The Terrorist Threat in Africa


On August 7, 1998, two massive bombs exploded outside of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, killing 224 people -- including 12 Americans -- and injuring 5,000. Responsibility was quickly traced to al Qaeda. Four years later, al Qaeda operatives struck again, killing 15 people in an Israeli-owned hotel near Mombasa, Kenya, and simultaneously firing missiles at an Israeli passenger jet taking off from Mombasa's airport. An alarmed United States responded to these attacks with conviction. In addition to proposing significant increases in development assistance and a major initiative on HIV/AIDS, the Bush administration has designated the greater Horn of Africa a front-line region in its global war against terrorism and has worked to dismantle al Qaeda infrastructure there.

At the same time, however, the United States has failed to recognize the existence of other, less visible, terrorist threats elsewhere on the African continent. Countering the rise of grass-roots extremism has been a central part of U.S. strategy in the Middle East, but the same has not generally been true for Africa. In Nigeria, for example, a potent mix of communal tensions, radical Islamism, and anti-Americanism has produced a fertile breeding ground for militancy and threatens to tear the country apart. South Africa has seen the emergence of a violent Islamist group. And in West and Central Africa, criminal networks launder cash from illicit trade in diamonds, joining forces with corrupt local leaders to form lawless bazaars that are increasingly exploited by al Qaeda to shelter its assets. As the war on terrorism intensifies in Kenya and elsewhere, radicals might migrate to more accessible, war-ravaged venues across the continent.

The Bush administration must deal with these threats by adopting a more holistic approach to fighting terrorism in Africa. Rather than concentrate solely on shutting down existing al Qaeda cells, it must also deal with the continent's fundamental problems -- economic distress, ethnic and religious fissures, fragile governance, weak democracy, and rampant human rights abuses -- that

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