System of Terror in Africa. An Approach to Counter-Terrorism

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2016 22 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Peace and Conflict Studies, Security



1. Introduction

2. Africa’s Terrorist Groups’ Common Characteristics

3. System of Terrorism In Africa

4. Strategies to Counter the System Of Terrorism

5. Conclusion


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System concept is applied to analyze complex systems across all fields of studies including academic, social, military philosophy and religion…etc. Both natural and social phenomenon studied and synthesized under system concept1. In the military domain, modern warfare was founded with understanding system thinking and influenced since 1921.Classical counterinsurgency also used systems approach to identify key processes in an insurgent system, and coordinated countermeasures at systemic level. Such approach broke down the insurgent system into components processes, analyzed each component, and reassembled the components into a net assessment of progress. Several papers appeared in academic literature and within the intelligence and strategic policy communities, including complexity-based systems analyses of single-state insurgencies2.Such works define insurgencies as social systems comprising interdependent parts, inputs, processes and outputs, which exist in a pattern of relationships that define the extent of the system and work together for the whole.

Terrorist groups defined as “complex and adaptive systems” with the following characteristics3.they:

- are complex systems that composed of multiple, interconnected elements;
- are adaptive which have the capacity to change and learn from experience;
- are open systems: matter and energy flow into the system as inputs like recruits, sympathizers, weapons, grievances, and doctrine;
- transform inputs through processes i.e. indoctrination, intelligence collection, operations, and logistics;
- produce outputs i.e. casualties, social dislocation, destruction, and further grievances and media coverage;
- maintain a distinct organizational boundary with their environment to operate;
- form networks composed of nodes _individuals, units, locations_ and links through communications channels, causal linkages, demographic and spatial connections.
- maintain dynamic interaction of elements which involves communication, cooperation, specialization, spatial and temporal organization, and reproduction.

System approach is recognized as the best approach to understand, prevent, and investigate terrorism phenomenon4, because it allows policy makers to identify one component of the system, for example recruitment or financial network, and understand more fully its relationship to the whole.5 Among the proponents of system approach, Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) David Kilcullen6 argued the need to apply systems approach to effective counterinsurgency.

This paper discusses systematic elements of terrorist groups that determine their continued existence and operational effectiveness in Africa. According to system theory, open systems are real-world systems whose boundaries allow exchanges of energy, material, information, resources etc. with the larger external environment or system in which they exist. Accordingly, terrorism phenomenon is an open system in which ideology, tactics, technology and many other aspects shared among terrorist groups despite their differences in many aspects. Hence, the paper will argues such common trends of terrorist phenomenon in Africa. System theory proposes that system stops functioning when an element is removed or changed significantly. Accordingly, how will Africa hamper terrorism depends on how system elements of terrorist groups impeded significantly, as system theory explains. The paper will also discuss those elements and how to counteract them to end terrorism in Africa.


Nowadays, terrorism is increasing in Africa following collapse of the regimes in Libya and Tunisia, and state failure in Somalia. Africa has become the main arena for international terrorism because of porous borders, proximity to Middle East and continued political instability; that provided opportunity to international terrorists 7. Professionals argue that Africa, in the very near future, will be the main theater of counter-terrorism in the world, not Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq Syria or Yemen alone, because of wide presence of international terrorist groups in most parts of Africa. Currently, more than dozens of large international terrorist groups recorded in Africa than its history as indicated in Table-1 bellow. For this paper, their common characteristics are discussed in the next section.


In Contemporary world, religious-motivated objectives have become more central to terrorist groups8. Religious beliefs often shape terrorists’ and insurgents’ causes and are used to obtain support among a community of the faithful. Throughout history, religion has been a powerful stimulus for political violence by Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, and other faiths.9 Africa’s terrorist groups (below listed in Table-1) are religiously motivated jihadist organizations whose ultimate goal is to overthrow secular governments and to replace them with Islamic State governed by strict sharia law 10. Writers like Princeton N. Lyman concerned about such problems, “If terrorism will arise through the doors of religious strife and political exploitation of religion, then Africa is indeed a major area for attention11.”


According to Palermo Convention terrorist offense is transnational if: (1) It is committed in more than one State; (2) It is committed in one State but has a substantial part of its preparation, planning, direction or control takes place in another State; (3) It is committed in one State but involved an organized group that engages in activities in more than one State; or (4) It is committed in one State but has substantial effects in another State12. Global nature of terrorist organizations is well discussed in different literatures even most of such terror groups pretend to be local. For example, Terrorism Research.Com reported that international groups typically operate in multiple countries, but retain a geographic focus for their activities.

