Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism With Recruits and Russia

Memorial of the Martyrs in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Memorial of the Martyrs in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

“Are two weeks enough to train combatants? Does Burkina Faso have enough arms and ammunition to equip the 50,000 recruits? Will [the government] be able to control the numerous VDP groups scattered throughout the country’s 351 communes?”

Burkina Faso has adopted a two-pronged approach to fighting terrorism: through massive military and vigilante recruitment programs and by moving towards reliance on Russia. In the first excerpted article published bycentrist pan-African think tank Institute for Security Studies, the authors offer a useful overview of Burkina Faso’s domestic military recruiting efforts aimed at extending military force structure, which are marked by volunteer recruitment. Notably, they relay that after receiving some 90,000 applications for citizens to become members of the Volunteers of the Defense of the Homeland (VDP) brigades to combat violent extremist groups, the country has selected some 50,000, which it will assign to posts around the country following only 14 days of military training. The authors worry about the numerous challenges that such a large and likely underresourced mobilization might engender. In the second article from the Mali-based daily Le Journal du Mali, details emerge about the recent meeting between Russia’s Ambassador to Burkina Faso and the latter country’s Prime Minister. As the article details, the two have agreed to work together to fight terrorism, fueling rumors about the presence or entrance of Wagner mercenaries, which Burkina Faso has formally denied but which in-country observers have claimed to exist.[i] The Ambassador also promised to work with Burkina Faso on issues of technology transfers, which is indicative of Russia’s broader approach to garnering African allies. Burkina Faso’s new approach suggests a willingness to risk future instability by training and arming citizen militias, as well as to turn toward pariah states like Russia even if that means risking international isolation. While the efficacy of such new approaches remains to be seen, a key takeaway is that the traditional approaches of addressing African terrorism that have defined the last 20 years—primarily significant French and American assistance—are now in flux in West Africa.


Hassane Koné and Fahiraman Rodrigue Koné, “Risks of Burkina Faso’s New Military Approach to Terrorism,” Institute for Security Studies (centrist pan-African think tank), 9 January 2023. https://issafrica.org/iss-today/risks-of-burkina-fasos-new-military-approach-to-terrorism

Fifty thousand Burkinabe civilians have joined the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDP) to fight the violent extremists currently occupying nearly half of the country. The recruitment campaign, launched in October 2022 by Burkina Faso’s authorities after the 30 September coup, ended on 18 November. More than 90,000 applications were received, and those selected will undergo 14 days of military training.

The military authorities intend to assign 35,000 VDPs in their residential communities and the remainder alongside the country’s Security and Defence Forces nationwide.

The use of civilian auxiliaries to support the security forces in the fight against terrorism has been tested since 2020 under Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, who was ousted as president in last year’s January coup. The civilians intervened mainly in the Kaya (North-Central), Ouahigouya (North) and Fada N’gourma (East) regions.

Captain Ibrahim Traoré, the new president of the transition, has made recovery of the territory lost to violent extremists his priority as did Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who Traoré overthrew in September. While Damiba considered dialogue with terrorists, Traoré seems to be focusing on military action based on the concept of popular defence…. Traoré also invited citizens to participate in the war effort by making in-kind or cash contributions…

Are two weeks enough to train combatants? Does the country have enough arms and ammunition to equip the 50 000 recruits? What living and working conditions will they have? Regarding supervision, will the Brigade of Vigilance and Patriotic Defense be able to control the numerous VDP groups scattered throughout the country’s 351 communes? Could inadequate supervision and human rights training not encourage abuses by the civilian auxiliaries?

“Burkina-Russie: Élaboration d’une feuille de route pour lutter contre le terrorisme (Burkina Faso-Russia: Elaboration of roadmap to fight terrorism),” Le Journal du Mali (privately-owned Malian daily), 12 January 2023. https://www.journaldumali.com/2023/01/12/burkina-russie-elaboration-dune-feuille-de-route-pour-lutter-contre-le-terrorisme/ 

The Russian ambassador accredited to Ouagadougou, with Abidjan as his residence, is staying in the Burkinabè capital where he met the Prime Minister of Burkina, Me Apollinaire Kyelem de Tambèla and several members of his government. Ouagadougou and Moscow will “develop a roadmap of their bilateral cooperation. From this, we will see what Russia could bring to Burkina in the context of security and the fight against terrorism,” Russian Ambassador to Burkina Faso Alexey Saltykov said.

