(Note: Dr Phares is scheduled to address the Command of US AFRICOM on the Jihadist strategic threat this month.)
The terror group Shabab al Jihad of Somalia is all business when it threatens its victims with attacks. For weeks and months, the mouthpieces of the jihadist organization battling the Somali government in Mogadishu, have been threatening to strike at countries deployed in Somalia as part of the African peace forces stationed there.
Those threats were crystal clear. They were posted on Salafist sites and some even aired on Al Jazeera. Following Al Qaeda and Taliban strategies in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Shabab al Jihad’s aim is to target countries supportive of peace efforts and stabilization in their own cities.
Usama bin Laden’s guidelines apply still: “your security will be harmed as long as our security is harmed.” Translation: As long as the international community sends forces to stabilize countries where we operate, we will send terrorists to massacre your citizens in your own neighborhoods.
That is what happened in Kampala yesterday, and the symbolism is no accident in Al Qaeda’s calculus — strike at the most popular events you can find to instill fear in their hearts.
In Uganda, at the peak of a soccer season (ironically hosted by an African country this year), Al Shabab chose locations where patrons gathered to watch the World Cup. If evil can be quantified in political science, this is one of its peaks.
Uganda, along with other Black African countries has consented to send troops to chaotic Somalia in order to protect the civilian population there from the advances of an African version of the Taliban, the Shabab al Jihad.
The presence of African forces in Somalia was designed initially to serve as a replacement for Western forces. The thinking was this: If there are Muslim and African forces present in Somalia, rather than just Western forces, it would deprive the jihadists in Somalia of a propaganda opportunity. After all, it’s harder to accuse Muslim forces of being “infidels.” Africans must help Africans was the idea. A concept that should be reinforced by the West, too.
The jihadists of Somalia dislike the idea that other Africans are assisting the government in its quest to regain sovereignty against the terror militias seeking to establish of a medieval emirate in the country.
Al Qaeda’s propaganda works better when the enemy is portrayed as “Western infidel.” But attacking African brothers for helping in the fight against terrorists is a tough sell for the jihadists.
The best option for Al Qaeda and its associates to defeat the African war on terror in Somalia is to strike deep inside the Black African countries that are assisting Somalia’s government. If Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia and Central African Republic, among other African neighbors, are intimidated, there will be no African stabilization force in Somalia, and that will give Shabab al Jihad free rein in controlling the strategically located country.
The bloodshed in Kampala, as a result of a twin terror attack, is a reminder of the presence of Al Qaeda and its associates in East Africa. It brings observers back to the 1998 twin attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Twelve years later, the jihadist networks are more powerful, better trained and have deeply infiltrated the region.
Shabab al Jihad seems to have become the regional brokers for Al Qaeda. Out of their enclaves in Somalia they provide assistance to other jihadist brothers-in-arms in the area including in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda.
The perpetrators of the Kampala attack may be Somali jihadists, but chances are that Al Qaeda and its allies may have also recruited inside Uganda already. There are jihadists operating inside Uganda and Kenya. They all form an international network.
What’s troubling for the United States and other Western countries is the risks involved for their nationals in the area. While official personnel is limited and trained for these situations, workers assigned to humanitarian and educational NGOs should be made aware of the potential threat.At least one U.S. citizen has already been killed in this attack.
The determination of the jihadists is lethal. The statement by a Shabab commander, Sheikh Yusuf Issa is revealing: “Uganda is one of our enemies. Whatever makes them cry makes us happy. May Allah’s anger be upon those who are against us.” And here’s another sobering thought — Uganda is only one of their enemies.
Dr. Walid Phares is the director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He advises members of the US Congress and the European Parliament on Terrorism. He is author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.”
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