Taliban Challenged by Uptick of Islamic State–Khorasan Province Attacks

Taliban Humvee in Kabul

“The Taliban government has said that it has defeated the Daesh group and will not allow the terrorist organization to use the territory of Afghanistan to pose any threat to other countries… At the same time, the spokesperson of the US Department of State said that the Taliban should remain committed to the fight against terrorism.”

Despite counterterrorism efforts by the Taliban, the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (IS-KP) has been responsible for a series of attacks in Afghanistan since the new year. According to the first excerpted article from Pashto-language public service news Radio Azadi, the Taliban previously stated it had defeated IS-KP; however, recent activity by the group indicates otherwise. Since its inception in 2014, IS-KP has conducted bombing and suicide attacks against both civilian and government targets, mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, resulting in an estimated 309 fatalities in 2021.[i] In January 2024, IS-KP claimed responsibility for detonating an improvised explosive device in Kabul, killing two civilians and wounding 14 more. This was the second IS-KP bombing in Afghanistan in less than a week.[ii] These attacks followed the highly publicized IS-KP–-claimed attack in Kerman, Iran, on 4 January, which killed as many as 84 people and injured scores more. Iran called it the single deadliest attack in the country since 1979.

Recent reporting suggests Afghanistan is once again being used as a terrorist training ground—this time by IS-KP rather than al-Qaeda. According to the second excerpted article from the Saudi news source Independent, two IS-KP suicide bombers were arrested in Pakistan and accused of planning to bomb the leaders of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and National Awami political parties.[iii] The captured bombers admitted to receiving training in the Paktia province in Afghanistan, a remote area that shares a border with Pakistan. The article further notes that counterterrorism talks continue between Pakistan and Afghanistan, intended to decrease tension resulting from disagreements on how to handle Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders currently residing in Afghanistan. Although weakened, IS-KP appears able to continue to stage attacks in Afghanistan and the region at large. The Taliban is situated in a delicate position in the region, with any potential missteps in its counterterrorism strategy leading to an IS-KP resurgence. Internal disputes in the Taliban government have led to some Tajik Taliban members in the northern part of Afghanistan being investigated for links to IS-KP. Additionally, the Taliban does not appear to have any intention to reconcile with communities formerly linked with IS-KP, which could be a source of additional recruits for the organization. Finally, there is an ongoing concern among TTP leadership about members potentially defecting to IS-KP should the group’s jihad in Pakistan end.[iv]


 “کابل کې د ۲۰۲۴ کال لومړۍ چاودنه او د ملکیانو مرګ ژوبله (The first explosion of 2024 in Kabul and civilian casualties),” Radio Azadi (Radio Free Europe Affiliate), Accessed 13 January 2024. https://pa.azadiradio.com/a/32763886.html

At least two civilians were killed, and 14 others were injured in the first explosion of 2024 in Afghanistan, which took place in Dasht Barchi, a Shia-populated area west of Kabul. Khaled Zadran, the spokesman of the Taliban government’s Kabul police headquarters, said in a statement late yesterday that a caster-type vehicle was targeted in the blast. He announced the beginning of the investigation regarding this incident, for which no one has accepted responsibility. Before this, the Khorasan province branch of the Islamic State group or Daesh has accepted responsibility for some deadly attacks in the west of Kabul.

In the month of November, there was an explosion in Dasht Barchi that killed at least 7 people, and the responsibility was taken by Daesh, the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State group. According to the report of Agence France-Presse, although the level of insecurity has greatly increased after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, some armed groups, such as the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State group, or Daesh, are still considered a serious threat. The Daesh group also claimed responsibility for the killing of Dawood Muzamal, the Taliban governor for Balkh, last year. He was killed in a bomb attack in his office.

The Taliban government has said that it has defeated the Daesh group and will not allow the terrorist group to use the territory of Afghanistan to pose any threat to other countries. According to the report of the French news agency, the Acting Minister of Defense of the Taliban, Mohammad Yaqub Mujahid, last week announced a 90 percent decrease in the attacks of the Daesh group during the last year in Kabul. This is while the intelligence of the United States of America has said that the Daesh group in Afghanistan is involved in the bombings of the city of Kerman, Iran, last Wednesday. Two well-informed sources told the Reuters news agency last Friday that the communication information collected by the US proves that this attack, which killed nearly 100 people, was carried out by two attackers from the Khorasan province branch of the Islamic State group or Daesh… Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has denied this report while talking to the media. He said that ISIS has no capacity or presence in Afghanistan to plan any attack in Iran. At the same time, the spokesperson of the US Department of State said that the Taliban should remain committed to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan…

Last Wednesday, January 3rd, explosions took place in Kerman city of Iran during the ceremony of Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of IRGC Quds Force. Iran has called it the deadliest attack in the country since 1979. A day after the incident, the Islamic State or Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack on Thursday and said that two of its members planted explosives on their bodies. The group did not say that this was done by the Afghan branch of the Islamic State group or Daesh…

“بازداشت دو مهاجم انتحاری داعش «آموزش‌دیده در افغانستان» در پاکستان (Two ISIS suicide bombers ‘trained in Afghanistan’ were arrested in Pakistan),” Independent Persian (Persian language Saudi Research and Marketing Group Agency media outlet), 13 January 2024. https://www.independentpersian.com/node/382361/

Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Department said on Friday, January 12, that two suicide bombers belonging to the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State (ISIS), who planned to attack Maulana Fazl-ul-Rehman, the leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Party, and Amil Wali Khan, the leader of the National Awami Party of that country, have been arrested. According to the Express Tribune, Najmul Hasnain Liaqat, one of the senior officials of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism department, said in a press conference in Peshawar that the two suicide bombers were arrested in Peshawar and two suicide vests, three hand grenades, and some explosives were recovered from them.

The official of the Anti-Terrorism Department said that the explosives of these suicide attackers have been neutralized, and they have confessed to planning suicide attacks against Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman and Emil Wali Khan in the initial investigations.He said that these two ISIS suicide bombers were trained in Paktia province in Afghanistan and then went to Pakistan. Pakistan’s counter-terrorism department has not provided a document about the suicide training of these two ISIS members in Afghanistan. Taliban officials have not commented on this matter so far. But the Taliban deny training terrorists, including ISIS, in Afghanistan.

