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Sierra Leone, Liberia, Likely Focus for Jihadists’ Caliphate: Intelligence

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

West Africa – Reliable international security intelligence has revealed that Jihadists concentrated in Mali’s terrorists’ terrain are re-strategizing in their attempts to gain serious foothold in West Africa where they are ideologically bent on establishing caliphates.  Intelligence sources say Sierra Leone and Liberia have become the new quest for these groups because of security vulnerabilities, poverty and lax immigration or migration screening policies and activities.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

A caliphate is a territory under the leadership of an Islamic steward known as a caliph, a person considered a religious successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community.

Historically, the caliphates were polities based in Islam which developed into multi-ethnic trans-national empires. During the medieval period, three major caliphates existed: the Rashidun Caliphate, the Umayyad Caliphate and the Abbasid Caliphate.

Like Boko Haram in Nigeria that seeks to establish its own caliphate, the Islamic militants based in northern Mali aspire for a sub region that will adhere to strict caliphate’s teachings and rules.

The group known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been fighting Malian and international forces, including French troops in Mali for the past years either to take over and govern Mali under strict Wahhabism laws, or establish an independent caliphate state in the north of the country.

Most recently, the group intensified and broadened its focus by attempting to hit other West African nations that they perceived as vulnerable militarily and security-wise. So far, their repeated attempts to launch severe offensives in the Ivory Coast has been repelled.

They have also launched several repeated small-scale offensives in Burkina Faso but have been repelled on all occasions. In addition to these military-style offensives, the Jihadists are engaged in sporadic lone and collective terror attacks, targeting business and other establishments.

Last week, a popular restaurant was attacked in the Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou. Reliable intelligence and security sources in Burkina Faso as well as other intelligence groups in the sub region have confirmed that the Islamic militants who conducted the terrorist’s attack, shot and killed 18 people at a restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital are believed to have come from Mali.

A senior army officer in the Burkinabe’s military said, “Looking at the tactics of the assailants, their physical traits, they probably came from northern Mali or closer to the border.”

Officials say at least eight foreigners were killed at a Turkish restaurant in Ouagadougou last Sunday night when gunmen attacked diners on its terrace.

Even though no group has so far claimed responsibility, however; Burkina Faso has witnessed a string of such attacks blamed on Islamist extremists and jihadists that are bent on making West African nations Islamic states like what former Gambian dictator, Yahya Jammeh did with the Gambia when he became head of state.

The ex-Gambian dictator removed his country from the Commonwealth and instead made it a member of the Organization of Islamic States with headquarters based in the Middle East before the recent presidential election of Adama Barrow who has since undone what the former dictator did.

Mali, a landlocked nation shares a largely lawless border region with Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania and the Ivory Coast and is part of the West African sub region. Guinea on the other hand shares borders with Liberia , Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.  The Ivory Coast also shares borders with Liberia while Sierra Leone shares borders with Liberia.

Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and the Ivory Coast form part of the sub region group known as the Mano River Union.

Faso Maiza Sereme, the prosecutor of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso said Sunday’s attack bore similar hallmarks to last year’s assault on a hotel and cafe in the capital that killed 30 people and wounded more than 70.

The 2016 attack was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“The fact that the attack hasn’t been claimed just suggests that it’s an isolated act that could be linked to Ansarul Islam or AQIM,” an officer said.

In addition, an Islamic terrorist sect known as Ansarul Islam is active in northern Burkina Faso and has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including one that killed 12 soldiers last December.

Simon Compaore, the country’s security minister said all possibilities were being investigated.

“The inquiry could take a long time and we need to work with other countries,” he concluded.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

Considering the massive failures of the Jihadists groups in gaining a stronghold in Mali and their failure in launching and succeeding in opening new fronts in other West African nations such as the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, reliable global security intelligence sources believe, from all analysis, that the groups are now strategizing on hitting Sierra Leone and Liberia which they see as extremely vulnerable militarily.

A senior international security expert in New York said, “Sierra Leone and Liberia are volatile localities for a number of reasons. They have weak surveillance systems, uncontrollable immigration entry systems and policies, and widespread security sector corruption.” These weaknesses, he said, “are perfect appeals and loopholes for terrorists’ exploitations and mission success”

“For example, in Liberia to be specific, the security sector at the higher levels frequently connives with international drug cartels and money launderers in providing easy access. In such a system, vulnerability is more excessive,” he said.

With these early warning indications, counter-terrorism specialists and global security analysts believe the West African sub regional group, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will have to organize an effective mechanism to deter potential loose terrorists’ operations by streamlining the movements of people through proper security checks and identifications.

Also, the government of individuals West African countries need to prioritize knowing who is who within their borders, why they are there and what they do. Such information gathering would prevent infiltration of Jihadist sects and groups, including lone wolf attackers like those who attacked and killed 18 people in the Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.

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Michael Harrington

Michael Harrington is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.
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