Beyond the security issue, the discussions also focused on the possibilities of formalizing technical and financial cooperation between Moscow and Ouagadougou… The Russian diplomat added that his country is willing to support Burkina through a transfer of emerging technologies in several sectors…

Since the beginning of September 2022, voices have regularly called on the new authorities to move closer to Russia to the detriment of France, to find a solution to the terrorism that has plagued the country for seven years. The head of government, who has stayed in Moscow, has repeatedly affirmed the need to diversify partnerships, fueling rumors about the Burkinabé authorities resorting to the services of the Russian paramilitary group, Wagner.

Image Information:

Image: Memorial of the Martyrs in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Memorial_of_the_Martyrs-Ouagadougou-4.jpg
Attribution: CC BY 2.0

South Africa Spotlighted for Links to Funding Islamic State in Africa

Flag of the Islamic State.

Flag of the Islamic State.

The impression created by recent events is that Washington rather than Pretoria is steering counter-terrorism operations in South Africa.”

South African reactions to the newest round of U.S. counterterrorism sanctions on its citizens underscore systemic policing challenges in the field of counterterrorism. In November 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned four South Africans and eight South African businesses for offering material support to the Islamic State (IS),[i] namely, its newest branches in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.[ii] This follows similar sanctions of four South Africans, also listed for supporting the IS, in March 2022.[iii] Commentaries from two noted South African geopolitical commentators shed light on how South Africans understand the degree of threat that the IS poses to their country and just why it has become a target for U.S. sanctions.

In the first of the two excerpted articles from the noted centrist pan-African think tank The Institute for Security Studies, South African foreign policy analyst Peter Fabricius questions whether the threat of IS in South Africa is overblown. On the one hand, since the warnings of IS within South Africa are coming from external entities—namely the United States—some citizens perceive the threat as minimal and sanctions as simply being an extension of Western “obsession” with terrorism. On the other, he notes that there may well be an air of legitimacy to such sanctions, given that assessments by international monitoring entities have underscored South Africa’s lackluster counterthreat finance efforts.

In the excerpted article from The Conversation Africa, noted South Africa terrorism scholar Hussein Solomon articulates his lack of surprise that South Africa has emerged as a relative hotspot for terrorism threat financing. At the source of its institutional insufficiency in counterthreat financing, Solomon notes South African “corruption, general lawlessness, and a security apparatus focused on party factional battles.” Long regarded as a bastion of security in a continent recently beset by terrorism, cracks are beginning to show in South Africa as well.


Peter Fabricius, “Are red flags about the Islamic State in South Africa alarmist?” Institute for Security Studies (centrist pan-African think tank), 11 November 2022.


Alarm bells about the threat of terrorism in South Africa have recently been sounding more stridently and more often. Are these false alarms or is the danger growing?

This question is complicated by the fact that the warnings are largely from foreigners, especially the United States (US). To many, this indicates alarmism or even outside interference. To others, panic buttons are being pressed because South Africa’s law enforcement, intelligence and prosecution services aren’t doing their jobs well enough.

South Africa’s failure to deal effectively with IS and terrorist financing has a host of causes. These include problems in the intelligence, detection and prosecution services still recovering from the ravages of state capture during Jacob Zuma’s presidency…These issues are aggravated by political factors such as an ideological disposition to underestimate the terror threat and see it as an obsession of the West….

The impression created by recent events is that Washington rather than Pretoria is steering counter-terrorism operations in South Africa. That obviously can’t be good.

Hussein Solomon, “South Africa Provides Fertile Ground for Funders of Terrorism. Here’s Why,” The Conversation Africa (centrist pan-African editorial site), 10 November 2022. https://theconversation.com/south-africa-provides-fertile-ground-for-funders-of-terrorism-heres-why-194282

There is a long history of concerns about [South Africa’s] deficiencies in dealing with terrorism financing activities within its borders…

The latest US action comes as South Africa is rushing to avert “greylisting”: being placed on the list of countries subject to increased monitoring by the Financial Action Task Force. The inter-governmental task force has identified deficiencies in the country’s policies and efforts to combat money laundering and terrorism financing…

In its last evaluation, published in October 2021, the task force said South Africa had a strong legal framework against money laundering and terrorism financing. But its implementation had significant shortcomings, including a failure to prosecute criminal cases….

