News / Africa

    Competition Between Islamist Militants May Fuel Big Attacks

    Kenya Defense Force soldiers run to take their positions at the Westgate shopping mall on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013. Kenya Defense Force soldiers run to take their positions at the Westgate shopping mall on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013.
    x
    Kenya Defense Force soldiers run to take their positions at the Westgate shopping mall on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013.
    Kenya Defense Force soldiers run to take their positions at the Westgate shopping mall on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013.
    Reuters
    The assault on Kenya's Westgate shopping mall has brought into sharp relief a pattern likely to complicate efforts to counter Islamist militants - competition among jihadis can increase the risk of a major attack.
     
    As with the 2008 assault on the Indian city of Mumbai and this year's raid on an Algerian desert gas plant, the attack in Nairobi by Somalia's al-Shabab was preceded by in-fighting or loss of supporters to other militant groups.
     
    This competition can initially make groups seem divided and weak, while actually making them more dangerous if a leader then feels compelled to mount a big attack to burnish his jihadi credentials - thereby bringing in fresh recruits and funding.
     
    Western counter-terrorism officials have long been aware of the risk that intensive security measures adopted at home following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States are driving militants to target Westerners overseas.
     
    But the impact of competition, sometimes caused by government efforts to curb militants, is only just beginning to be understood. It was thrown into sharp relief by the mall attack by al-Shabab, which killed 67 people.
     
    Recognized by al-Qaida as an affiliate in 2012, the group had suffered from internal feuding as African Union forces, including troops from Kenya, drove them out of urban strongholds.
     
    These rifts rose dramatically to the surface when the American-born Omar Hammami tweeted about what he said were attempts on his life by al-Shabab assassins sent by the group's leader. He was reported to have been killed this month in Somalia.
     
    Jihadist force
     
    While it is too early to assess all the motivations behind the attack on the Westgate mall, the attention it received could help al-Shabab leader Ahmed Godane achieve his ambition of rebranding his group as a significant jihadist force, leading analysts to warn that more attacks could follow.
     
    In the case of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed by the United States and India for the attack on Mumbai, outside pressure may have contributed to the internal dynamic that led it to mount a spectacular operation.
     
    Unlike al-Qaida, its focus is on India and Kashmir. But like al-Qaida it is a Salafist group and shares its aim of a restoration of Muslim rule from Delhi to Spain - making it easier for followers to move between the groups.
     
    Under severe pressure to rein in its activities after one of the men involved in the 2005 London transport bombings was linked to the group, Lashkar-e-Taiba began to lose members to al-Qaida and other groups fighting more actively in Afghanistan.
     
    According to testimony by the Pakistani-American David Headley, who scouted out targets in Mumbai, the huge scale of the attack in India after initial plans for a more limited operation was encouraged by the need to compete.
     
    The assault by 10 gunmen killed 166 people, gripped media attention during a three-day siege and became a template for subsequent “copycat” operations like Westgate.
     
    The January attack at the Algerian gas plant, in which 39 foreign hostages were killed, also followed internal competition, this time more to do with personal rivalries.
     
    "Mr. Malboro"
     
    Its Algerian mastermind, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, had set up his own group, although he retains strained but functioning relations with the Algerian-based leadership of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Once dismissed as “Mr Marlboro” because of his smuggling activities, Belmokhtar staked a claim to be the true representative of al-Qaida in the region with the assault.
     
    The role of competition makes it all the harder for governments to contain militants, whether through force - from drone strikes to ground operations - or by using infiltration and offers of talks to some factions to divide and rule.
     
    In the 1990s, Algeria used infiltration to stir up in-fighting and break an insurgency which erupted after it suppressed elections that Islamists were poised to win. But this also encouraged more brutal attacks on civilians - an estimated 200,000 died in the civil war.
     
    More recently, Pakistani efforts to divide and rule the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by setting one faction against another may also be fuelling violence.
     
    Little is known for sure about the internal dynamics of the TTP. But the group denied responsibility for a car bomb on Sunday which killed 42 in Peshawar - the third attack on the  city in a week - raising the possibility that another faction may have been involved to demonstrate its power.
     
    Meanwhile, for states seeking to combat militants,  including al-Qaida, competition offers little comfort for it rarely runs deep enough to splinter and defeat jihadist groups altogether.
     
    If anything, al-Qaida is proving more resilient than ever, despite the vast military force thrown against it since the Sept. 11 attacks.
     
    Network of alliances
     
    Often thinking more globally than the governments which seek to counter it, its network of alliances stretching from its base in Pakistan to West Africa has left it well positioned to exploit the instability caused by the 2011 Arab uprisings.
     
    Its leader Ayman al Zawahri appears to have settled into his role after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, continuing to set overall direction for al-Qaida while ceding much operational control to affiliates.
     
    Earlier this year, he intervened to stop in-fighting between two al-Qaeda aligned groups in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant - arguably proving more effective in preventing confrontation between allies than Western countries trying to shape the Syrian civil war.
     
    The network is held together by personal and geographical links which ultimately override feuding and rivalries - connections which can often be traced back to Afghanistan and Pakistan and are now being forged anew in Syria.
     
    Lashkar-e-Taiba, for example, has its roots in an organization created in the mid-1980s to support the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Belmokhtar reached Afghanistan around 1989.
     
    Godane went to Pakistan in the late 1990s on a scholarship, according to Stig Jarle Hansen, the Norwegian author of a book on al-Shabab. He disappeared for a time before returning home in 2001, but two of his peers from the same generation had been in the Khaldane training camp in Afghanistan.
     
    That shared ideology makes it a virtual certainty that Islamist militants will strike again.
     
    Exactly how capable different parts of the network are, and how much national and regional pressures limit their room for maneuver, often comes down to guesswork.
     
    Following the raid on the Algerian gas plant, Belmokhtar's group claimed responsibility for attacks in May on a military base and a French-run uranium mine in Niger, West Africa - despite a French-led military operation designed to drive Islamist militants out of neighboring Mali.
     
    Hansen suggested al-Shaba bcould attack other countries which, like Kenya, contribute forces to the African Union peace-keeping mission in Somalia.

    “There is more to come. They have the capacity; I think they will do it again. Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi should watch their backs very carefully.”

    You May Like

    South Sudan Sends First Ever Official Olympic Team to Rio

    VOA caught up with Santino Kenyi, 16, one of three athletes who will compete in this year's summer games in Brazil

    Arrest of Malawi's 'Hyena' Man Highlights Clash of Ritual, Health and Women's Rights

    Ritual practice of deflowering young girls is blamed for spreading deadly AIDS virus

    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    VOA finds things Americans take for granted are special to foreigners

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: umar from: sokoto
    October 05, 2013 1:44 AM
    Mr.Godwin,u totally got it wrong about islam.Who tell u that islam teaches killings?For ur unformation,even animals we are told to respect not to talk of killing humans.Islam respect life much more than any religion.Think if what is hppng in middle east,who is the cause?who are behind the killings in pakistan,afghanistan,iraq,libya etc.Can i also remind u about palistine?who are behind those killings?pls mr.Godwin,if u want to say ur views,make sure u be careful with what u will utter,cos u might hang urself.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora