The African continent has witnessed a growth in the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) since the beginning of 2020. Organizations that pledge allegiance to the IS have intensified their direct attacks and confrontations with the counter-terrorism forces in the west and south of the continent. This raises many questions about the factors and causes of this growing threat, its risks and future possibilities.
Indications of the growing threat of the Islamic State on the African continent
1. The growing threat of the Islamic State (IS) in the Sahel and West Africa. Relevant indications include the following:
2. The growing threat of the IS in southern and central Africa. Relevant indications include the following:
Factors of the growing threat of the IS on the African continent
Risks of the growing IS threat
First scenario: continuation of the current situation (the growing threat of the IS), especially after the growth in communication and coordination relations with the parent organization, the emergence of the IS as a strong alternative to al-Qaeda splinter elements, especially the Macina Liberation Front which wishes to continue the fight against the Malian government, and the capability of the IS to attract new fighters. Information indicates that 70 percent of the fighters involved in the attacks in the Sahel region are individuals who have been recruited from criminal gangs. However, this scenario is challenged by the attempts by the JNIM to regroup and regain control of its areas of operations, with the support of Tuareg groups and self-defense militias from northern Mali, as well as France’s tendency to focus its military operations on the IS in the region.
Second scenario: expansion of the circle of confrontations between the IS and al-Qaeda organizations in the context of the strategy pursued by some African governments, especially Mali, which announced their willingness to negotiate with al-Qaeda, which would intensify confrontations between the two organizations, in addition to the directives of the (parent) IS to fight against al-Qaeda and execute the leaders cooperating with it. However, this scenario is challenged by the need by the two organizations to maintain quiet relations that would prevent them from depleting their combat capabilities in the face of the security forces and the French military strikes, and their relations and alliances with the existing criminal networks, which are often linked to financing the activities of the two organizations.
Third scenario: decline of the threat of the IS in light of the efforts made to combat terrorism, and the escalation of political demands in some countries for the need to intervene to confront the threat of the IS. For example, the Democratic Alliance Party in South Africa released a statement on 6 July 2020 urging the government to intervene to confront the IS in northern Mozambique. In addition, France and thirteen European countries have announced the formation of a European multi-task force (Takuba) to enhance counter-terrorism efforts. Many African countries have also announced that they would carry out joint military operations on the borders to stop the infiltration of terrorists. Nevertheless, current political and economic challenges remain among the most important challenges facing the counter-terrorism efforts on the African continent.
The second scenario (expansion of the circle of confrontations between the IS and al-Qaeda organizations) seems the most likely one. With the tacit approval of the countries supporting counter-terrorism efforts, some African governments see in those fights a favourable opportunity to contain the two organizations. By negotiating with al-Qaeda, one of the fighting fronts could be neutralized, which would help operatives defect from al-Qaeda and join the IS, which would facilitate focusing military strikes on the IS front.
 Eleanor Beevor and Flore Berger, ISIS militants pose growing threat across Africa, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2/6/2020, available at: https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2020/06/csdp-isis-militants-africa
 Islamic State replaces al-Qaeda as Enemy No. 1 in Sahel, France 24,15/1/2020, available at: https://www.france24.com/en/20200115-islamic-state-replaces-al-qaeda-as-enemy-no-1-in-sahel
 Security Council, Letter dated 16 July 2020 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council, 23 July 2020, available at: https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2020_717.pdf
 Zachary Jaynes and (others), Africa File: A biweekly analysis and assessment of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa and related security and political dynamics, Critical Threats, 23/7/2020, available at: https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/africa-file
 Eleanor Beevor and Flore Berger, op. cit.
 Wassim Nasr, ISIS in Africa: The End of the “Sahel Exception”, June 2, 2020, available at: https://cgpolicy.org/articles/isis-in-africa-the-end-of-the-sahel-exception/
 For example: Jamal Okasha (alias Yehia Abul-Hamam) and Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi who were killed at the hands of the French forces on 21 February 2019 in Elak in northern Timbuktu, and Abu Yahya al-Jazairi who was killed at the hands of the Malian forces in Bamba on 6 April 2020.
 Jacob Zenn, ISIS in Africa: The Caliphate’s Next Frontier, May 26, 2020, available at: https://cgpolicy.org/articles/isis-in-africa-the-caliphates-next-frontier/
 Eleanor Beevor and Flore Berger, op. cit.
 Zachary Jaynes and (others), op.cit.
 Méryl Demuynck, Julie Coleman, The Shifting Sands of the Sahel’s Terrorism Landscape, Mar 2020, available at: https://icct.nl/publication/the-shifting-sands-of-the-sahels-terrorism-landscape/
 Security Council, op. cit.
 Méryl Demuynck, Julie Coleman, op. cit.
 Zachary Jaynes and (others), op. cit.
EPC | 22 Sep 2021
Spyridon N. Litsas | 15 Sep 2021
Suhaib Abdul Rahman | 05 Sep 2021