Since 2007, the South African government has not done much to ensure that the country does not become a terrorist haven. Corruption, general lawlessness, and a security apparatus focused on party factional battles all account for why terrorist financiers thrive in the country.


[i] For the official statement from the November 2022 sanctions, see: “Treasury Designates Members of ISIS Cell in South Africa,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, 7 November 2022.https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0616

[ii] For an extensive overview of the emergence and evolution of the Islamic State in Africa, see: Jason Warner et al., The Islamic State in Africa: Emergence, Evolution, and Future of the Next Jihadist Battlefront, (Hurst/Oxford University Press), 2022.

[iii] For the official statement from the November 2022 sanctions, see: “Treasury Sanctions South Africa-based ISIS Organizers and Financial Facilitators,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1 March 2022.  https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0616

Image Information:

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

Morocco and Algeria Strengthen UAV Capabilities With Imports From China, Turkey, and Israel

TAI Aksungur at Teknofest 2019.

TAI Aksungur at Teknofest 2019.

“Morocco issued a warning to Iran, which is accused of militarily supporting separatist and terrorist groups

Over the past year, both Algeria and Morocco have bolstered their unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities by importing technology from China, Turkey and—in the case of Morocco—Israel.[i] As detailed in the first excerpted article, in October 2022, the Spanish news website OkDiario reported on a video showing a Chinese Wing Loong II UAV flying over Morocco, seemingly confirming that Morocco had acquired several of these platforms after expressing interest in them earlier this year. Also in October, as detailed in the second excerpted article, the independent Algeria-focused military news website Menadefense reported that Algeria, which has a Wing Loong II fleet of its own, had become the first export client for the Turkish TAI Aksungur long-range UAV, after signing a deal to acquire six units.

While China and Turkey appear willing to sell technology and deepen security cooperation with both Morocco and Algeria, Israeli-Moroccan cooperation has likely geopolitical implications given fears of Iranian and Russian meddling in the region.[ii] As shown in the third excerpted article, in September the Moroccan English-language news website Morocco World News reported that Morocco had acquired at least 150 small vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aircraft from the Israeli firm BlueBird Aero Systems. The deal includes both the small WanderB model and a larger ThunderB model, as well as an agreement to build two UAV manufacturing plants in Morocco, the first of their kind. In the fourth excerpted article, in early October, as reported by the Moroccan news website Le360, an official from the Polisario Front, the Western Sahara independence movement that is supported by Algeria and opposed by Morocco, claimed that Sahrawi fighters would soon begin employing armed UAVs against Moroccan forces. These remarks prompted Morocco’s Foreign Minister to equate Polisario with Yemen’s Houthi Movement, accusing Iran of arming Polisario with Algerian complicity. Indeed, Moroccan accusations of Iranian support for Polisario are not new, as explained in the fifth article from the Qatari-aligned al-Araby al-Jadeed. While the accusations may have seemed fanciful four years ago, they seem less so now, given Israel’s quickly growing security footprint in Morocco and the fact that Algeria’s key security partner—Russia—is itself relying on Iranian military support in Ukraine.


Pelayo Barro. “Marruecos compra los drones militares chinos más modernos mientras España le regala 4×4 (Morocco buys the most advanced Chinese drones while Spain gifts it 4x4s),” OkDiario (Spanish news website), 2 October 2022. https://okdiario.com/espana/marruecos-compra-drones-militares-chinos-mas-modernos-mientras-espana-regala-4×4-9739842

The latest [Moroccan] acquisition has not been ignored by Spain’s military intelligence: new-generation strategic Chinese drones with air-ground attack capabilities and endurance of over 7,000 kilometers… Mohammed VI’s armed forces had previously eyed these drones – called Wing Loong II – and had even proposed acquiring them to replace a previous Chinese drone they had already employed in their war against the Polisario Front.

“L’Algérie achète des drones d’attaque Aksungur (Algeria purchases Aksungur attack drones),” Menadefense (independent Algeria-focused military news website), 7 October 2022. https://www.menadefense.net/algerie/lalgerie-achete-des-drones-dattaque-aksungur/

The Algerian Air Force has ordered six Turkish MALE drones from TAI. They are the Aksungur, a larger, more modern, and better performing version than its Anka-S counterpart.

