Preventing Spread of Terrorism in Coastal West Africa
Brian M. Perkins
A spate of deadly attacks by militant groups in Mali and Burkina Faso came just weeks after a key meeting of the Economic Community Summit of West African States (ECOWAS) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. During the meeting, member states pledged to fund a one billion dollar counterterrorism initiative between 2020 and 2024 in an attempt to curtail the terrorist violence that has wreaked havoc on Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger and threatens to spill into coastal West African nations such as Ghana, Togo and Benin (Aljazeera, September 15).
The funding from ECOWAS will help supplement the chronically underfunded French-backed G5 Sahel force comprised of troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania and demonstrates the commitment and forethought of those countries yet to experience the level of violence that has plagued Burkina Faso and Mali. Ghana, in particular, has been leading the way in taking preemptive measures to assist and prevent the spread of al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups in the region.
During the meeting, Ghana stressed the importance of the Accra Initiative, a security partnership initially signed in September 2017 by Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo aimed at countering terrorism and transnational crime. Mali and Niger joined the initiative as observers in 2019 (AllAfrica, September 16). With preexisting coordination, staffing, and funding issues, further security initiatives that overlap with the G5 Sahel and Lake Chad Basin forces could further muddle the situation.
The Accra Initiative, however, does present numerous positives and could fill important gaps not fulsomely addressed by the G5 Sahel force. Namely, the Accra Initiative seeks to move beyond reactive counterterrorism measures and will involve the security forces of countries that still enjoy a modicum of peace without requiring them to pledge to send troops into active areas of hostility. The initiative envisions a collaborative resource and intelligence sharing partnership that emphasizes joint accountability and is funded solely by member states. Further, there is significant emphasis on addressing the underlying social and economic causes of radicalization. Cote d’Ivoire has already begun working with religious leaders to track and prevent radicalization, and Togo created an inter-ministerial committee for preventing and countering violent extremism in May (Togo First, May 16).
If the Accra Initiative can avoid muddying the waters between the preexisting security partnerships and focus its efforts on “in-house” proactive measures, it could provide a framework to help stem the spread of terrorism into coastal West African countries. While it is unlikely to help turn the tide in Mali and Burkina Faso, the initiative as well as the funding pledge by ECOWAS does demonstrate a greater regional commitment than what has been seen in recent years.
The Challenge of Island-Hopping Terror Networks in Southeast Asia
Brian M. Perkins
Since the fall of Islamic State (IS) in Syria, there has been renewed attention on the group’s efforts to expand in Asia through its long-time affiliates and through recruiting new cells. Southeast Asia, in particular, poses a unique challenge for security services and a significant opportunity for IS.
Over the past several years, investigations into terrorist attacks and networks in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have underscored the interconnected networks that operate across the island nations and their unique geography. Recruitment, financing, and material support spans across the various militant groups in these countries, including Jemaah Islamiah and Jemaat Ansharul Daulah in Indonesia and the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, and is made easier by poorly secured coastal borders that offer countless points of entry. In fact, it is not uncommon for funding or training to cross the lines between al-Qaeda affiliated groups and IS affiliated groups.
Malaysian security forces arrested 16 terror suspects between July and late September across seven regions—Sabah, Selangor, Sarawak, Penang, Pahang, Kuala Lumpur, and Johor. Among those arrested were 12 Indonesians, three Malaysians, and an Indian (Straits Times, September 27). According to authorities, the suspects were involved in recruiting and financing on behalf of IS, or were planning attacks in Malaysia and Indonesia. A 25-year-old Indonesian farmworker reportedly helped facilitate an Indonesian family’s involvement in the devastating bombing on a cathedral on the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines in January (Benar News, September 26). The individual had also funneled money to the Maute Group, an IS affiliate in the Philippines. Earlier, in May, authorities arrested two Malaysian militants that had reportedly been testing triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosives—the same type used in the Surabaya bombings in 2018—after receiving training from Jemaat Ansharul Daulah in Indonesia (Malaysiakini, May 24). Indonesian militants have used Malaysia as a haven and transit point to join militant groups in the Philippines while intermixing with local Malaysian cells. Meanwhile, Malaysian terror cells have received training in Indonesia before returning to Malaysia or traveling onward to the Philippines. Financing networks are similarly interconnected, with funds collected from palm oil plantations as well as kidnapping and piracy activity carried out between the island nations being shared amongst the groups.
While Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines do maintain security partnerships, efforts to form a more coherent effective regional taskforce have been slow. Securing the waters between the countries as well as the countless coastal points of entry will continue to pose a significant challenge that local militants will continue to exploit. Additionally, many of the recent arrests have demonstrated that small terror cells work across national lines as well as across various terrorist organizations to achieve their aims.