ISIS expansion

The ISIS is now calculating a new game plan as how it can spread its presence in a credible manner to attract hundreds of thousands recruits for its battle from the Arabian Peninsula and African region, mainly in North and West Africa.

The ISIS is keen to take advantage of lawless situation of Africa. With insecurity in Mali, Libya, Nigeria and beyond, the terrorism map of Africa is being redrawn.

Various experts including Abdullah Mamadou Ba, an expert on militant groups in the Sahel, Maghreb and West Africa, say the whole region is changing as it is the new intersection of various groups.

Yet the public opinion on ISIS is divided. After ISIS militants posted on the internet a video showing a masked man using a knife to decapitate a US journalist abducted in Syria two years ago, the situation is changing.

Islamic State jihadists are accused of multiple acts of summary execution, rape and other atrocities against minority communities.

Latest country in the region is Tunisia which calls on the international community to protect ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq, using methods permitted by international law in such extreme situations.

The Tunisian foreign ministry also said that it condemned efforts to destabilize the security and stability of Iraq and to hit its various civilizational components through the targeting of ethnic and religious minorities.

Threat to security

These crimes are incompatible with the tolerant teachings of the Islamic religion, and represent a flagrant violation of the rules of international humanitarian law and constitute a threat to the security and stability of the entire region.

Alaya Alani, an expert in Islamic groups, said that for ISIS, the reporter’s brutal killing was meant to scare people. Instead, it will push many people to expedite finding solutions toward ISIS and its ilk, Alani said.

Tunisian newspapers condemned the beheading on their front pages. Social networking sites also warned against the spread of ISIS.

This work is not humane, and is contrary to the teachings of the Islamic religion, said Ali al-Qassimi, an imam in Tunis. It is a brutality that has not been seen before in the history of Islam. These are monsters and not humans.

ISIS is a source of concern and fear among Tunisians, especially with the growing terrorist operations in the country.

They are criminals and do not hesitate to kill anyone and have neither principles nor values, remarked Amal Ben Mami, an elementary school teacher. They claim to be Muslims but are liars. The fear is to see their influence extend, and that is the great misfortune.

Magdi Salehi, 22-year-old student, said, there is no difference between them and Ansar al-Sharia. Just like ISIS beheaded a reporter, Ansar al-Sharia has beheaded soldiers in Chaambi.

Now the big talk is will the Islamic State (ISIS) be able to gain a foothold in the Sahel-Sahara region and influence the youth?

Abdullah Ba said that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is now surpassed in terms of structures, figures, and symbols. Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden’s death suffered internal disputes and various groups started becoming independent of the central command.

Co-ordination between the cells became weak and communication between groups in different regions also became difficult; this accounts for the emergence of ISIS and its ability to conduct open confrontations, which Al Qaeda has not been able to carry out.

Rise of ISIS

ISIS started to fill the void that Al Qaeda left in many areas where it had influence, particularly in the Sahel.

The splits that have occurred in the Maghreb region and in different cells and battalions of Al Qaeda and the emergence of new organisations such as MUJAO, the Mourabitounes and recently, Djound Al-Khalifa en Algerie which is the Algerian ISIS branch responsible for beheading a French tourist, all are indications that ISIS has begun to take a place in the region.

In addition, the Nigerian group Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS. Add to this what the Malian foreign minister said recently that Ansar al-Din, affiliated to Iyad Ag Ghaly, had declared unconditional allegiance to ISIS.

On the top of it, the failure of the Libyan state is no longer a matter of probability. Libya is today a failed state.

It has the features of a failed state that has no control over anything, and this is why jihadi leaders known in northern Mali are taking their men and materials to southern Libya.

Through their heavy presence in southern Libya, they acquired more resources, men, and materiel to send to other countries.

Thus those groups are trying to revive what used to be in northern Mali. The Libyan case is today the cancer threatening the security and stability of the Sahel-Sahara region.

Speaking of southern Libya, there is a realignment of regional terrorist groups such as new base for notorious Algerian terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, known as Laaouar is coming up in Libya.

It is known that Laaouar was the spearhead of jihad in the north of Mali. It was able to weave extensive relationships with local populations. It was able to draw strength from Bin Laden’s absence for several years.

Laaouar does not use modern mechanisms for communication, such as telephone and computer, but instructs verbally to a particular person and the latter circulates his instructions to a series of agents.

It is the cluster method that has enabled them so far to evade arrest. Thus, countries need to continue the co-ordination in order to arrest him, which will be achieved in the end, but the question remains how and when?

In fact, Belmokhtar had a hand in bringing jihad to Mali. But if it is now in Libya, then the situation in northern Mali may spread into Sahel very fast.

The strong and violent return of jihadi groups is due to two main causes. First, the French troops - when they started operations at the beginning of 2013 - were not able to completely neutralise the active elements in those groups.

They gave them room to blend into the local population. Some even managed to return to their neighbouring home countries like the Mauritanians, Algerians and Nigerians.

Those who were hiding formed dormant cells that continued to receive instructions and positions from the leadership of the various wings of terrorist groups.

The second cause is that the Libyan front opened the doors to new groups of recruits coming mainly from countries farthest from the Sahel, such as Sudan and Egypt, and from countries in the Middle East.

Yet, there is the internal situation between the different components of the Malian community, which was established in 1960 on foundations that may not be unanimous.

Then there is the economic component-the element of transnational organised crime and smuggling networks.

This situation paved the way for the presence later of Islamist groups starting from 2001 and 2002, and formed their essential incubator.

In fact, the fighting majority in terms of jihad are not young Malians, but foreigners. As for those fighting under the banner of home-grown movements such as the Liberation Movement of Azawad and the Arab Movement - they are political. One cannot put them in a basket with jihadi terrorists.

Experts think one must differentiate between the political file, the jihadi file (terrorist), and the economic file (smuggling).

And these files must be dealt with in accordance with the approaches that belong to each side separately, although the confronting the smugglers and jihadists require a combination of efforts along foreign and international lines.

As for the political effort, there are currently negotiations under way in Algeria. Thus, one can hope that they reach solutions that can unify Malians.

In the region, terrorist activities have shifted to the Niger border. Previously, most security actions had occurred along the borders with Mali, Libya and Tunisia.

Terrorist groups may now be trying to draw security attention away from those borders, retired military officer Taher Ben Thamer said.

Ain Guezzam is a border area where the biggest arms and drug trafficking gangs are active, he added. Most criminal groups in that area have links with jihadi groups, like the MUJAO, allied with Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s El Moulethemoune brigade.

These gangs use elements who have knowledge of desert tracts to escape monitoring along the border. The groups that try to cross the border are usually heavily armed to protect the drugs that are smuggled to Mali and other areas.