Aya Benazizi. “Morocco Purchases 150 Israeli Military Drones,” Morocco World News (Moroccan English-language news website), 22 September 2022. https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2022/09/351475/morocco-purchases-150-israeli-military-drones

Morocco has purchased 150 military drones of the WanderB and ThunderB types, manufactured by Israel’s BlueBird Aero Systems, a company specialized in designing and developing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) equipment…

The agreement concerned the construction of industrial units in Morocco for the manufacture of Israeli drones.

البوليساريو تعلن أن الجزائر ستمدها بطائرات “درون” إيرانية لمهاجمة المغرب

Mohammed Ould Boah. “Polisario announces that Algiera will provide it with Iranian drones to attack Morocco,” Le360 (Moroccan news website), 4 October 2022. https://ar.le360.ma/politique/197102

According to the so-called “interior minister” of the Polisario, the separatists have obtained military drones, which they will use in their attacks against Moroccan territory. In the face of this dangerous escalation, Morocco issued a warning to Iran, which is accused of militarily supporting separatist and terrorist groups.

إيران والمغرب: تشيّع وصواريخ ودرونز

Abdelhamid Ajmahiri. “Iran and Morocco: Shiization, missiles and drones,” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 11 October 2022. https://tinyurl.com/2p83v8hm Almost four years after accusing Tehran of handing the separatist Polisario Front advanced weapons – especially Strela surface-to-air missiles – last week Rabat accused Tehran of providing Polisario with drones… It is clear that relations between Rabat and Tehran have entered a bleak zone, now that the [Western Sahara] conflict has been resolved in favor of Moroccan national unity.


[i] See: Lucas Winter, “Morocco and Algeria Bolstering Their Drone Fleets as Bilateral Tensions Rise,” OE Watch, Issue 11, 2021; Lucas Winter, “Morocco Denys Conducting Drone Strike Against Algerian Targets in Western Sahara,” OE Watch, Issue 12, 2021; Lucas Winter, “China Arming Algeria To Fight Its ‘New Generation Wars’,” OE Watch, Issue 8, 2022. 

[ii] See: Lucas Winter, “Algeria Sees Threat from Morocco as Western Sahara Conflict Threatens To Reignite,” OE Watch, Issue 6, 2022; Lucas Winter, “Algeria Likely To Deepen Military Ties with Russia as Morocco–Israel Security Cooperation Expands,” OE Watch, Issue 9, 2022.

Image Information:

Image: TAI Aksungur at Teknofest 2019
Source: CeeGee (own work), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TAI_Aksungur_Teknofest2019_(1).jpg
Attribution: CC 4.0

Degrading Environmental Conditions in Iraq Providing Cover for Terrorism

U.S. Soldiers walk from the dining facility during a sandstorm at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, July 4 (2009).

U.S. Soldiers walk from the dining facility during a sandstorm at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, July 4 (2009).

“…the number of dusty days increased from 243 days to 272 days per year over the past two decades, and is expected to reach 300 dusty days per year in 2050.”

Over a three-week span in April and May, the Iraqi news agency Shafaq News reported at least three separate attacks in which ISIS fighters took advantage of dust storms to attack Iraqi positions.  The attacks themselves are not novel, as ISIS and other rebel groups have used dust storms and sandstorms to conceal their movements during attacks in both Syria and Iraq for years.  Nor were the attacks particularly impactful, relegated to brief reports in local media.  The frequency and breadth of this year’s dust storms, however, have drawn substantial media attention.  As detailed in the accompanying excerpt from the influential Qatari outlet al-Jazeera, the number of annual “dusty days” is expected to reach 300 by the year 2050, up from 243 at the start of the millennium and 272 at present.  A major reason for this is Iraq’s accumulating environmental problems, which include ongoing drought, expanding desertification, extreme summer heat, and decreased water flows in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  Iraq’s dysfunctional political parties are unlikely to muster sustainable responses to these challenges, allowing the spiraling cycle to continue.  Those frustrated at the negative social impacts caused by environmental degradation are likely to channel this against authorities, giving ISIS and other insurgent groups an opening to continue recruiting among the increasingly disaffected population.


