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LRA, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Aqim and Other Sources of Instability in Africa

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, conflict in Africa had been winding down in recent years, except in Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These conflicts, as well as simmering tensions and sporadic violence in countries like Algeria and Nigeria, offered opportunities for al-Qaeda, still the world's leading organizer of global terrorist attacks. This jihadist organization has repeatedly found allies involved in what started out as local quarrels and is attempting to internationalize them.

Africa, like the rest of the developing world, has been a successful recruiting area for al-Qaeda. The so-called ``underwear bomber,'' Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria, was recruited by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to detonate a bomb on a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit on December 25, 2009. In its effort to become the leading al-Qaeda affiliate, AQAP has aligned itself with Islamic extremists beyond its native Yemen. Across the Gulf of Aden, the longstanding chaos in Somalia created a likely ally in al-Shabaab.

This designated Foreign Terrorist Organization was created by young Islamic jihadists who sought to establish a ``Greater Somalia'' under sharia law as a reaction to a transitional government run by former warlords, who to this day are believed to be engaged in corrupt activity. Despite its alliance with al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab still appears to be focused more on attacking the Transitional Federal Government, African Union peacekeepers and Somali citizens than foreigners not in their country.

Could that change? Of course it could. Some of the many young Somalis who left the United States to fight for what they believed was the sovereignty of their homeland are returning to this country, and one must wonder to what extent they have adopted a jihadist mentality. They could be merely disillusioned young men returning from an idealistic adventure, or they could be sleepers ready and willing to strike inside our homeland at some future point.
Boko Haram in Nigeria has gained significant attention recently for its well-publicized attacks on Christians. There was the Christmas Eve 2010 bombing in Jos; the February 15, 2011, shootings at a church in Maiduguri, and the April 8, 2012, suicide car bombing at a church in Kaduna. However, to say that Boko Haram is strictly an anti-Christian terrorist organization would be to mischaracterize this violent movement.

Boko Haram objects to moderate Muslims, as embodied for them by the Sultan of Sokoto. The Sultan's religious authority over Nigeria's Muslims was established by the British during colonialism, and he is now seen as a tool of the central government in Nigeria and by extension America and the West--both of which would be considered as being under Christian control. Boko Haram has killed Muslim leaders it considers insufficiently fundamentalist and still seems focused on opposing and embarrassing before the world a central government it considers to be worldly and neglectful of development in northern Nigeria. There are credible reports that Boko Haram is training with al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Mali along with Tuareg rebel groups that have taken over that region.

Could they pose a threat to the American homeland? Perhaps at some future date.

AQIM itself is a homegrown African terrorist organization. This Foreign Terrorist Organization was established as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in 1998 when other Islamic extremists laid down their arms in their fight against the Government of Algeria. That fight stemmed from the 1992 nullification by the Algerian government of a second series of parliamentary elections that appeared to be poised to empower the Islamic Salvation Front political alliance. Since then, the group declared allegiance to al-Qaeda and in 2006 became Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.

This group has repeatedly declared its intention to attack Algerian, Spanish, French and American targets. It has taken advantage of the revolt in Libya and the unrest in northern Mali to expand its affiliations among African internally-focused terrorists. As an active al-Qaeda affiliate, it definitely has international aims beyond its original Algeria targets. The Tuareg groups now concentrating on declaring a homeland in northern Mali (and perhaps other parts of the Sahel) and Boko Haram certainly offer allies who may provide recruits for more global attacks.

As for the Lord's Resistance Army, it is an outlier in this group of terrorist organizations. The LRA emerged in northern Uganda in 1987, the year after Yoweri Museveni, a rebel leader from southern Uganda, seized power and ended nearly a decade of rule by northerners. Following Museveni's victory, Alice Lakwena, a spiritual leader from the northern Acholi tribe, emerged as a key figure among northern rebel factions seeking to overthrow the government. Lakwena's Holy Spirit Movement was defeated by the Ugandan military in 1987, and Lakwena fled to Kenya. Joseph Kony, a reported relative of Lakwena, emerged and laid claim to Lakwena's legacy with the LRA.

Kony's LRA began to target civilians in northern Uganda and sought support and protection from the Government of Sudan. This Ugandan member of the State Department's Terrorist Exclusion List killed more than 2,400 people and kidnapped more than 3,400 others between 2008 and 2011 alone. This has included people from not only Uganda, but also South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. However, the LRA is not known to be affiliated with any element of al-Qaeda, and their cross-border terrorist activities are more a function of being chased by regional militaries, and now a U.S. advisory group, than any effort to take over territory.

Whatever their motivations, these terrorist organizations pose a great challenge to governance, peace and security in Africa. We must be concerned about the possibility of future attacks on U.S. citizens and interests abroad and even the U.S. homeland. However, to end the threat these terrorist groups pose, we must understand their origins and determine what can be done to reduce their base of support in their home countries. In doing so, we not only help add to the stability of those countries, but also minimize the larger threat to peace and security globally.


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