Terrorist groups in Africa are consolidating their power before potentially launching a global campaign, according to leading security analysts.
ISIS and Al Qaeda have a world view that could lead them to “knit together” other groups in order to launch a continent-wide offensive and establish hardline policies, the US Combating Terrorism Centre heard.
The warnings come as French forces reduce numbers in the Sahel region of West Africa and international forces withdraw from Libya, giving terrorists greater freedom to operate.
Various extremist groups have grown in recent years and could be readying to commence a co-ordinated campaign, the online seminar, Scoping the Threat: do African Salafi-jihadi groups threaten the West? was told.
“It seems that these groups are really consolidating their positions across the continent from the west to the east with new beltways to the southern region to Mozambique,” said Idriss Lallali, of the African Centre for the Research on Terrorism, based in Algeria.
He highlighted the extremist motorway going from the Atlantic coast in Mauritania across to Djibouti, allowing terrorists to travel around the continent.
Previously, security analysts told The National that ISIS attacks in Mozambique are probably being co-ordinated with the terrorist group's core leadership as part of an expanding campaign across Africa.
Experts believe there is an organised propaganda campaign across the continent to amplify the extremist group’s standing and support.
Katherine Zimmerman, of the American Enterprise Institute, said that the extremist ideology "does not really limit itself to the local fight", and there have been instances where groups that are focused locally end up widening their activities.
She emphasised the mistakes by US intelligence and others by focusing only on groups who present an “imminent terror threat” such as Al Qaeda or ISIS while allowing others “to flourish on the ground not recognising the support role that they have played”.
There were also real concerns that when regional terrorist groups “decide to go global”, intelligence agencies have “missed that inflection point” until it affects the West.
The ideology of extremists in the Sahel is "inherently global in its vision and it’s looking at something that will start in pockets and expand into a caliphate”, she said. “There is an idea that they're looking to establish Islamic policies that will knit together into something more. They do have this level of vision.”
Regional groups are also vulnerable to being “co-opted over time by the more radical elements”, she said.
This means that western interests in Africa could come under greater pressure, with foreign fighters able to cross countries to bolster local insurgencies.
This happened in Mozambique this year when a major assault was launched close to the $20 billion site for a major gas energy project in Palma.
“Terrorist groups are into a phase of consolidation,” Mr Lallali said. “Western interests in the continent … are the countries that they are now targeting.”
The greater instability and insecurity in Africa also created opportunities for countries such as China and Russia to step in, said Yan St-Pierre, of the Modern Security Consulting Group. He highlighted a billion-dollar arms deal between China and Mali and Russia’s avoidance of arms embargos to sell weapons.