“بالتزامن مع عاصفة ترابية.. داعش يهاجم الجيش في الموصل والحشد يدخل الإنذار

(ISIS attacks the army in Mosul during dust storm, as PMF goes on alert),” Shafaq News (Iraqi news agency), 6 April 2022. https://tinyurl.com/yck9dbmy

On Wednesday, ISIS militants attacked Iraqi army units in the city of Mosul, the center of Nineveh Governorate. A statement of the 44th Brigade in the Popular Mobilization (Ansar al-Marja’iya) stated that… “a very dense dust storm hit the city of Mosul at the time of the attack by ISIS.”


“جرحى بهجوم لداعش في الانبار مستغلا عاصفة ترابية تضرب المحافظة

(Injuries in ISIS attack in Anbar taking advantage of dust storm in the province),” Shafaq News (Iraqi news agency), 19 April 2022. https://tinyurl.com/2p8wz9xa

Imad Al-Dulaimi, the mayor of Al-Rutba district, western Iraq, revealed on Tuesday that six soldiers and civilians were wounded by ISIS militants who took advantage of a dust storm that hit the area.


“مسؤول حكومي: هجوم “البو طراز” خارج حدود ديالى وداعش استغل العاصفة

(Government official: Albu Tiraz attack outside of Diyala’s borders, as ISIS takes advantage of storm),” Shafaq News (Iraqi news agency), 2 May 2022. https://tinyurl.com/yndch5bj

Eyewitnesses in the village of Albu Tiraz revealed that ISIS militants took advantage of the dust storm and lack of vision to carry out the attack, as visibility did not exceed 10 meters.


“العواصف الترابية تضرب مدن وقرى العراق طوال السنة.. تعرف على الأسباب

(Reasons why dust storms hit Iraqi cities and villages throughout the year),” al-Jazeera (influential Qatari news outlet), 19 April 2022. https://tinyurl.com/p793253f

…according to the statistics recorded by the General Meteorological Authority, the number of dusty days increased from 243 days to 272 days per year over the past two decades, and is expected to reach 300 dusty days per year in 2050. About 70% of agricultural land in Iraq is degraded or threatened with deterioration, as a result of climate change and the loss of vegetation cover, which is the main factor for soil stabilization…

Image Information:

Image:  U.S. Soldiers walk from the dining facility during a sandstorm at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, July 4 (2009).
Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/186799/sandstorm
Attribution: Public Domain

Iran’s Purported Counter-Hijacking Record

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps counter-hijacking drills, January 2017.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps counter-hijacking drills, January 2017.

This statistic indicates a 100 percent success rate of the IRGC operations.”

Since 1984, the U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a leading state sponsor of terrorism.  Iran not only funds proxy militias aimed at destabilizing regional states, but also sponsors many terror groups that engage in bombings, assassinations, and hijackings.  In the official Iranian regime narrative, none of this is terrorism, but rather legitimate “resistance,” which Iranian diplomats argue it is their right to support.  Here, the Iranian government simply takes advantage of the absence of any international consensus definition about what constitutes terrorism.

Post-revolutionary Iran has also experienced terrorism.  In the chaotic first years of the revolution, groups such as the Mujahedin al-Khalq conducted both assassinations and bombings targeting regime officials.  These often maimed and killed innocent civilians, however.  The excerpted article from the Iranian Defense Ministry’s press outlet, Holy Defense News Agency, provides a brief history of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-linked Aviation Protection Corps.  It reports that the Aviation Protection Corps has foiled 128 attempted hijackings over the past 34 years, more than 20 percent of which occurred in the air.  The article lacks clarity however as hijacking and terrorism was a far greater problem in Iran in the 1980s, but the statistics reported in the excerpt did not begin until 1988.  There has been very little mention of domestic hijacking attempts in Iran since then.  If there have been 128 hijacking episodes since 1988, it suggests there may be significant discord and continued attempts at domestic terrorism, even if these go unreported.   That the Aviation Protection Corps now operates on 19 airlines and in 67 airports suggests that the fear of hijacking remains a concern.