Table-1: Designated African foreign terrorist organizations; combined from US Country Report on terrorism 2011

illustration not visible in this excerpt13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Anneli Botha and Hussein Solomo (undated) have also mentioned the universal occurrence of religious motivated violence across national and ethnic borders.US State Department Country Report on Terrorism (April 2009) indicated the tendency that international terrorists share many of the characteristics of a global insurgency such as propaganda campaigns, grassroots-support, transnational ideology, and political and ideological ambitions. Accordingly, Freedom and Gerald ( 2013) stated:

Groups hitherto considered as domestic groups, such as Boko Haram and MUJAO, have successfully launched transnational attacks or struck at international targets, thereby fundamentally changing their prior description and designation. The MUJAO (of Mali) has also expanded their attacks into neighboring countries, demonstrated by the 23 May 2013 twin suicide bombing in Niger.

To be sure, AQIM, in north and West of Africa expanded the scope of its terrorist operations in the Sahel conducting terrorist operations in Mauritania, Mali and Ivory Coast; Boko Harm of Nigeria conducting hundreds of attacks stretched its scope to neighboring Cameron, Chad and Niger; in the Horn of Africa al-Qaida affiliated al-Shabaab conducting its terrorist tactics outside Somali in Uganda and Kenya29.

2.3. Terrorist Insurgency

Most major contemporary terrorist groups such as Al Qaida employ a blend of urban terrorism and insurgency30. Some strategists and writers such as Zachary Laub recognized this new trend and informing policy makers to rethink their approach on terrorist groups31. Among others, for example,Assaf Moghadam argued that terrorist groups use terrorism in conjunction with other tactics, notably guerrilla warfare; and terrorism is rarely a self-standing phenomenon; and it occurs in the context of broader armed conflict, typically an insurgency and/or a civil war.32 Scott Stewart also wrote that jihadist movements utilize terrorism as an element of their various insurgent campaigns.33 The same approach, Jonathan R. mentioned the emerging of insurgence model that combines both guerrilla and ideological terrorism approaches and associates them with networks, technology and globalization.34 ” Such blending of tactics is termed as “Hybrid warfare” - a tactic an adversary uses a combination of conventional and unconventional warfare. US Army Secretary Gen. George Casey describes hybrid as “It’s a mix of conventional, irregular, terrorist and criminal capabilities that are organized and employed asymmetrically.” According to some military specialists hybrid threat might mix insurgency with conventional forces and even weapons of mass destruction.35

Wikipedia defines Hybrid Warfare as a military strategy that blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare. The U.S. Army Chief of Staff defined a hybrid threat in 2008 as an adversary that incorporates "diverse and dynamic combinations of conventional, irregular, terrorist and criminal capabilities”. However, there are a variety of terms used to refer to the hybrid war concept such as hybrid war, hybrid warfare, hybrid threat, or hybrid adversary. US military bodies tend to speak in terms of a hybrid threat, while academic literature speaks of hybrid warfare36

Most of Africa’s terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab37, AQIM and Boko Haram have undertaken a violent insurgency using guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics targeting combatant forces and innocent civilian. Targets of terrorist groups are another concern of contemporary terrorism in Africa where insurgents using terrorism as tactic, select targets for their political and psychological impact and often target economic and political symbols to undermine the legitimacy of governments.38 Jonathan R. argued that terrorists’ targeting is shifted from military forces to societal structures: such as civilians, symbols, physical and technological infrastructures - become the targets of the attack; and terrorists have found that their striking power can be increased when their attacks case economic damage39.


1 See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_adaptive_system;http://www.academicroom.com/topics/what-is-systems- theory 17 January 2016; Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) David Kilcullen (2004), Countering Global Insurgency, Version 2.2, 30 Nov 04, http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/kilcullen.pdf

2 See also: Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) David Kilcullen (2004), Countering Global Insurgency, Version 2.2, 30 Nov 04, http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/kilcullen.pdf

3 See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_adaptive_system;http://www.academicroom.com/topics/what-is-systems- theory 17 January 2016; Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) David Kilcullen (2004), Countering Global Insurgency, Version 2.2, 30 Nov 04, http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/kilcullen.pdf

4 Jonathan R. White 2012 : 64

5 Kim Cragin 2009 :375

6 Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) David Kilcullen (2004), Countering Global Insurgency, Version 2.2, 30 Nov 04, http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/kilcullen.pdf. The article informs in detail systems of insurgent terrorists.

