Drones could help tackle maritime terrorists as UN warns of ‘major' threat in Africa

Counter-terror chief says port security is 'critical'

A British soldier briefs Ghanaian special force soldiers taking part in counter-terrorism training in the Ivory Coast. AP
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Drones could help countries respond to maritime terrorists as the UN warns of a growing number of extremist groups gaining access to nations via sea routes in Africa.

Rocco Messina, head of border security management at the UN Counter-terrorism Centre, has said that terrorist groups are now carrying out attacks in African ports and that security is “critical".

“There is capacity of such groups to take control of key maritime infrastructures, such as ports,” Mr Messina said.

Mr Messina made his comments during a webinar hosted by the UN on Tuesday to discuss technology and maritime border security.

He said it is “vital to find a solution” to the problem to prevent the travel and relocation of foreign terrorist fighters as they pose a “major” risk.

“Maritime borders must be protected by ensuring the security of ports,” he said.

“Surveillance technologies and high standards of security protocol are really critical. Relevant information about terrorist threats in maritime zones should be shared in real time.”

Robert Kibor, legal and policy adviser for Kenya’s National Counter-terrorism Centre, said the threat from extremists is now more severe than that of pirates.

“We have succeeded in terms of suppressing piracy but we are now seeing a new threat to maritime security in the form of terrorism and armed robberies at sea,” he said.

“We have moved from piracy to terrorism and this is bringing a lot of challenges. There are a number of solutions that we think can help this particular menace, information sharing, investigations and prosecutions and cross maritime borders.

“This is something we can all achieve if we work together.”

The use of drones and radar technology could be used in the fight to combat the terrorists, said Denys Reva, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies.

“Maritime border security is a really complex matter,” he said.

“Crime groups have been exploiting vulnerabilities for hundreds of years and now terrorist groups are exploiting the existing gaps in border protection. Recent evidence suggests terrorist groups are making use of maritime travel in both East and West Africa.”

He said smaller boats are difficult to pick up on satellites and measures need to be enacted to better identify them.

“We cannot always rely on patrol vessels because they take their time to arrive and allow other actors to escape but this is where unmanned aerial vehicles could come into force,” he said.

“The use of drones have become a viable option and Nigeria is using them in its counter-piracy initiative and radars could be used to detect smaller vessels, especially at night and in bad weather.”

This week, the US began its yearly counter-terrorism training programme for African forces in the Ivory Coast.

“A main focus is information sharing. If we can't communicate, we can't work together,” said Admiral Jamie Sands, commander of US Special Operations Command Africa.

The training programme, known as Flintlock, brings together more than 400 soldiers from across West Africa to bolster their skills as they confront attacks by armed groups linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Updated: February 22, 2022, 5:37 PM