“Khansisazi 128 Mavarad Aghdam beh Havapeymarbayi Tawset Sepah (Neutralization of 128 Attempted Air Hijackings by the Revolutionary Guards),” Holy Defense News Agency (Iranian defense ministry’s press outlet), 29 December 2021. https://defapress.ir/fa/news/496930

Western countries have dubbed it the “Iron Guard”, but in Iran it is referred to as the Aviation Protection Corps. The Aviation Protection Corps is a unit that was formed in January 1988 by the order of Imam Khomeini to the then-commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Since the IRGC took over the responsibility [for aviation security], it has foiled 128 hijacking attempts. Of these, 100 episodes were cases in which the saboteurs were identified and arrested on the ground and 28 included interference and [attempted] air piracy while flying.  This statistic indicates a 100 percent success rate of the IRGC operations in dealing with hijacking. These efforts have come to fruition while the Flight Safety Unit has not given a single martyr in connection with the assigned mission, although it has suffered 77 martyrs from other reasons, such as during the Holy Defense, plane crashes and the defense of the Shrines…. Today, the Aviation Protection Corps has reached such a position due to its 33 years of experience in protecting flight safety that some countries want to have Iran’s experience in this field; the Aviation Protection Corps provides security and safety services to 19 domestic airlines at 67 airports in the country.

Image Information:

Image: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps counter-hijacking drills, January 2017.
Source: Hamshahri Online, https://media.hamshahrionline.ir/d/2021/12/30/4/4627094.jpg

Southeast Asia Sees Decrease in Terrorism

DSA 2016 - Close Quarters Battle.

DSA 2016 – Close Quarters Battle.

“The government-imposed lockdowns have forced people to spend more time online, raising the likelihood of vulnerable individuals being exposed to radical ideologies in the cyber domain.” 

On 10 January, Malaysian business news outlet malaymail.com covered a report from a Singaporean think tank, Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis, at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.  According to the article, the report indicated that terrorism was decreasing in Southeast Asia due to factors associated with COVID-19.

The article noted lockdowns forced militants, like all citizens in Southeast Asia, to reduce their activities, but it also noted that the lockdowns may have produced longer-term security risks.  During the lockdowns youths spent more unsupervised time online and could have been exposed to radical ideas as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continued its online recruitment efforts.

In Peninsular Malaysia itself, the article noted that there were no terrorist arrests at all in 2021, which is consistent with the trend line of reduced terrorism in the region.  In Sabah of Malaysian Borneo there were 15 terrorist arrests in 2021, roughly one-fifth the number of arrests there in 2019.  As reported in Singapore’s Straits Times, the terrorist arrests in Sabah relate to Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf’s maritime activities, including piracy and kidnapping, that are carried out between the borders of the Philippines and Malaysia and also involve Indonesian militants.  The malaymail.com article attributed the reduction in terrorism in the Philippines to the army’s capturing of militant bases in southern Mindanao.

As for Indonesia, the malaymail.com article suggested Jamaah Ansharut Daulah’s stagnation since 2020 and Mujahidin Indonesia Timor’s decline was caused by increased cost of movement, a result COVID-19 travel restrictions.  The only country that saw similar numbers of violence in 2020 as 2021, according to the article, was Thailand, where an insurgency has festered for more than a decade in the country’s majority Muslim south.  In general, however, the article points to the combination of COVID-19 travel restrictions and successful counter-terrorism operations to arrest militants as key factors behind the downturn in militancy in Southeast Asia.


“Terrorist threats in South-east Asia decline in 2021, according to Singapore report,” malaymail.com (Malaysian business news outlet), 10 January 2021. https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2022/01/10/terrorist-threats-in-south-east-asia-decline-in-2021-according-to-singapore/2034142

Terrorist threats in South-east Asian countries declined in 2021, a Singapore think-tank said in its annual threat assessment. There were fewer terror-related incidents in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines as governments battled Covid-19. In Thailand in 2021, meanwhile, violent incidents connected to an insurgency in the far south were similar to those in the previous year, the researchers found.

The report specifically linked the Covid-19 pandemic to the drop in terror activities in Malaysia last year. Authorities made no terror-related arrests in Peninsular Malaysia last year, but made about 15 in Sabah between May and September. The government-imposed lockdowns have forced people to spend more time online, raising the likelihood of vulnerable individuals being exposed to radical ideologies in the cyber domain. Around the region, groups such as IS have increased their recruitment and radicalisation efforts through social media during the pandemic.

Elsewhere, the armed forces of the Philippines drew praise for retaking terror bases in the southern region of Mindanao.

