Study Highlights Growing Links Between "Islamic State" and North Africa/Sahel Extremist Groups

Morocco Among Most Stable Countries in the Region; Libya Least Stable

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - March 31, 2016) -  "The increasing links and flow of recruits between… regional extremists and the so-called 'Islamic State' in Syria and Iraq, as well as al-Qa'ida affiliates and allies across the region," are "of growing concern for African security interests," according to a new report from The Inter-University Center on Terrorism Studies (IUCTS) and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Released Wednesday at an event at The National Press Club, the seventh annual report, "Terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel in 2015," reveals that while the number of terrorist attacks in the region fell year-to-year, "the overall strategic impact regionally and globally was far more dangerous [in 2015] than previously," due to these growing extremist ties, as well as deteriorating conditions in Libya.

The report notes that of the more than 40 terrorist organizations worldwide that have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, about 20 are in the Maghreb, Sahel, or elsewhere in Africa. Meanwhile, "In North Africa, Libya represents the most insecure nation due… to its porous land and maritime borders, unstable political institutions following the collapse of Gaddafi's regime, and the increase in the number of foreign fighters reinforcing indigenous extremist groups and militias," writes IUCTS Director and author of the report Dr. Yonah Alexander. "By early 2016, it became apparent that Libya has become a major base for Daesh, with reportedly some 5,000 fighters."

In the Maghreb, only Morocco and Mauritania did not experience terrorist attacks, according to the report. Speaking at the event, Moroccan security expert and founder of the Marrakesh Security Forum Dr. Mohammed Benhammou outlined Morocco's multidimensional security approach: good "security governance" -- deep cooperation between the various security forces in the country; as well as training and improved capabilities; management of the religious spectrum, where Morocco has trained imams and women spiritual guides to ensure that mosques remain places of worship rather than political activity or extremist ideology; and a strategy of human development that offers alternatives to those most vulnerable to extremism.

The IUCTS report notes that as Moroccan "security services arrested suspected militants accused of recruiting fighters and raising funds for two al-Qa'ida affiliates, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria"; Rabat also "denounced Islamic extremism," "expressed its 'total solidarity' with front-line countries such as Egypt and Jordan in their counterterrorism activities," and "has been training imams from other African countries on preaching a more tolerant Islam."

The report offers ten tactical recommendations to address the growing threats in the region. Among them:

  • "Strengthen U.S. and NATO intelligence assets by broadening cooperation through AFRICOM, NATO's Partnership for Peace, and other modalities that supply and support training, equipment, and monitoring of resources throughout the region";
  • "Continue to expand U.S. counterterrorism technical assistance and training to internal security personnel";
  • "Work to settle intra-regional conflicts that provide openings for extremists to exploit and impede security and economic cooperation -- including the Western Sahara dispute and the problem of refugees in the Polisario-run camps in Algeria. Also, collaborate with the global donor community to conduct a census of the camps";
  • "Recognize the importance of and provide quiet encouragement to Muslim leaders in promoting the practice of a moderate Islam, as well as counter-radicalization programs that limit the appeal of extremist recruiters"; and
  • "Promote regional trade and investment by expanding the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement to include goods and products from North, West, and Central Africa."

"As the IUCTS report drives home, the situation in North Africa and the Sahel is increasingly dangerous and calls for concerted regional action," said Jordan Paul, Executive Director of the Moroccan American Center. "Resolving the Western Sahara issue based on the Moroccan autonomy plan is essential to promoting regional cooperation and coordination. The US must offer continuing support and encouragement to Morocco, its oldest, strongest and most stable ally in the region.

The Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) is a non-profit organization whose principal mission is to inform opinion makers, government officials, and interested publics in the United States about political and social developments in Morocco and the role being played by the Kingdom of Morocco in broader strategic developments in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.

This material is distributed by the Moroccan American Center for Policy on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.

Image Available:

Contact Information:

Jordana Merran

Dr. Mohammed Benhammou, founder of the Marrakesh Security Forum and President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies, speaks about Morocco's approach to counterterrorism at a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, March 30, 2016.