The Taliban call their suicide bombers “martyrs”. These forces have been trained in the training centers of the Taliban in such a way that they are ready to kill themselves to achieve the “dream of reaching heaven”. Among these suicide forces, there are a large number of young people who are waiting in line for a suicide attack and blowing themselves up on the way to the Taliban’s targets… Recently, ISIS has launched explosive and suicide attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman traveled to Afghanistan on Sunday, and met with Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Hasan Akhund, the prime minister of the Taliban, Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the political deputy of the prime minister of the Taliban, Amir Khan Motaghi, the foreign minister of the Taliban, Mullah Yaqub, the minister of defense of the Taliban, and other officials. Jamiat Ulema Pakistan has claimed that Mullah Yaqoob told Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman that the Taliban do not distinguish between themselves and Pakistan, and Mullah Yaqoob has expressed hope that the tension between the Taliban and Pakistan will decrease…The tension between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban regime has been formed in connection with how to deal with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The government of Pakistan wants the Taliban to hand over the leaders of the TTP inside the territory of Afghanistan and not to allow this group to use the territory of that country to attack. But on the other hand, Taliban reject the presence of foreign terrorists like TTP in Afghanistan. Senior Taliban officials have repeatedly said that TTP is Pakistan’s internal problem and that country must deal with it. Following the domination of the Taliban over Afghanistan, the number of explosive and terrorist attacks in Pakistan has increased. TTP and its allied groups are responsible for most of these attacks. ISIS is also trying to increase attacks in Pakistan. America has described the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan as a serious threat to the region and the world.


[i] For additional information on IS-K’s history, ideology, tactics, and a summarized threat assessment, visit: Catrina Doxsee, and Jared Thompson. “Examining Extremism: Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP),” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8 September 2021. https://www.csis.org/blogs/examining-extremism/examining-extremism-islamic-state-khorasan-province-iskp

[ii] See: “داعش مسئولیت دومین انفجار مرگبار در کابل را هم بر عهده گرفت (ISIS also claimed responsibility for the second deadly explosion in Kabul),” Radio Farda, 9 January 2024. https://www.radiofarda.com/a/kabul-isis/32768439.html

[iii] Pakistan’s parliamentary election is scheduled for 8 February 2024. A detailed list of political parties and their political affiliations published by the UK Government can be found here: “Country Policy and Information Note Pakistan: Political Parties and Affiliation,” Home Office UK Government, May 2023. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/645cb936ad8a03000c38b295/PAK_CPIN_Political_parties_and_affiliation.pdf

[iv] The ICCT published a recent analysis on the potential resurgence of IS-KP and the Taliban’s counterterrorism efforts at: Antonio Giustozzi. “The Islamic State in Khorasan between Taliban counter-terrorism and resurgence prospects,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, January 30, 2024. https://www.icct.nl/publication/islamic-state-khorasan-between-taliban-counter-terrorism-and-resurgence-prospects

Image Information:

Image: Taliban Humvee in Kabul
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliban_Humvee_in_Kabul,_August_2021_(cropped).png
Attribution: Public Domain

Malian Coup Leader Faces Challenges Reconquering Kidal

MINUSMA Goundam 2015

“I am sending planes to bomb their positions and the army will return to Kidal….”

Over the past half-decade, Malian insurgents, and especially the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for Supporters of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), have expanded their influence across northern Mali and have begun to control key towns in that region, such as the primarily Tuareg-inhabited Kidal. However, according to the excerpted article from the French-language publication togotimes.com, interim president of Mali, Assimi Goïta, has vowed to reconquer Kidal. While the Malian Army may be more powerful than JNIM, the reconquest and government rule of Kidal raises questions about heavy-handed tactics the Malian Army will employ and whether the Army will cooperate with Russia’s Wagner Group,[i] which has aided it in counterterrorism for the past year.[ii]

At the same time, Goïta is rejecting any negotiations with the Coalition of the Movement of Azawad (CMA), [iii] which seeks autonomy for Tuareg regions of northern Mali. Unlike JNIM, which is explicitly jihadist and unwilling to compromise with the state, the CMA accepts Mali’s legitimacy as a nation-state. In his speech, Goïta stated he would send the Army to liberate any area of the country that disassociates from being “Malian,” which hinted at little room for accommodation of the “Tuareg” CMA. Goïta’s threats to send warplanes to bomb Kidal alongside his partnership with Wagner suggest that an excessively harsh military operation may be underway and that it could alienate civilians in northern Mali from government rule and ultimately favor recruitment into JNIM or the CMA.

Less than two weeks after Goïta’s speech, discussed in the excerpted article in French-language media agenceecofin.com, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) withdrew from its base in Aguelhok, Kidal region following demands from Goïta and other Malian coup leaders.[iv] However, Goïta condemned MINUSMA for its accelerated exit from Aguelhok due to intensified combat with JNIM and not transferring the base or weapons to the Malian Army. Rather, MINUSMA destroyed them so they would not fall into the hands of JNIM, which ultimately took over the Aguelhok base for a short period of time.[v] The rapid MINUSMA withdrawal and JNIM advances in its aftermath will make Goïta’s realization of his promise to reconquer and hold Kidal more difficult, even as his political credibility rests on it. On top of this, cooperation with Wagner could result in the alienation of northern Malian civilians from the government. Further, the chasm between Goïta and the CMA make any political resolution in northern Mali less likely as well.


“Ce message important d’Assimi Goïta au CMA, le JNIM et leurs llies (This important message from Assimi Goïta to the CMA, JNIM and their allies),” togotimes.com (French-language publication edited in Togo that provides commentary on current affairs in Francophone African countries), 10 October 2023. https://togotimes.info/2023/10/10/mali-ce-message-important-dassimi-goita-au-cma-le-jnim-et-leurs-allies/#google_vignette

The reconquering of Malian territory will not be a subject to discussion. Regarding this point, the latest transitional president Assimi Goïta is categorical. There is no question of him accepting a compromise with anyone. He refused the elders of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, who were sent by the CMA, JNIM, and their allies to negotiate. 

“We must dissolve any entity from one state or another and dissociate ourselves from any movement. You have to accept being Malian…. I am sending planes to bomb their positions and the army will return to Kidal before the 30th and if MINUSMA gets involved, the Malian people will decide their fate.”

“Bamako accuse la Minusma d’avoir précipité son retrait du camp d’Aguelhok sans le rétrocéder (Bamako accuses MINUSMA of expediting its withdrawal from the Aguelhok camp without handing it over),” agenceecofin.com (French-language publication based in Geneva, Switzerland and Yaounde, Cameroon that focuses on African economic affairs), 26 October 2023. https://www.agenceecofin.com/securite/2610-113102-mali-bamako-accuse-la-minusma-d-avoir-precipite-son-retrait-du-camp-daguelhok-sans-le-retroceder

The Malian army condemned in a press release released on Tuesday afternoon, October 24, the withdrawal of MINUSMA from the Aguelhok camp without handing it over. According to the FAMA, this rapid departure aided the introduction of “terrorists to destroy several installations,” the message added. The areas abandoned by MINUSMA have, for several months, been at the center of violent clashes between the FAMA and armed rebel groups in the north of the country…. But faced with intensifying fighting, the UN mission decided to accelerate its exit from the area, and condemned in the process the destruction of some of its equipment in attacks.


