners, continue to support our African Union partners, that they can make more progress on the stability front.”

The United States supports the so-called Djibouti Peace Process as a route to stability in Somalia.  The United Nations-backed initiative led to an agreement between Somali leaders this year that establishes a plan for national elections and a new constitution.

But, there are also reports that the U.S. is using covert military tactics, including drone missile attacks, against al-Shabab targets.

“The United States has for the last several years maintained that kind of covert presence and capability, and the U.S. has carried out specialized operations for the last several years in Somalia.  It's not often; its not frequent; but it happens,” said Mark Schroeder of Stratfor.com.

Al-Shabab militiamen fire on Somali government troops in the streets of Mogadishu, May 22, 2009. Photo:AFP

Is al-Shabab weakening?


Now, with a famine devastating the communities that al-Shabab has controlled and drawn resources from for several years, and with the TFG claiming military victories over the militant group in Mogadishu, many say al-Shabab is weakening.

Abdi Samad, an independent Somali analyst based in Nairobi, says that as al-Shabab’s central structure falls apart, foreign fighters in the group may seek to carry out attacks elsewhere.

“Still there's a significant number of the foreign fighters who came from the neighboring countries," Samad said. "They can come back to Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda and they can do something. They can even carry out some operations.”

Somali officials have said their success combating al-Shabab marks the beginning of the end of the group.

However, Somalia has been without a stable central government for the past 20 years, leaving the country an ideal testing ground for terrorism.

You May Like

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs