AA / Istanbul
The terrorist group Daesh suffered two heavy blows in the Sahel and West Africa regions after the deaths of the two leaders of the organization in these areas, who had become a new stronghold to lead the group after the collapse of its strongholds in North Africa and the Middle East.
On October 15, the Nigerian army confirmed the death of Abu Mossaab Barnaoui, head of Daesh-West Africa, after announcing it for the first time last September.
The Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army, General Lucky Irabor, had declared that Barnaoui “was dead and still is”, without providing details of his elimination, either in an air raid or in a military operation, or if he had been eliminated as a result of an internal conflict to take over the leadership of the organization.
For its part, France had confirmed on September 15 the death of Adnan Abou Walid Sahraoui, head of Daesh in the Great Sahara, who succumbed to wounds contracted during a raid carried out by elements of Operation “Barkhane”, a month earlier.
If the Daesh group had confirmed the elimination of Saharawi, it has so far not denied or confirmed the death of Barnaoui by the Nigerian army, as well as the United States of America and its official institutions, which follow the dossier of terrorism in the Sahel closely, have not issued a statement to this effect.
For his part, the National Security Advisor in Nigeria, Babagana Monguno, announced on October 22 the “death of Malam Bako, who recently succeeded Barnaoui, as head of the Daesh organization in Africa. ‘West, earlier this week’.
If the elimination of Barnaoui and Bako is confirmed after that of Sahraoui, Daesh would have suffered a hard blow at the level of its leadership in two of its main strongholds in Africa, after the collapse of its strongholds in Syria, Iraq and in Libya.
Questions are still being raised as to the degree of impact of the elimination of two founding leaders of Daesh in the Sahara and in West Africa on the cohesion of the organization and on the pursuit of its activity in two of its main strongholds. currently active. Would this lead to its dislocation and gradual disappearance or not?
– A hard blow but not fatal
It would be premature to evoke the start of the dislocation of Daesh in the Sahel and northeastern regions of Nigeria, despite the elimination of founding leaders of the stature of Abu Walid Sahraoui, founder of the “Group of Oneness”. and Combat ”in West Africa which had pledged allegiance to Daesh after its alliance with the Group of Mokhtar Belmokhtar (Signatories by blood), although the latter had opposed it, which had provoked at the time a dissension.
Daesh in the Greater Sahara had engaged in limited clashes with groups loyal to Al-Qaeda in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, but failed to eradicate these groups or seize their areas of influence.
For its part, the group “Support for Islam and Muslims” (GSIM), which includes four armed groups close to Al-Qaeda, had deployed in northern Mali, while Daesh in Grand Sahara had settled in the region of the three borders (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso).
It is in this region that the French operation “Barkhane” and the armies of the five countries of the Sahel (Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania) had intensified their operations, also benefiting from the logistical assistance and intelligence provided. by US forces deployed in the area.
As for Barnaoui (Youcef Habib), son of Mohamed Youcef, founder of the Boko Haram group, it was he who was chosen by Daesh to lead the region of West Africa and had been preferred to Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram group which had pledged allegiance to the terrorist organization in 2015, thus causing a dissension between the two camps of Barnaoui and Shekau,
While Barnaoui deployed in the Lake Chad region, Shekau, meanwhile, fortified his positions in the Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria. The clashes between the two camps resulted in the takeover by Daesh in West Africa of the stronghold of Boko Haram and Shekau blew himself up in order to avoid falling hostage at the hands of Barnaoui, in May. latest.
Shekau’s death sparked a surrender of thousands of elements belonging to or affiliated with Boko Haram, who surrendered to the Nigerian army. Moreover, it is not excluded that the Nigerian army took advantage of the intelligence and information obtained from Boko Haram leaders who had surrendered to bring down Barnaoui and his successor Malam Bako.
Moreover, the experience of many terrorist and extremist groups reveals that the elimination of their leaders weakens them but does not eradicate them, insofar as these groups manage to regenerate themselves and bring new directions to their heads, routinely, given the nature of their activities and the high probability of eliminating their leaders at any time, given that they are hunted down by several armies, whether local or under foreign powers .
The elimination of a leader of an armed group becomes destructive for the group if it provokes a conflict around the succession and which would lead to dissension and armed conflict between the different camps. Thus, the group is worn out from the inside and could disappear under the blows of the local armies, as happened for the Islamic Armed Group (GIA) in Algeria between 1993 and 1997.
Likewise, the elimination of Abdelmalek Droukdel, head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, head of the al-Mourabitoun Brigade, two groups that are part of the GSIM, which also includes Ansâr Eddine’s group. and the Macina Liberation Front, had not led to the end of al-Qaeda’s activity in the Sahel, but could open the door to a dialogue between the Malian government and the two organizations which are the least extremist by report to other entities.
– Reorganization of Daesh in Africa
According to several study centers specializing in the observation of the activity of terrorist groups, Daesh in the Greater Sahara and in West Africa have begun a phase of reorganizing their activity in the region.
Indeed, after having dominated most of the Nigerian state of Borno (northeast) including areas under the Lake Chad Basin and the links established with its strongholds in the Sahara, Daesh is working to unify this vast region. to divide it into provinces.
It emerges from a study by the Institute for Security Studies in West Africa, a proposed plan for the restructuring of Daesh in the area, by creating four provinces in Lake Chad, in Timbuktu (northern Mali) in Tomouma (Guinea) and in the Sambisa forest, under centralized management in Borno.
Daesh in the Sahara and West Africa took advantage of the arrival of thousands of elements of the group that were in Iraq, Syria and Libya, which consolidated the strength of the organization in the region and l ‘helped defeat Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria.
In a report published in 2018, the “West Africa Center for the Fight Against Extremism” underlined that “nearly 6,000 elements from West African States, who had fought in the ranks of Daesh in Iraq and Syria returned to their respective countries after the collapse of the Caliphate proclaimed by the organization ”.
It is not excluded that these returnees have joined Daesh again in West Africa, which doubles the risks of the organization’s deployment in the region, given their experience acquired in terms of organization and management. fight.
This approach is reinforced by the publication last August by the Institute for Security Studies in Africa (independent, based in Pretoria) of a report which indicates that 130 or more ex-combatants have joined Daesh in West Africa. , on their return from Libya, between April and June.
The institute predicted that 70 other fighters, currently in Libya, are preparing to join Daesh in West Africa, without specifying the date of their return.
These security reports indicate that the West African area is now polarizing elements of Daesh who have fled Iraq, Syria and Libya, which is synonymous with the increase in the strength of the terrorist group and could encourage it to restructure while causing dissension and conflict between local management and those from outside.
It is not excluded that internal liquidations would occur to take control by the leaders from abroad to dominate Daesh in the Great Sahara and in West Africa. We could also see an extension of the organization to other countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea.
Just as Daesh could face organizations loyal to Al-Qaeda in northern Mali to engulf them, as happened with Boko Haram, through the elimination of their leaders and to join their elements under the slogan unity among armed groups.
All of these developments pose a challenge to the countries of the region, which will have to reorganize and renew their alliances to avoid waiting for the completion of the restructuring and redeployment of Daesh, especially as other countries from West Africa, such as Togo, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau, could be under threat from Daesh in the future.
* Translated from Arabic by Hatem Kattou
. . (HAS), ..