[i] For additional details on Russia’s deepening engagement with Mali and neighboring Sahelian states, see Jason Warner, “Russia-Supported Military Rulers in Mali, Burkina, and Guinea Continue To Deepen Ties,” OE Watch, 04-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/russia-supported-military-rulers-in-mali-burkina-faso-and-guinea-continue-to-deepen-ties/

[ii] Human Rights Watch, for example, found that “Malian armed forces and foreign fighters apparently from the Russia-linked Wagner Group have summarily executed and forcibly disappeared several dozen civilians in Mali’s central region since December 2022…. They also destroyed and looted civilian property and allegedly tortured detainees in an army camp. See Human Rights Watch, “Mali: New Atrocities by Malian Army, Apparent Wagner Fighters,” July 24, 2023, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/07/24/mali-new-atrocities-malian-army-apparent-wagner-fighters

[iii] The CMA is signed the Algiers Peace Accords in June 2015, which sought “to restore peace in Mali principally through a process of decentralisation or regionalisation, reconstituting a national army from the members of the former armed groups that were signatories, and boosting the economy (particularly in the north), based on dialogue, justice and national reconciliation.” The coalition is composed of the Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA), the Haut Conseil pour l’Unité de l’Azawad (HCUA), and part of the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA-CMA), which were all formerly pro-independence movements in northern Mali. However, the CMA has remained an umbrella organization for northern Mali Tuareg militias. See International Crisis Group, “Mali’s Algiers Peace Agreement, Five Years On: An Uneasy Calm,” June 24, 2020. https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/sahel/mali/laccord-dalger-cinq-ans-apres-un-calme-precaire-dont-il-ne-faut-pas-se-satisfaire

[iv] The latest era of pervasive instability in Mali began in 2012, when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) led an attack on Aguelhok and subsequently other northern Malian towns. Several weeks later, in March 2012, one of the future JNIM coalition components, Ansar al-Din, released a video of its fighters massacring dozens of Malian soldiers at the Aguelhok base. After this, Ansar al-Din and other al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) allies took control over most of northern Mali. This led to the military overthrow of the civilian government in Bamako and later, in early 2013, the French-led military intervention in northern Mali. The intervention expelled Ansar al-Din, AQIM, and their allies – at least temporarily – from the territories they held in northern Mali, including Aguelhok. See: Alexander Thurston and Andrew Lebovich, “A Handbook on Mali’s 2012-2013 Crisis,” Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA), Working Paper No. 13-001, 2 September 2013. https://sahelresearch.africa.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/170/ISITA-13-001-Thurston-Lebovich.pdf

[v] France24 journalist Wassim Nasr posted on X (formerly Twitter) the claim by JNIM of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a MINUSMA convoy as it was departing the Aguelhok base. According to JNIM “all of the occupants” of one vehicle were killed. This claim reflected how JNIM was prepared to immediately frustrate and take advantage of the MINUSMA withdrawal to seize the base and pilfer items from it before the Malian armed forces could arrive. Wassim Nasr, “#Mali #JNIM #AQMI revendique un IED contre un convoi @UN_MINUSMA à #Aguelhok « le 23.10 un véhicule détruit […] tous les occupants tués » // « le 24.10 un IED contre un blindé FAMa & #Wagner entre #Hombori et #Gossi […] tous les passagers tués »,” X (formerly Twitter), 25 October 2023. https://twitter.com/SimNasr/status/1717211647608021370

Image Information:

Image: MINUSMA Goundam 2015
Source: Attribution: MINUSMA
Attribution: CC x 2.0

Beyond Borno: Islamic State’s Expansion into Southern Nigeria (Jacob Zenn) (February 2024)

(Click image to download brief.)

  • Key Takeaways:
  • Although the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) has historically been deeply
    rooted in northeastern Nigeria, recent patterns demonstrate that it is expanding operations
    to the more economically prosperous and majority Christian south.
  • The most plausible explanations for ISWAP’s move south are to “outbid” the rival Sunni
    Muslim Group for Preaching and Jihad (JASDJ); to follow Islamic State (IS) “core” directives
    to attract attention by attacking Christians and other high-profile targets; and to divert
    the Nigerian army’s attention from the north and relieve counterterrorism pressure near
    ISWAP’s main bases.
  • Beyond these heightened risks, ISWAP’s southern expansion threatens U.S. interests in
    Nigeria, Nigeria’s national security, and West African security more broadly

Côte d’Ivoire’s Stance On Military Interventions Prioritize Democratic Principles

Members of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center honor guard stand in formation during a welcoming ceremony for Ivory Coast Gen. Soumaila Bakayoko.

“If ECOWAS chooses a particular option to resolve the regional crisis, Côte d’Ivoire will follow this option in solidarity with other member states.”

On 29 September, the Turkish website of Anadolu News Agency published the excerpted French-language article on Côte d’Ivoire’s intention to comply with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if the organization military intervenes in Niger. The article notes that ECOWAS has threatened to intervene militarily in Niger to reinstall deposed president Mohamed Bazoum to power. A spokesperson for Côte d’Ivoire’s government confirmed that the country will not make any decision regarding Niger unilaterally but will respect the outcomes of ECOWAS member states’ debates.

The decision to follow ECOWAS into battle in Niger differs from Côte d’Ivoire’s announcement in November 2022 that it would withdraw its forces from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), despite MINUSMA’s continued counterinsurgency efforts against al-Qaeda and Islamic State-loyal militants. According to the excerpted French-language article in tvmonde5.com, Côte d’Ivoire’s withdrawal from MINUSMA came after Mali’s coup leaders alleged that Ivorian troops who entered Mali to operate with a German contingent were “mercenaries.”[i] Côte d’Ivoire’s commitment to ECOWAS and reduction in military support to MINUSMA can be interpreted as a reflection of how opposition parties have been permitted to participate in Ivorian politics and how other reforms have improved electoral competition since 2020.[ii] Côte d’Ivoire is willing to support military efforts to restore democratically elected civilian rulers, such as Bazoum, to power. However, the country is refraining from offering its troops for regional military efforts to support governments, such as in Mali, that refuse to return power to democratically elected leaders and that express allegiance towards Russia, including its proxy, Wagner Group.


“L’option d’une intervention militaire de la Cédéao au Niger reste possible (The option of ECOWAS military intervention in Niger remains possible),” Anadolu News Agency (Turkish state-run news agency aligned with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)), 29 September 2023. https://www.aa.com.tr/fr/afrique/loption-dune-intervention-militaire-de-la-c%C3%A9d%C3%A9ao-au-niger-reste-possible/3003520

The option of military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Niger remains on the table and Côte d’Ivoire will comply with the decisions adopted collectively by the community “if ECOWAS decides on this option,” said Ivorian government spokesperson Amadou Coulibaly. The government spokesperson affirmed that Côte d’Ivoire is a member that respects its commitments in ECOWAS.

