A new study on North Africa and the Sahel reports that terrorist attacks in the region “increased an alarming 60 percent” in 2013, to the highest annual level over the past 12 years. “An expanding array of Al-Qaeda-affiliated and like-minded extremist groups” escalated their violent attacks across an “‘arc of instability’ from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.” “Terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel in 2013” reports that Libya, Algeria, Mali, and Tunisia suffered the highest rate of attacks in the region, which has seen terrorism rise more than 600 percent since 9/11.
The study, authored by Yonah Alexander, Director of the Inter-University Center on Terrorism Studies (IUCTS), is the IUCTS’s fifth annual report on terrorism in the Maghreb and Sahel region. It was released Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC at the 16th annual event on “International Cooperation in Combating Terrorism: Review of 2013 and Outlook for 2014,” hosted by the IUCTS/Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
“The stakes are too high for America to disengage from the Maghreb and the Sahel,” Alexander underscored in the report, adding that “America’s vital interests in the region and those of our friends and allies are under assault by extremists and radicals who are doing us harm and want to inflict more damage.”
The report recommends that regional and global leaders take a range of steps to stem the flow of arms and new jihadi recruits, promote regional cooperation and development, and prevent what the UN Security Council warned last year was becoming “a breeding ground for extremists and a launch pad for larger-scale terrorist attacks around the world.”
The study recommended a range of “hard” and “soft power” solutions:
- Apply “soft power” by accelerating national and regional economic development, through reduced barriers to foreign and domestic trade and investment, increased assistance programs, support for critical infrastructure programs such as Power Africa and Trans-Africa Highway, and “triangular aid” projects in health, water, sanitation, power, and primary education.
- Increase intelligence-sharing, counterterrorism technical assistance, and support for reforms that promote human rights, independent judiciaries, transparency, and rule of law, as well as work to resolve old conflicts that impede regional economic and security cooperation, such as the Western Sahara dispute.
- Improve regional security cooperation and control of national borders to reduce the flow of recruits and arms to criminal and terrorist groups.
- Disband military units and conduct a census in the Polisario-run camps in Algeria, “which pose a threat to regional security as a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers;” give refugees there a chance to migrate.
“The precarious situation in the region constitutes a real threat to peace, security, and stability,” said Rachad Bouhlal, Morocco’s Ambassador to the US, at the IUCTS forum. He said Morocco is taking a comprehensive approach that includes security and economic development, as well as promoting religious moderation, to combat extremism. He noted King Mohammed VI’s agreement with the new Malian President to train 500 imams in Morocco’s moderate Islam and reported that 100 imams from Mali have already begun the program.