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Setbacks and Realignments: The Continuing Evolution of Militant Islamist Groups in Africa

By the Africa Center for Strategic Studies

July 20, 2017

A review of violent events involving militant Islamist groups in Africa over the past year reveals a mixed picture, with some groups showing increased activity and others diminished. This variance underscores the importance of local factors affecting each context.

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A review of violent events involving militant Islamist groups in Africa over the past year reveals several notable observations:

  • The number of fatalities linked to militant Islamist group activity in Africa has declined in the first half of 2017, continuing a downward trend since 2015.
    • The two most lethal groups, al Shabaab and Boko Haram, have seen a combined 29-percent drop in fatalities related to them in the first 6 months of 2017.
    • Still, events involving the two groups have accounted for a reported 3,178 fatalities in 2017.
    • Al Shabaab continues to be the militant Islamist group in Africa linked to the most fatalities (1,831) in the first half of 2017. Al Shabaab is also associated with more violent events than any other militant Islamist group in Africa during this period (610).
  • ISIS continues to face challenges in establishing itself in Africa.
    • After losing its primary stronghold on the continent in Libya’s coastal city of Sirte in late 2016, ISIS has been linked to only 18 incidents in Libya during the first half of 2017—a sharp drop from the 156 events observed in the first half of 2016.
    • ISIS activity in the Sahel and northeastern Nigeria remains marginal.
    • Egyptian-based Ansar Beit al Maqdis, which declared allegiance to ISIS in 2014, has shown increased activity in 2017, however.
  • The overall trajectory of militant Islamist group activity in Africa is mixed, reflecting the importance of local factors affecting each context. A breakdown of these groups’ activities shows:

Decreasing

  • In Libya, overall militant Islamist group activity declined from 219 events in the first half of 2016 to 56 in 2017.
  • Boko Haram was involved in 264 violent events in the first half of 2016 compared to 229 in 2017.

Increasing

  • Al Shabaab involvement in violent episodes increased from 576 in the first half of 2016 to 610 in 2017.
  • ABM has been involved in 128 events in 2017 compared to 48 in the first half of 2016.
  • JNIM—Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimin—has been involved in 36 events in 2017 compared to 21 in the first half of 2016, when its constituent members operated separately.

This is a quarterly update of a map tracking militant Islamic group activity in Africa as compiled by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. It reflects events that occurred between July 2016 and June 2017.

More on:  Countering Violent ExtremismAl-ShabaabAQIMBoko HaramIslamic Stateinfographics