In Niger, members of the presidential guard took power on July 26, pushing aside President Mohamed Bazoum and announcing the suspension of the Constitution and the formation of a National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland. ECOWAS threatened to intervene militarily to enable Bazoum to regain power and considered this an option ready to be implemented alongside strict punitive measures.

“La Côte d’Ivoire va retirer progressivement ses soldats du Mali (Ivory Coast will withdraw its soldiers from Mali gradually),” tvmonde5.com (French public television broadcaster’s website focusing on worldwide affairs affecting France), 16 November 2022. https://information.tv5monde.com/afrique/la-cote-divoire-va-retirer-progressivement-ses-soldats-du-mali-1424754

Côte d’Ivoire indicates that the soldiers and other elements active within MINUSMA will not be relieved in August 2023.Relations between Côte d’Ivoire have become significantly strained in recent months, particularly after the arrest last July of 49 Ivorian soldiers in Bamako.


[i] The bilateral dispute between Côte d’Ivoire and Mali reached a culmination in January 2023 when Côte d’Ivoire honored 49 soldiers after they were released from detention in Mali, where there were held for half a year, and returned home. Only weeks before their release from detention, a Bamako court had sentenced most of the Ivorian soldiers to 20 years in prison and others to death for being “mercenaries”. Although Ivorian soldiers had been invited to Mali by the German contingent of MINUSMA, the Malian coup leaders alleged the “Sahel Aviation Service (SAS),” which is a private company, transported the Ivorian soldiers. In contrast, the Wagner Group, which is affiliated to the Russian government, was welcomed into Mali by the Malian coup leaders. It is possible that the Ivorian and German governments’ criticism of the coup in Mali and lack of transition back to democracy underscored the Malian coup leaders’ initial actions to detains the Ivorian soldiers. See; “Mali detains Ivorian soldiers, accuses them of being mercenaries,” Rfi.fr, 12 July 2022. https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20220712-mali-detains-ivorian-soldiers-accuses-them-of-being-mercenaries

[ii] The U.S. State Department notes that since the Ivorian president’s election to a third term in 2020, the country’s democratic processes have been “generally considered free.” Similarly, the election monitoring group, New Dawn, assessed that the latest Ivorian local and regional elections in September 2023 “had gone smoothly.” Consistent with these democratic trends, Ivorian foreign policy has become increasingly aligned with ECOWAS and its member-states’ oppositions to military coups in West Africa. See; “2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cote d’Ivoire,” U.S. Department of State, 2023. https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/cote-divoire. See also; “Sweeping win for ruling party in Ivory Coast local and regional elections,” france24.com, 5 September 2023. https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20230904-sweeping-win-for-ruling-party-in-ivory-coast-local-and-regional-elections

Image Information:

Image: Members of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center honor guard stand in formation during a welcoming ceremony for Ivory Coast Gen. Soumaila Bakayoko.
Source: MSG Montigo White https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Members_of_the_Kofi_Annan_International_Peacekeeping_Training_Center_honor_guard_stand_in_formation_during_a_welcoming_ceremony_for_Ivory_Coast_Gen._Soumaila_Bakayoko%2C_the_Economic_Community_of_West_African_130626-A-ZZ999-016.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0

As Sahelian Jihadists Expand South, Côte d’Ivoire Stands as Model of Success

While much of the rest of the Sahel has become engulfed in jihadist violence, Côte d’Ivoire, highlighted here, has had surprising success at avoiding the same violence.

“The goal is to reverse perceptions among border communities that the state has abandoned them. Doing so will reduce the risk that they are exploited by insurgents.”

For the past several years, a primary concern in the Sahelian region of West Africa has been the ability of groups associated with the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda to push southward as they march to the littoral of the Bight of Benin.[i] While Mali and Burkina Faso continue to be the epicenters of jihadist activity, even historically immune countries like Togo, Benin, and Ghana have seen their northern regions, which border Mali and Burkina Faso, experience violence from these groups.[ii] However, as the accompanying article from the pan-African think tank The Institute for Security Studies articulates, Cote d’Ivoire, which would reasonably experience similar threats, seems to have figured out how to protect itself from this southern push. According to the authors, the country’s success is due to its commitment to strategies of security and development. On the security side, the article notes that its “military and security interventions played a notable role in achieving the prevailing calm.” These included several standard practices: the creation of a nationwide counterterrorism strategy; the addition of new weapons and armored vehicles; and the creation of a new counterterrorism center. Yet from the authors’ perspectives, the real success story has been Côte d’Ivoire’s citizen-centric development efforts, targeting populations living in its rural north, who are most susceptible to violence and radicalization. To discourage their joining the insurgents, the government’s social program seeks to “improve civilians’ living conditions” to “reverse the perception among border communities that the state has abandoned them” so as to “reduce the risk that they are exploited by insurgents.” The development program has focused on improving infrastructure, health, youth employment, and social safety allowances. A recent report by the global think tank International Crisis Group draws similar conclusions,[iii] further underscoring the broader perception of Côte d’Ivoire’s efficacy on this front. As the United States and partner countries seek to stem the tide of jihadist violence, Côte d’Ivoire’s approach might bear attention as a model that could be replicated elsewhere in the region.


William Assanvo, “Has Côte d’Ivoire found the solution to violent extremism?,” Institute for Security Studies (centrist pan-African security studies think tank), 25 July 2023. https://issafrica.org/iss-today/has-cote-divoire-found-the-solution-to-violent-extremism

No significant terror attacks have been reported in northern Côte d’Ivoire over the past two years, suggesting that its approach to addressing the problem has been effective. With many other states in West Africa still facing a growing threat, what is the country doing right?

Côte d’Ivoire’s border area with Burkina Faso was under substantial pressure from violent extremist groups between 2020 and 2021. Almost 20 attacks and incidents attributed to these groups were recorded in that period. These included attacks against positions and convoys of the defence and security forces, incursions into Ivorian territory, propaganda sermons, threats and intimidation of civilians.

In response, the government focused first on military and security operations, and then supplemented these with a social programme…

Following the Grand-Bassam attack, efforts to strengthen the security apparatus continued, including developing a national counter-terrorism strategy in 2018.

From 2019, the growing presence of extremists in Burkina Faso’s forests along the border with Côte d’Ivoire led to increased vigilance and a stronger military presence in the north. In May 2020, a joint military operation was conducted with Burkina Faso.

This saw the creation in July 2020 of an operational zone in the north, the set-up of military camps in some border localities, and significant investments in increasing the defence and security forces’ functional capacity. This included human resources, air assets, armoured transport vehicles and surveillance equipment.

A counter-terrorism intelligence centre, Centre de renseignement opérationnel antiterroriste, was created in August 2021 to improve intelligence gathering. Better regional cooperation between countries, particularly within the framework of the Accra Initiative in which Côte d’Ivoire participates, was another important part of the response.

