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More Activity but Fewer Fatalities Linked to African Militant Islamist Groups in 2017

Militant Islamist group activity in Africa continues to be highly context-specific. Those with strong local ties have shown considerable resilience, while ISIS has struggled to gain traction in the Maghreb.

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A review of violent events involving militant Islamist groups in Africa in 2017 reveals the following trends:

  • 2017 marked a continuing drop in reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups in Africa (10,376 compared to a peak of 18,728 in 2015). This primarily has to do with the decline in fatality numbers linked to Boko Haram (3,329 from 3,484 in 2016) and ISIS (1,687 from 2,537 in 2016). In terms of activity, however, the number of violent events linked to militant Islamist groups in Africa rose in 2017 (2,769 events from 2,317 in 2016).
  • Despite repeated announcements of Boko Haram’s defeat, the group has shown resiliency. Though the number of reported fatalities linked to Boko Haram has continued to fall since a peak of 11,519 in 2015, the number of violent events linked to Boko Haram in 2017 was up to 500 from 417 in 2016.
  • Al Shabaab continues to be linked to the highest escalation of violence. It was involved in more than three times the number of violent events related to militant Islamist groups in Africa than the next most active group, Boko Haram (1,593 vs. 500, respectively). And the 4,557 reported fatalities linked to al Shabaab in 2017 accounted for almost 44 percent of all reported fatalities involving militant Islamist groups in Africa that year.
  • AQIM and its Sahelian affiliates also appear to have been more active in 2017. The number of violent events related to these groups rose twofold: from 76 in 2016 to 157 in 2017. Likewise, reported fatalities related to their activity almost doubled: from 223 in 2016 to 391 in 2017. The majority of this activity (107 events and 253 fatalities) was linked to the new conglomerate Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), which formed in March 2017.
  • In Egypt, ISIS continued to dominate the violent activity. The number of violent events linked to ISIS rose from 96 in 2016 to 278 events in 2017. Reported fatalities related to these events likewise rose from 523 in 2016 to 1,195 in 2017. As a sign of the growing complexity in the Egyptian theater in 2017, ISIS expanded operations beyond the Sinai into central Egypt. Meanwhile, al Mourabitun, created by a former Egyptian Special Forces officer in 2015, has been implicated in attacks against Egyptian forces from Libya.
  • ISIS in Libya saw the largest decline in activity among all African militant Islamist groups. The number of violent events linked to ISIS’ Libyan affiliates dropped from 319 in 2016 to 43 in 2017. A significant number of the 239 reported fatalities linked to ISIS in 2017 were suspected ISIS members themselves. The trend is similar in Algeria and Tunisia as ISIS continues to struggle to establish a stronghold in these countries.