7 Country report on terrorism, April 2009

8 Kaarobo and Ray, 2011:258

9 Jems D.Kiras,Irrigular warfare:Terrorism and insurgency,http://www.indianstrategicknowledgeonline.com/web/baylis3e_ch09.pdf

10 See in Zachary Laub March 27, 2015; US department of state publication office, April 2009 ; Alexander Mezyaev 2013: For example, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is an Islamist organization which aims to overthrow the Algerian government and establish an Islamic state; Al- Gama’a al -Islamiyya (GI) is an Egyptian Sunnite Islamist movement which aims to overthrow the Egyptian government and create an Islamic state; Boko Haram (BH), officially protests secular laws and the «westernization» of society, was created in 1991 and aims to establish a pure Islamic state based on sharia law throughout the territory of Nigeria; Al-Shabaab’s official goal is jihad against the «enemies of Islam»,seeking to establish to create a state governed strictly the groups ‘ connection of Islamic law; The armed Islamic Group (GIA) aims to overthrow the Algerian regime and replace it with a state governed by Sharia law; and more other terrorist organizations.

11 Princeton N. Lyman, April 1, 2004

12 Jakkie Cilliers 2003

13 AQIM, charities, donations, and criminal activities

14 Sinai Peninsula, extends to Cairo and the Egyptian Nile Valley into Gaza

15 Gaza, with attacks in Egypt and Israel

16 Variety of criminal activities in Gaza

17 Northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, Lake Chad Basin, and southeast Niger

18 Criminal activities such as kidnapping for ransom, bank robberies, and extortion

19 Working relationship with Boko Haram and during 2014 may have rejoined with the larger group

20 Many members have fled to southwest Asia, and European countries, particularly the UK.

21 Receive through its connections to other terrorist organizations in the region, AMB is likely funded through kidnapping ransoms and other criminal activities.

22 Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran,UK, Germany, and France

23 AQ affiliates – al-Nusrah Front, AQAP, AQIM, and al-Shabaab

24 like-minded supporters, individuals who believe that their money is supporting a humanitarian cause,Some funds are diverted from Islamic charitable organizations

25 Northeastern Algeria (including but not limited to the Kabylie region), Libya, Tunisia, northern Mali, and Niger

26 kidnapping for ransom and criminal activities

27 Affilate with al-Qa’ida (AQ),(AQAP),(AQIM)

28 Continued to control large sections of rural areas in the middle and lower Juba regions, as well as Bay, Shabelle, and Bakol regions, and maintained its presence in northern Somalia along the Golis Mountains and within Puntland’s larger urban areas.

29 Kaarobo and Ray, 2011:258

30 Princeton N. Lyman, April 1, 2004

31 US department of state publication office, April 2009 pp13; US Department Of State Country Report: Africa Review 2013

32 Assaf Moghadam, Ronit Berger, and Polina Beliakova, Say Terrorist, Think Insurgent: Labeling and Analyzing Contemporary Terrorist Actors http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/374/745

33 See the article written by Zachary Laub , March 27, 2015 ; Zachary Laub, Online Writer/Editor, and Jonathan Masters, Deputy Editor;Updated: March 27, 2015 Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) http://www.cfr.org/terrorist-organizations-and- networks/al-qaeda-islamic-maghreb-aqim/p1271727 December 2015.

34 Assaf Moghadam, The Connectivity between Terrorism, Insurgency, and Civil War; Friday, 20 June 2014 https://news.siteintelgroup.com/blog/index.php/entry/184-al-qaeda-terrorism-and-insurgency-1

35 Scott Stewart | Jan 13 2014 ,The jihadist movement: insurgent and terrorist theory The theory behind insurgency and terrorism: part 2 of a series- http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the_jihadist_movement_insurgent_and_terrorist_theory#sthash.qUqbuqhR.dpuf

36 Jonathan R. White, 2012 pp 100

37 Seth Robson July 26, 2010

38 Wikipedia

39 Recognized international media and security research centre label al-Shabaab as insurgent group; see also: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/al-shabaab.htm;http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/globalizing-insurgency- somal;http://addisfortune.net/columns/as-al-shabaab-changes-tactics-so-should- amisom/;http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/militias-and-insurgency-in-somalia; http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=1029


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terrorism counterterrorism system theory military security African security




Title: System of Terror in Africa. An Approach to Counter-Terrorism