The military and security interventions played a notable role in achieving the prevailing calm. Land, air and intelligence operations have contributed to reducing armed groups’ ability to carry out incursions, move around, and operate within Ivorian territory. And reinforcing the presence of soldiers along the border has reassured civilians. It is also possible that the lull is due to the extremists withdrawing across the border to continue their violence there or adopt a low profile.

While this period of calm prevailed, the social component of the Ivorian response to the terror threat was started. It is being implemented under the framework of the government’s second social programme (PS Gouv 2), which runs from 2022 to 2024. The programme’s first strategic axis includes addressing the fragility in the northern border areas.

The programme was announced in November 2021 and officially launched in January 2022. It aims to improve civilians’ living conditions by enhancing infrastructure and access to basic social services. The goal is to reverse perceptions among border communities that the state has abandoned them. Doing so will reduce the risk that they are exploited by insurgents. The programme focuses on education, health, access to electricity and drinking water, road maintenance, professional integration and youth employment, and providing social safety allowances.The Ivorian approach of combining a military, security and social response isn’t in itself innovative or fundamentally different from that used by neighbouring countries facing terrorism. Notable examples are in central Mali, the Burkina Faso region of the Sahel, and northern Togo. The difference in Côte d’Ivoire could lie in its implementation of these strategies.


[i] For more on the push of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants towards the West African coast, see: Jason Warner, “UN Warns About Islamic State Surging in Africa and Afghanistan,” OE Watch, 03-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/un-warns-about-islamic-state-surging-in-africa-and-afghanistan/; Jason Warner, “Coastal West African States Brace for Wave of Terrorism From the Sahel,” OE Watch, 10-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/428040

[ii] West African states have taken various approaches to dealing with jihadist insurgents, especially on the topic of negotiations. For more, see: Jason Warner, “Sahelian Countries Divided on Negotiating With Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Militants,” OE Watch 07-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/sahelian-countries-divided-on-negotiating-with-al-qaeda-islamic-state-militants/ 

[iii] The International Crisis Group report largely agrees that the dual security and development approach of Côte d’Ivoire has been important, but also notes that the country’s broader focus on economic development; the northern region’s importance as a base of power for the ruling party; religious tolerance; and an ethnically and regionally balanced military also played their own roles. To read the International Crisis Group study on the topic, see: International Crisis Group, “Keeping Jihadists Out of Northern Cote d’Ivoire,” International Crisis Group, 23 August 2023. https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/cote-divoire/b192-keeping-jihadists-out-northern-cote-divoire

Image Information:

Image: While much of the rest of the Sahel has become engulfed in jihadist violence, Côte d’Ivoire, highlighted here, has had surprising success at avoiding the same violence.
Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b2/Cote_d_Ivoire_in_Africa_%28-mini_map_-rivers%29.svg
Attribution: TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0

Sahelian Countries Divided on Negotiating With Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Militants

Niger and Burkina Faso, both afflicted with jihadist violence, demonstrate divergent views on negotiating with jihadists from the Islamic State (flag pictured below) and Al-Qaeda

“Niger’s approach [to addressing jihadists threats]… starkly contrasts with the regional trend.”

The countries of the Sahel are undertaking divergent paths when it comes to the question of negotiating with terror groups as the African region cements itself as the new epicenter of global jihadist terrorism.[i] Most countries in the Sahel, and wider West Africa, have shown a reluctance to negotiate with terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda (AQ)[ii] or the Islamic State (IS),[iii] as well as with secular separatist insurgencies. Burkina Faso’s prime minister, Apollinaire Kyelem de Tambela, was emphatic that his country, which has seen one of the most significant spikes of jihadist violence of any in the world, would “never negotiate” with the militants in his country, according to the pan-African news aggregator allafrica.com,. He articulated, “The only negotiations that matter with these armed bandits are those taking place on the battlefield.” Burkina Faso looks to rely heavily on its armed self-defense force, The Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland, or VDP (Volontaires pour la défense de la patrie). The VDP is an auxiliary unit working alongside the armed forces of Burkina Faso, which has been criticized for providing civilians arms and authority for violence with as little as two weeks of training.[iv] Burkina Faso is also presumed to be receiving some assistance from the Wagner Group to facilitate this kinetic response, which it has officially denied.[v] Niger has taken a different approach, combining negotiations with AQ and IS elements with kinetic counterterror efforts. Niger’s counterterrorism strategy is seen as being much more effective than the zero-tolerance negotiation policy of other Sahelian states, according to a second article from the centrist pan-African think tank The Institute for Security Studies.. Niger’s approach is modeled after the successes of two other regional states, Algeria and Mauritania, to their own insurgencies, and it derived from its own successful history of addressing Tuareg rebellions that plagued the country for years. The military-first approach to counterterrorism in the Sahel has shown its limits over the past decade. The authors of the second article give advise: “Niger’s neighbors in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea that are affected by violent extremism should take inspiration from the country’s strategy as they tackle the insecurity afflicting their populations.”


Burkina Faso: Prime Minister Rules Out Any Deal With Jihadists, Boosts Civil Militias,” Allafrica.com (pan-African news aggregator), 31 May 2023. https://allafrica.com/stories/202305310419.html  

Burkina Faso’s prime minister on Tuesday ruled out any negotiations with jihadist insurgents that have taken control of swathes of the West African country since 2015. 

“We will never negotiate, either over Burkina Faso’s territorial integrity or its sovereignty,” Apollinaire Kyelem de Tambela told parliament, adding that the government aimed to double the number of volunteers for the VDP civil defence militia to 100,000. 

“The only negotiations that matter with these armed bandits are those taking place on the battlefield,” de Tambela told the Transitional Legislative Assembly. 

Hassane Koné and Fahiraman Rodrigue Koné, “Is Niger’s counter-terrorism approach an exception in the Sahel?” Institute for Security Studies (centrist pan-African think tank), 5 April 2023. https://issafrica.org/iss-today/is-nigers-counter-terrorism-approach-an-exception-in-the-sahel  

In early 2022, Nigerien authorities recognised the need for dialogue with jihadist leaders in Tillabéri. This was inspired after several Nigeriens defected from their extremist groups, and violence in the Diffa region decreased after a disarmament and reintegration process launched in 2016…. 

The use of dialogue in Tillabéri shows strong political will on the part of the government, which is keen to disincentivise engagement with extremist groups, and stabilise the region. Niger’s approach, which combines dialogue and military action, starkly contrasts with the regional trend. Neighbouring countries have reinforced their military tactics through diversifying strategic alliance and employing armed civilians…  

By including dialogue in its counter-terrorism efforts, Niger is experimenting with an approach similar to those in Algeria and Mauritania, underpin their decade-long protection against jihadist violence. 