Source: “Malaysia’s Sabah is South-east Asian terrorists’ preferred transit point: Experts,” straitstimes.com (Singapore based news outlet), 5 September 2021. https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysias-sabah-is-south-east-asian-terrorists-preferred-transit-point-experts

As security threats posed by extremists rise in South-east Asia, Malaysia’s Sabah state has emerged as a preferred route for Indonesian militants to enter the southern Philippines to carry out their terrorist activities, according to a regional intelligence source.

Sabah appeared to be a transit point for Indonesians who want to join terror groups or learn to make IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in the Philippines, according to the source.

Source: “Annual Threat Assessment,” rsis.edu.sg (Singapore based think tank), 1 January 2021. https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/CTTA-January-2022.pdf

Whilst this reflects a continuous declining trend of attacks and plots compared to the years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 terrorist landscape was particularly marked by aggressive counterterrorism (CT) operations that hauled in more than three hundred terrorist suspects – the largest figure since 2018 – including key militant group leaders.

Image Information:

Image: DSA 2016 – Close Quarters Battle.
Source: Rizuan
Attribution: CC x 2.0

Indonesia Casts Wide Net in Terrorism Arrests

Densus 88 element raid.

Densus 88 element raid.

“Jamaah Islamiyah is estimated to have 6,000 to 7,000 members and sympathizers spread throughout Indonesia in its various branches and is thought to have infiltrated various government and civc institutions.” 

Indonesia’s special counterterrorism detachment, Densus 88, conducted a series of arrests in late November targeting members of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).  According to the excerpted article from Indonesian site tribunnews.com, which focused on domestic affairs, the scope of the arrests was unprecedented.  The article notes the arrests extended not only to JI itself, but also to the Indonesian Ulema [Islamic Scholars] Council (MUI).

According to the article, JI has up to 7,000 members, some of whom have infiltrated government agencies and civic organizations.  The justification for arresting MUI members, therefore, is not that MUI itself supports JI, but that JI has infiltrated MUI.  The solution to JI’s infiltration of MUI, according to Indonesian officials cited, is for MUI to conduct more robust background checks of members it recruits. Although the recent arrests by Densus 88 of JI members has affected MUI, the latter’s scholars have shown approval for Densus 88.  The article reports that MUI announced that it supports the government’s efforts to root out terrorism and maintain the security and territorial integrity of Indonesia.  By working with the MUI, Indonesian authorities have been able to arrest JI and MUI members suspected of involvement in terrorism without alienating the MUI more broadly.  Indonesian-language kompas.com also reported on 13 December that Densus 88 finally arrested one of the JI-affiliated suspects in the March 2021 bombing of a church in Makassar.


“Forum Santri Dukung Densus 88 Polri Tangkap Terduga Pelaku Teroris (Santri Forum Supports Detachment 88 Police Arrest Suspected Terrorist), tribunnews.com (Indonesian public affairs focused media outlet), 25 November 2021. https://www.tribunnews.com/nasional/2021/11/25/forum-santri-dukung-densus-88-polri-tangkap-terduga-pelaku-teroris

Densus 88 Anti-terror Police have again arrested suspected terrorists who are affiliated with Jamaah Islamiyah, one of whom is an active member of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). Jamaah Islamiyah is estimated to have 6,000 to 7,000 members and sympathizers spread throughout Indonesia in its various branches and is thought to have infiltrated various government and civic institutions.

The head of FOKSI emphasized that Jamaah Islamiyah should not only be viewed from the angle of terror attacks because its movement has entered into a socio-religious institutions in the community. Regarding the arrest of MUI individuals who are suspected of being linked to terrorism, he argues that terrorist network cells have infiltrated various circles and groups. He hoped that MUI would not be permissive to its administrators who support ideas of radicalism and terrorism. FOKSI conveyed that it supports the government’s efforts in eradicating terrorism in order to maintain the integrity of the country because the Indonesian people must receive safety and freedom from radicalism and terrorism.

