UN Security Council says ISIS ‘weakening’ in Africa as fighters desert group

But experts say former terrorists need more support to stay away from the group

Nigerian Army soldiers stand at a base in Baga, in Borno state, after intense fighting with ISIS. AFP
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The deaths of leading ISIS terrorists and the desertion of thousands of fighters from the group has left it in a “weakened” position, a report by the UN Security Council has found.

Civil Society Perspectives: ISIS in Africa – Key Trends and Developments was compiled by the UN body’s Counter-terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (Cted) after meetings with more than 50 representatives of African civil society organisations, in 15 member states.

The report was conducted to increase understanding of the impact of ISIS-affiliated groups in Africa and identify gaps in the way nations are tackling them.

“Roundtable participants emphasised that ISIS-affiliated groups were currently in a crucial period,” it says.

“The relatively recent deaths of Abu Musab Al Barnawi of ISWAP [IS West Africa Province], Abubakar Shekau of Boko Haram and Adnan Abu Walid Al Sahrawi of ISGS [IS in the Greater Sahara], and the desertion of thousands of individuals from the groups’ ranks, signalled a possible weakening of ISIS-affiliated groups in parts of Africa.

“Those developments represented an opportunity for a renewed, holistic approach that took into account the local aspects of the phenomenon, employed transitional justice approaches (including criminal justice) and prevention mechanisms to enhance States’ resilience, strengthened pathways out of conflict, and included robust steps towards preventing violent extremism conducive to terrorism.”

It has made recommendations on ways to prevent the group’s spread and said a core consideration was supporting former terrorists.

“Inadequate exit strategies and support provided to former terrorists after they leave reintegration programmes, leads them to consider rejoining terrorist groups,” it said.

It said there had been a lack of compensation and support for victims and that local populations, particularly women, have been disproportionately affected by terrorism and counter-terrorism.

It also says authorities have failed to take advantage of the “positive role that civil society, community, and women can play in preventing terrorism, building resilience and reintegrating former fighters”.

Cted said that since ISIS suffered territorial losses in Syria and Iraq, it has made Africa a target, establishing branches in several nations of the continent.

“A growing number of ISIS-affiliated groups in Africa have shown an ability to launch deadly and co-ordinated attacks, capture strategic territories, recruit followers using anti-government propaganda, and conscript child soldiers,” it said.

“The frequency of ISIS attacks and the resulting casualties across the continent indicate that African states are facing an unprecedented terrorist threat. This trend is buttressed by attacks claimed by ISIS affiliates, which reflect the growth in attacks on the African continent.

“ISIS forms affiliations with local groups, exploiting structural issues like corruption, unemployment and poor governance to recruit fighters and drive a wedge between authorities and communities.

“But communities across terrorism-affected regions in Africa continue to exhibit strong resilience in dealing with terrorist threats.”

It is recommending that nations develop strategies to address the underlying causes of violent extremism conducive to terrorism whilst strengthening the resilience, especially in border areas, of people harmed by terrorism.

“Engage in dialogue with fighters and terrorist groups, including through respected local community and religious leaders, in areas where confidence in government is lacking,” it concludes.

“Implement educational reforms to change attitudes, including by incorporating peacebuilding into academic curriculums, educating audiences to enhance their understanding of radicalisation and detect signs of radicalisation, and developing national youth service programmes that help to build national pride.”

The report was released ahead of another meeting of the UN Security Council shortly to examine the issue.

Updated: April 05, 2022, 1:52 PM