Niger’s neighbours in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea that are affected by violent extremism should take inspiration from the country’s strategy as they tackle the insecurity afflicting their populations. A coordinated regional approach would also exert pressure on terrorist groups and ultimately deprive them of human resources.


[i] For more on the Sahel’s role as the new center of global jihadism, see: Jason Warner, “Global Terrorism Declined Slightly in 2022, With the Sahel as the New Epicenter,” OE Watch, 05-2023, https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/global-terrorism-declined-slightly-in-2022-with-the-sahel-as-the-new-epicenter/; Jason Warner, “African Leaders, UN See Terrorism in the Sahel as Dire,” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/429303

[ii] For more on the status of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel and Sahara, see: Jason Warner, “Leader of Al-Qaeda’s Sahelian Branch Explains His Group’s Goals,” OE Watch, 05-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/leader-of-al-qaedas-sahelian-branch-explains-his-groups-goals/; Jason Warner, “Al-Qaeda Leader in Maghreb Celebrates French Departure, Claims No Plans To Attack French Homeland,” OE Watch, 04-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/al-qaeda-leader-in-maghreb-celebrates-french-departure-claims-no-plans-to-attack-french-homeland/

[iii] For more on the status of the Islamic State in Africa, see: Jason Warner, “”UN Warns About Islamic State Surging in Africa and Afghanistan,” OE Watch, 03-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/un-warns-about-islamic-state-surging-in-africa-and-afghanistan/

[iv] For more on the VDP and critiques of it, see: Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism With Recruits and Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/436264

[v] For more on Burkina Faso’s relationship with Wagner and Russia, see: Jason Warner, “Russia-Supported Military Rulers in Mali, Burkina, and Guinea Continue To Deepen Ties,” OE Watch, 04-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/russia-supported-military-rulers-in-mali-burkina-faso-and-guinea-continue-to-deepen-ties/; Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism With Recruits and Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/436264

Image Information:

Image: Niger and Burkina Faso, both afflicted with jihadist violence, demonstrate divergent views on negotiating with jihadists from the Islamic State (flag pictured below) and Al-Qaeda  
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121483302@N02/14690988398  
Attribution: CC BY-SA 2.0

Global Terrorism Declined Slightly in 2022, With the Sahel as the New Epicenter

 Flag of the Islamic State. 

Flag of the Islamic State. 

“[Terrorism] deaths in the Sahel constituted 43% of the global total in 2022, compared to just one percent in 2007.”

A recent report from the new Australian-based Institute for Economics and Peace offers a useful overview of the state of global terrorism over the past year. The report claims that global terrorism declined slightly in 2022, along with the number of terrorist-caused deaths and attacks. The Islamic State (IS) has been named the deadliest global terror group for the eighth straight year.

As previous global assessments have underscored,[i] [ii] the accompanying report relays that the African continent, and especially West Africa’s Sahel region, now constitutes the global epicenter of terrorism. As the report notes, violence from the Sahel , where both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have substantial, feuding branches, has seen a rise in terrorist incidents by a factor of 17 since 2017. Indeed, it notes that deaths in the Sahel were 43 percent of the global total in 2022, compared to just 1 percent in 2007.Mali and Burkina Faso are the sources of the preponderance of violence. Notably, two of the three most deadly terrorist groups in the world are African: al-Shabaab, which is al-Qaeda’s East African branch, and Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen, which is the Sahel-based faction of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.[iii] Another notable takeaway from the report is that, although the African continent is the epicenter of global terrorism, the country with the single highest number of terrorism incidents in the past year was Afghanistan, albeit with a significant decline in deaths and incidents from the years prior. However, this decline is somewhat artificial because the Taliban are now state representatives, which means that any attacks that they carried out were not included as part of these tallies. Thus, notably, even in their absence, Afghanistan remains rife with terrorist incidents. Even as global attention has largely shifted away from a predominant focus on jihadist-linked terrorism and toward near-peer competition, the broader trend of Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and Taliban-linked violence has far from disappeared.


Institute for Economics & Peace. “Global Terrorism Index 2023: Measuring the Impact of Terrorism,” IEP (Australian think tank), March 2023. http://visionofhumanity.org/resources

In 2022, deaths from terrorism fell by nine per cent to 6,701 deaths and is now 38 per cent lower than at its peak in 2015. The fall in deaths was mirrored by a reduction in the number of incidents, with attacks declining by almost 28 per cent from 5,463 in 2021 to 3,955 in 2022. However, if Afghanistan was removed from the index, terrorism deaths would have increased by four per cent.

Afghanistan remained the country most impacted by terrorism for the fourth consecutive year, despite attacks and deaths falling by 75 per cent and 58 per cent respectively. The GTI does not include acts of state repression and violence by state actors and, as such, acts committed by the Taliban are no longer included in the scope of the report since they took control of the government.

The deadliest terrorist groups in the world in 2022 were Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates, followed by al-Shabaab, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM).

IS remained the deadliest terror group globally for the eighth consecutive year, recording the most attacks and deaths of any group in 2022. Despite this, terrorism deaths attributed to IS and its affiliate groups, Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISK), Islamic State – Sinai Province (ISS) and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), declined by 16 per cent. However, there has been a rapid increase in deaths attributed to unknown jihadists in the countries where ISWA operates, increasing by 17 times since 2017 to 1,766 terrorism deaths. Given the location, many of these are likely unclaimed attacks by ISWA. If most of the deaths caused by unknown jihadists were included as IS terrorism deaths, then the outcome would have been similar to 2021. Eighteen countries experienced a death from terrorism caused by IS in 2022, a slight decrease from 20 countries the year prior.The Sahel region in sub-Saharan Africa is now the epicentre of terrorism, with the Sahel accounting for more terrorism deaths in 2022 than both South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) combined. Deaths in the Sahel constituted 43 per cent of the global total in 2022, compared to just one per cent in 2007. Of particular concern are two countries, Burkina Faso and Mali, which accounted for 73 per cent of terrorism deaths in the Sahel in 2022 and 52 per cent of all deaths from terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa.


[i] For information on the United Nations’ recent assessments of the global state of terrorism, see: Jason Warner, “UN Warns About Islamic State Surging in Africa and Afghanistan,”” OE Watch, 3-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/437258; Jason Warner, “African Leaders, UN See Terrorism in the Sahel as Dire,” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/429303

[ii] For how West African states view the current threats from terrorism, see: Jason Warner, “Coastal West African States Brace for Wave of Terrorism From the Sahel,” OE Watch, 10-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/428040; Jason Warner, “Mali Defends Reliance on Russian Counterterrorism Assistance,” OE Watch, 03-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/437332; Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism With Recruits and Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/436264

[iii] For more on how al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb views its current struggles in the Sahara and Sahel, see: Jason Warner, “Al-Qaeda Leader in Maghreb Says Group Has No Plans to Attack French Homeland, Though Celebrates French Departure,” OE Watch, 4-2023.

