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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Africa: Different Paths to Success and Failure

By Douglass Farah

The designation of two South Africans for suspected ties to al Qaeda is the latest public evidence of the radical Islamist pipeline that runs through the heart of sub-Saharan Africa.

The U.S. military and part of the Intelligence Community are slowly focusing on the spreading threat there. As my friend Victor Comras noted on the Counterterrorism Blog, obtaining this designation package has been a long and ardous process, with little support from South Africa or the United Nations. Here is another interesting article on the Imam involved.

But what is just as interesting as the stories of possible Islamist penetrations are those of the Islamists’ possible failures. The Project for the Research of Islamist Movements portrays al Qaeda’s efforts to mobilize jihadist fighters to Darfur as long on effort and short on results, despite the obvious interest of Osama bin Laden and other core al Qaeda leaders to raising up an Islamist force to fight there.

An April 23, 2006, audiotape of bin Laden, broadcast on al Jazeera TV, called on the “mujahadeen and their supporters, especially in Sudan and the Arabian Peninsula, to prepare for a long war against the Crusader plunderers of Western Sudan,” and said the goal of the fight was not to “defend the Kharoum government but to defend Islam, its lands and its people.”

Following the statement, jihadist web sites published articles directed to “all Those who Wish to Reach Darfur,” and “From Here Stretches the Way to Darfur.” On Sept. 29, 2006, Ayman Zawahiri released a video criticizing the possible deployment of an international peace-keeping force and calling on his audience to “defend your land and your honor from the Crusader’s aggression, which is now hiding behind the masks of the United Nations…Nothing will protect you but a jihadi popular war led by the mujahadeen.”

But almost nothing seems to have come of these exhortations and pleas. While a few minor training camps may be used by al Qaeda-affliliated groups, there has been little noticeable response to the pleas to open the new front. Many of us (myself included) focus on the seeming success of the Islamists. But this seems to have been a rather abject failure.

The question is why, and the PRISM piece, to my mind, does not answer the question satisfactorily. It ascribes the failure to the anger Hasan al Turabi, bin Laden’s benefactor when the al Qaeda leader lived in Sudan, for recent “liberal” statements that angered fundamentalists. It also credits the Sudanese government with seeing the dangers of having an al Qaeda affiliated insurgency in Darfur.

This seems to me to be, at best, a partial set of reasons. The deeper reasons why so few heeded the call must be studied seriously in order to begin to understand what jihadi appeals draw support among what groups. If that can be understood, then how to counter those appeals can be better understood.

Perhaps bin Laden simply misread the situation in Darfur, where the slaughter by Muslims of other Muslims may have alienated much of the potential African recruiting base. Maybe there are cultural factors, or language factors that caused the message to fall flat.

There is not enough knowledge within most of the IC to be able to really look at what works and what doesn’t inside Islamist circles. There is a real opportunity to, I think, slow down the cancer if one can understand why some healthy cells successfully fight it off and others succumb.

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