Three of Africa’s largest militant Islamist groups, Al-Qaeda in North Africa, Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s al-Shabab are trying to co-ordinate their efforts, the head of the US Africa Command has warned.
Commander of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, General Carter Ham, said indication of cooperation between Boko Haram, al Shabaab in East Africa, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could signal a dangerous escalation of security threats on the continent.
According to Gen Ham, North African al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was probably sharing explosives and funds with Nigeria’s Boko Haram.
The three organisations are said to be the continent’s most violent and they are believed to be sharing money and explosive materials while training fighters together.
Reuters reports on Monday quoted Ham as saying, “Each of those three organisations is by itself a dangerous and worrisome threat.
“What really concern me are the indications that the three organisations are seeking to coordinate and synchronise their efforts. That is a real problem for us and for African security in general.”
He spoke at an African Centre for Strategic Studies seminar for senior military and civilian officials from Africa, the United States and Europe.
The United States classified three of the alleged leaders of Boko Haram, as “foreign terrorists,” on June 20. But it declined to blacklist the entire organisation to avoid elevating the group’s profile internationally.
Police confirmed that members of the sect seized a prison in Damaturu, Yobe State, on Sunday and freed 40 inmates.
Islamist militant group al Shabaab is active in war-ravaged Somalia and has been blamed for attacks in Kenya. Last year it claimed responsibility for the death of Somali Interior Minister, Abdi Shakur Sheikh Hassan.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an affiliate of al Qaeda based in North Africa, is mainly a criminal organisation operating in the Sahel region. It kidnaps Westerners for ransom and aids Africa’s drug trade, according to intelligence officials.
The U.S. and regional officials fear that a power vacuum in northern Mali following a military coup in March may open an expanded area of operations for Islamist militants. Some western diplomats talk of the country becoming a “West African Afghanistan.”
Ham said AQIM was now operating “essentially unconstrained” throughout a large portion of northern Mali, where Islamists have imposed a harsh version of Shariah law.
“The group was a threat not only to the countries in the region, but also has “a desire and intent to attack Americans as well. So that becomes a real problem,” Ham said.
Emphasising that the U.S. military played mainly a supporting role in Africa, Ham said the US was providing intelligence and logistical help in the hunt for Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army was accused of abducting children to use as fighters and hacking off limbs of civilians.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague had indicted Kony for crimes against humanity in 2005, and his case hit the headlines in March when a video entitled Kony 2012; put out by a U.S. activist group and calling for his arrest went viral across the Internet.
Ham said he was confident that Kony would ultimately be apprehended by African troops.
“This is an African-led effort. It is the African Union increasingly taking a leadership role with a little bit of support from the United States military. We think that is the right approach,” Ham said.
Meanwhile, Ham said on Monday that the U.S. military was increasing its operations on the continent as terrorist groups began to work closer together to carry out attacks in the region.
He said the terrorist threat in Africa was growing and that the U.S. forces under his command were focused on al Shabab, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in the north, and Boko Haram.
The US new defence strategy calls for a greater focus on Africa, but only with a limited presence of U.S. personnel to train and assist the militaries of countries on the continent to counter security threats.