Image Information:

Image: Flag of the Islamic State. 
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121483302@N02/14690988398 
Attribution: CC BY-SA 2.0

Al-Qaeda Leader in Maghreb Celebrates French Departure, Claims No Plans To Attack French Homeland

Map of West Africa

Map of West Africa.

“AQIM considers it a victory that French troops withdrew from both Mali in August last year and Burkina Faso in February 2023, calling it a vindication of 20 years of jihad in the region.”

In what has been hailed as a groundbreaking interview, France24 journalist Wassim Nasr was recently granted an interview with Abu Obeida Youssef al-Aanabi, the head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM, which has been an al-Qaeda branch since 2006/2007,[i] is also the parent group of Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin’, which has contributed to the profound uptick in jihadist violence in the Sahel region of West Africa in the past five years.[ii] The interview, described in the text and published as a video via France24, offers unparalleled insights into AQIM’s current worldview. In the interview, al-Aanabi claims that one of the group’s greatest successes has been to help precipitate the withdrawal of most French military forces from the wider Sahel over the past two years, calling it “vindication of twenty years of jihad in the region.” Moreover, when asked about AQIM’s plans to attack the French homeland, al-Aanabi relayed that the group has no plans to do so, noting frustration that Western countries failed to understand that its qualms against France primarily stem from the latter’s activities in West Africa. He also stated his opinion that the Sahel is currently “the epicenter of jihad,” and that there were no limits to AQIM’s expansion. Finally, al-Aanabi noted that the group is at war with the Islamic State in the region and views the entrance of Russian Wagner mercenaries as being equally colonial as the French presence.


Nasr, Wassim, “Le chef d’Aqmi, Abou Obeida Youseelf al-Annabi répond à 17 questions de France 24 (The head of AQIM Abou Obeida Youseelf al-Annabi responds to 17 questions from France 24),” France 24, (centrist state-owned French news oulet), 6 March 2023. https://www.france24.com/fr/afrique/20230306-le-chef-d-aqmi-abou-obeida-youssef-al-annabi-r%C3%A9pond-%C3%A0-17-questions

Algerian Islamist Abu Obeida Youssef al-Aanabi, the current leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), granted an exclusive interview to FRANCE 24 in which he officially confirmed his group is holding French journalist Olivier Dubois, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2021, and discussed the role of jihadism in the Sahel….

When asked whether AQIM was planning attacks in France, al-Aanabi said his group’s dispute with France was limited to local issues in the Sahel and wider Africa. He went on to criticise Western leaders for failing to acknowledge that AQIM’s interests were exclusive to Africa. 

He said AQIM considers it a victory that French troops withdrew from both Mali in August last year and Burkina Faso in February 2023, calling it a vindication of 20 years of jihad in the region. But Nasr points out that the French withdrawal was due to friction with the Malian junta as well as the arrival of Russian mercenaries. Al-Aanabi said the increasing presence of the Wagner Group was no better, calling them yet another colonial force. 

Al-Aanabi touted the success of AQIM’s recruitment strategy in the Sahel, describing the region as the “epicentre” of jihad today, according to Nasr. Moreover, he said, there are no limits to the group’s possibilities for expansion. Al-Aanabi went on to say that AQIM is essentially at war in the Sahel with the Islamic State group, whom he views as “deviants”.  Al-Aanabi has been on the US watchlist of “international terrorists” since September 2015.


[i] For more on global reactions to the death of the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in July 2022, see: Jason Warner, “Global Reactions Vary After Death of Al-Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri,” OE Watch, 09-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/425695

[ii] For more on the nature of the Sahel as an epicenter of global terrorism, see: Jason Warner, “Coastal West African States Brace for Wave of Terrorism from the Sahel,” OE Watch, 10-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/428040; Jason Warner, “African Leaders, UN See Terrorism in the Sahel as Dire,” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/429303; Jason Warner, “Mali Defends Reliance on Russian Counterterrorism Assistance,” OE Watch, 03-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/437332

Image Information:

Image: Map of West Africa.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sahel_Base_Map.png
Attribution: JRC, European Commission, CC BY 4.0

Global Reactions Vary After Death of Al-Qaeda LeaderAl-Zawahiri

The announcement on 1 August 2022 that the United States had killed the longtime leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, as he stood on a balcony in Kabul, Afghanistan, was celebrated around the world.  While U.S.-based scholars and analysts have debated what the killing of Zawahiri means for Al-Qaeda, the international Salafi-jihadist movement, and the U.S. role in the world, so too have commentators from around the world offered their own, local perspectives on the implications of Zawahiri’s death.  These range from assessing the ongoing strength of Al-Qaeda to lamenting the empowerment of brutal indigenous leaders and governments.

Writers hailing from more powerful global states have shown broadly similar concerns as U.S. commentators.  In France, noted analyst Wassim Nasr stated in the private, left-leaning French outlet L’Opinion that from his perspective, even after Zawahiri’s death, “Al-Qaeda Central is now more powerful than during the Bin Laden era.”  Similarly, in Australia, commentary from the centrist Australian Institute of International Affairs argued that the death of Zawahiri in no way significantly weakened Al-Qaeda. The author likewise cautioned that as the world begins to give attention to right-wing extremism, the threats posed by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State remain real and should not be ignored.  In contrast, in India, a writer in the Hindi-language daily Dainik Jagran argued that Zawahiri’s death was a “huge setback” for Al-Qaeda, especially in its attempts to grow its presence in the subcontinent.  However, he worried that disenchanted members of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, might drift towards the Islamic State in Khorasan province.  

Other commentators writing from less powerful states around the world underscored the link between Zawahiri’s killing and their own local political and security situations.  For instance, in Nigeria, an article in the major newspaper Daily Trust quotes a former Nigerian Minister of Aviation as lamenting: “The Americans killed Osama Bin Laden, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and now Ayman Al Zawahiri. Kudos!  In Nigeria we do not kill terrorists: we beg them, pay them, appease them, reward them, bow before them, and give them chieftaincy titles.”  In Rwanda’s private but state-supportive New Times, authors critiqued the current U.S. Secretary of State for hailing the death of Zawahiri while also recently criticizing Rwanda’s detention of U.S. citizen Paul Rusesabagina, who has been convicted by Rwandan courts as being a terrorist.  As they wrote: “If the US has the right to kill a foreign national using ‘transnational repression,’ then Rwanda… has the right to bring to justice to Rusesabagina, a Rwandan citizen.”  In sum, whether interpreted globally or more locally, the impact of Zawahiri’s death has elicited concerns regarding the continuation of Al-Qaeda and the empowerment of brutality by individual leaders and governments.


