Mali to Zanzibar: why terror is eating Africa

By John R Bradley, January 17, 2013
Nasheed: “New Muslim narrative needed” (Photo: AP)

Nasheed: “New Muslim narrative needed” (Photo: AP)

The decision by Britain and France to launch strikes in northern Mali, where al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its myriad affiliates have taken control, has brought to the world’s attention how the poisonous tentacles of the Arab Spring have reached a great swathe of Africa.

From Zanzibar to the Maldives, Somalia to Nigeria, a re-energised, disciplined and heavily armed network of Islamist terror groups are now on the warpath — as their counterparts in the Arab world consolidate their own new power bases in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and beyond.

The airstrikes in Mali followed a botched, French-led attempt to rescue one of its captive nationals. And as France braced for retaliatory terror attacks at home, in Benghazi, Libya, the French Consul’s bulletproof car saved him from an assassination attempt. That little-reported event points to a grim reality the Western media would prefer to ignore. Namely, that by forming short-term alliances with al-Qaeda franchises, while offering uncritical support of their dictatorial paymasters Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the West is responsible for sowing the seeds for a massive Islamist blowback.

It was in Benghazi, after all, that Nato trained and armed al-Qaeda fighters — as they are now doing in Syria. After Gaddafi’s fall, the Nato-installed interim regime was reduced to begging Qatar to cease arming the by then out-of-control Islamist militias.

During the subsequent chaos, many of the Islamists, along with a hodgepodge of tribal mercenaries, flowed through Libya’s southern borders, teamed up with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — and headed for the latter’s stronghold of Mali. The al-Qaeda affiliate was already reportedly using the country to train Boko Haram, the Islamist group causing mayhem in Nigeria, and had formed close ties with Somalia’s al-Qaeda outfit Al-Shabaab.

Trouble in paradise: Islamists in Zanzibar clashing with police last year (Photo: Reuters)

Trouble in paradise: Islamists in Zanzibar clashing with police last year (Photo: Reuters)

That jihadism is spreading fast in parts of Africa not previously linked to that strain of Islam is clear enough, as is the reason. Al-Qaeda provides the suicide bombers, and for decades Saudi funding for mosques and madrassas has created fertile ground for recruitment. The Saudi-backed Wahhabi “charity” Al-Noor has centres across Muslim Africa, giving clerics free reign to spew their hate-filled discourse.

Ousted Maldives Prime Minister Mohamed Nasheed recently suggested that “East Asia” needed to provide a narrative to counter the spread of conservatism. Presumably, he was referring to South-East Asia’s Muslim-majority countries like Indonesia and Malaysia; and if so, he needs to take a reality check. Saudi Wahhabism has become so dominant in those two countries that, in some parts of northern Malaysia, there are now even segregated checkout queues in supermarkets — madness unknown even back in the Wahhabi kingdom itself.

What is instead needed is a new narrative in the West itself: one which shines a light on, rather than tries to obscure or excuse, our uncritical support for Saudi Arabia, which funds the jihadis we train and then have to fight.

John R Bradley’s latest book is ‘After the Arab Spring’ (2012)

Last updated: 2:08pm, January 17 2013