Source: Densus 88 Tangkap Buron Teroris, Diduga Terkait Bom Gereja Katedral Makassar (Detachment 88 Arrests Fugitive Terrorist, Allegedly Related to Makassar Cathedral Church Bombing), kompas.com (Indonesian language news outlet), 13 December 2021. https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2021/12/13/22194981/densus-88-tangkap-buron-teroris-diduga-terkait-bom-gereja-katedral-makassar

The Special Detachment (Densus) 88 Anti-terror Police arrested a suspected terrorist in South Sulawesi. The Head of Banops Densus 88 Anti-terror Police confirmed the information. He said the arrest was made last week. According to him, the perpetrator was included on the terrorist wanted list (DPO) and suspected of being linked to the bombing at the Makassar Cathedral Church in South Sulawesi on March 28, 2021.

Image Information:

Image: Densus 88 element raid.
Source: multimedianews.polri.go.id
Attribution: CC x 2.0

Mozambique: Foreign Mercenaries Not Enough To Beat Terrorism

Unlike the Russian mercenaries, Rwandan soldiers, such as the ones depicted here during a training exercise, made significant progress against terrorists in Mozambique.

Unlike the Russian mercenaries, Rwandan soldiers, such as the ones depicted here during a training exercise, made significant progress against terrorists in Mozambique.

“The failed intervention in Mozambique by the Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, took place amid serious disagreements between the company and the Mozambican military.”

Mozambique’s northernmost province, Cabo Delgado, has been under attack by Islamist insurgents since 2017.  Initially the government declined offers of outside help by other nations, instead depending on its own military, which was poorly equipped and not well trained in counterterrorism or counterinsurgency tactics.  As the excerpted article from the South African think tank Institute for Security Studies notes, Mozambique turned to Russia for help after two years of disastrous results. In September 2019, Russian military contractor Wagner Group arrived in Cabo Delgado.

The terms of the agreement with Wagner Group were never made public.  However, the Russian mercenaries were only in Cabo Delgado for about two months.  Apparently they wanted to bomb various locations where terrorists were purportedly located.  This strategy was at odds with what their Mozambican counterparts had planned.  Also, during their short time in Mozambique, a number of the Russians were killed, reportedly including some who were beheaded during botched missions.  The abrupt departure of Wagner Group personnel has been attributed to their failures and possibly confusion sown by the discord between the Wagner Group and Mozambican military. Mozambique next turned to the South Africa-based Dyck Advisory Group (DAG).  In April 2020 DAG arrived in civilian helicopters converted into gunships.  While helpful, it was unable to stem extremist attacks.  One year later DAG was gone and replaced by trainers and advisers from a South Africa-Dubai consortium. However, as the article explains, it was not until Mozambique finally agreed to let foreign troops, beginning with a relatively large contingent from Rwanda, assist in the fight, that real progress was made against the insurgents, including dislodging them from their bases. While it is not clear why Wagner Group and DAG were not more effective, it appears that that unlike the mercenaries, trained militaries from other nations made swift and significant gains against the Islamists.


Borges Nhamirre, “Will foreign intervention end terrorism in Cabo Delgado?” Institute for Security Studies (a South African think tank) 5 November 2021. https://issafrica.org/research/policy-brief/will-foreign-intervention-end-terrorism-in-cabo-delgado

The failed intervention in Mozambique by the Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, took place amid serious disagreements between the company and the Mozambican military.

Faced with the inability of government forces to stop the insurgency, even with private military support, liberation struggle veterans in Maconde-dominant districts of Cabo Delgado formed local militias to fight the insurgents. The contribution of the militias has not yet been studied in depth, but it seems that they were useful in blocking the insurgents’ advance towards districts such as Mueda and Muidumbe.

Rwanda’s quick achievements were due to better combat experience, but also better equipment, which allowed them great superiority over the insurgents. While the insurgents’ bases had already been identified by the Mozambican military, they did not have the capability to dislodge the insurgents. The attempts that had been carried out in the past had resulted in failures and in some cases, tragedies.

Despite progress in combating violent extremism in Cabo Delgado, there is still a long way to go. After more than a decade of the radicalisation of local populations and a multi-year armed insurgency, three months of foreign intervention is just the start of the process towards building peace and stability in Cabo Delgado.

Image Information:

Image: Unlike the Russian mercenaries, Rwandan soldiers, such as the ones depicted here during a training exercise, made significant progress against terrorists in Mozambique.
Source: Sgt. Heather Doppke/SETAF/Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/usarmyafrica/48640726723/
Attribution: CC BY 2.0