Pascal Airault, “Al-Qaïda est plus forte qu’à l’epoque de Ben Laden (Al-Qaeda is stronger than in Bin Laden’s era),” L’Opinion (private French daily), 2 August 2022. https://www.lopinion.fr/international/al-qaida-est-plus-fort-qua-lepoque-de-ben-laden  

Al-Qaeda central is stronger than in the era of Bin Laden. It’s difficult to evaluate the number of its member even if certain experts talk of tens of thousands of them.  The organization is well-anchored in Afghanistan, with the ability to raise money, give directives, and assure international communications.  

Source: Michael Zekulin, “Al-Zawahiri’s Death and its Impact on the Future of Al-Qaeda,” Australian Institute of International Affairs (Australian think tank), 11 August 2022. https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/al-zawahiris-death-and-its-impact-on-the-future-of-al-qaeda/ 

News that a US drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri created a myriad of reactions… But what should we make of this event?  Is it as consequential as some believe?  One thing we know for certain is it would be a mistake to believe this is the death knell of al-Qaeda… 

Is this the end of al-Qaeda?   This is highly unlikely.  In addition to what the group has become, we must also remember that more than anything, these are belief communities which persist despite the loss of any one member, ever senior leadership.  The group survived Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011… Despite the current resurgence and focus on right-wing-inspired extremism and terrorism, the West should not neglect the threat posed by Islamist-inspired terrorism. 

Source: Aalok Sensharma, “How Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s Death with Will Impact Al-Qaeda in India Explained,” Jagran English (private Indian daily), 3 August 2022. https://english.jagran.com/india/how-ayman-al-zawahiri-s-death-will-impact-al-qaeda-in-india-explained-10046883  

Al-Zawahiri’s death is a huge setback for Qaeda, which has been trying to establish itself following the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). His death will also impact the group’s position in India, where it has been trying to spread its wings…. His killing will affect the morale of Qaeda supporters and cadres in India… An imminent concern for India is the fact that disenchanted Al-Qaeda cadres must shift their allegiance to the Islamic State and its regional affiliate Islamic State – Khorasan (ISKP).  

Source: Adedamola Quasiam, “Nigeria Rewards Terrorists Instead of Killing Them, Fani-Kayode Reacts to Death of Al-Qaeda Leader,” Daily Trust (private Nigerian daily), 2 August 2022. https://allafrica.com/stories/202208030105.html 

A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, has reacted to the killing of Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, by a United States drone strike.  However, he alleged that terror kingpins in Nigeria are rewarded instead of being killed. 

“The Americans killed Osama Bin Ladin, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi & now Ayman Al Zawahiri. Kudos!  In Nigeria we do not kill terrorists: we beg them, pay them, appease them, reward them, bow before them, give them chieftaincy titles & let them break into prison to free their brothers,” he tweeted. 

Source: James Karuhanga, “Open Letter to Blinken: Scholars call for partnerships ‘free of condescending positions’,” New Times (private Rwandan English language daily), 9 August 2022. https://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/open-letter-blinken-scholars-call-partnership-free-condescending-positions  

When announcing his visit to Rwanda, the signatories remind Blinken that he referred to “the wrongful detention of the U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident Paul Rusesabagina.” 

Rusesabagina created the National Liberation Front (FLN), a criminal organization that served as an armed wing of his Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRDC). On September 20, 2021, the High Court Chamber for International and Cross Border Crimes handed a 25-year sentence to Rusesabagina, for terrorism.  The FLN orchestrated murders in south-western Rwanda between 2018 and 2019.  

The authors of the open letter note that on August 2, Blinken celebrated the death of Al-Zawahiri with the following words: “We have delivered on our commitment to act against terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan.  The world is safer following the death of al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.  The U.S. will continue to act against those who threaten our country, our people, or our allies.”  

If the US has the right to kill a foreign national using “transnational repression,” then Rwanda certainly has the right to bring to justice Rusesabagina, a Rwandan citizen, at the root of an armed group responsible for the deaths of Rwandan civilians in Rwanda, they pointed out.  

Al-Qaeda’s Sahel Affiliate Targets Togo

“For a little more than two years, Togo had been preparing for the expansion of Sahelian terrorist groups on its territory.”

On 11 May, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for Supporters of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) attacked a Togolese military checkpoint.  The attack, which claimed eight Togolese soldiers, was JNIM’s first known attack in Togo and may indicate further attacks to come.  The excerpted article from the political affairs-oriented French-language journaldelafrique.com notes that the attack reflects JNIM’s longtime plans to expand into Togo.  It also claims that Togo’s military preparations to secure its borders with Burkina Faso made the Togolese soldiers a target for JNIM.  The article cites previous JNIM attacks in Côte d’Ivoire and Benin as examples of JNIM’s intention to strike Togo.

The journaldelafrique.com article also suggests that military pressure from Mali is pressing JNIM in the tri-border area between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, forcing JNIM to move southward.  The article notes that JNIM reconnaissance teams had previously been arrested in northern Togo but were released due to a legal loophole.  The article concludes that the attack in Togo had ample warnings.  However, the article does not blame the army but instead focuses its disdain on Togo’s intelligence apparatus, who it claims should have noticed the 60 JNIM fighters entering Togolese territory and alerted the military that JNIM or other terrorist groups had infiltrated the country.


“GSIM claims responsibility for the Kpékpakandi terrorist attack,” togobreakingnews.info (French language news website), 7 June 2022. https://togobreakingnews.info/togo-gsim-revendique-lattaque-terroriste/

The terrorist attack on May 11 against the checkpoint of Kpekpakandi (Togo-Burkina border) is the work of the Group of Support for Islam and Muslims. The toll of this murderous operation was 8 dead and 13 wounded on the side of the defense and security forces of Togo…. This attack is also the first deadly one that Togo has experienced since the terrorist threat has raged in the West African sub-region.

Source: “Is Togo up to this new terrorist challenge?” journaldelafrique.com (political affairs oriented French-language news source), 12 May 2022. https://lejournaldelafrique.com/le-togo-est-il-a-la-hauteur-de-ce-nouveau-terroriste//

An attack caused the deaths of eight Togolese soldiers. The attack took place in Kpinkankandi, where the Togolese army is conducting its Kondjouaré operation, which aims to secure the borders with Burkina Faso.

For a little more than two years, Togo had been preparing for the expansion of Sahelian terrorist groups on its territory…. The latter [JNIM] have seen their influence in the “Tri-Border” area dwindle under the offensive of the Malian army in recent months…. Meanwhile, Côte d’Ivoire had suffered several attacks targeting soldiers on the borders with Burkina Faso. More recently, Benin also had to deal with three deadly attacks at the end of 2021.

In Togo, the security authorities had to expect a terrorist attack. It remained to be seen when it would take place. Several members of armed group reconnaissance cells had previously been apprehended in northern Togo, and then were released after interrogation due to a legal loophole…. But the response seems to have been slow on the part of the intelligence services which will, it seems, have great difficulty in curbing the terrorist threat in the short term.