Recounting Africa’s Early Experience With The War On Terror
African reactions to the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were overwhelmingly supportive of the United States. Dozens of African leaders offered support to combat terrorism. South African President Thabo Mbeki said that “The South African government unreservedly denounces these senseless and horrific terrorist attacks and joins the world in denouncing these dastardly acts.” The leader of Sudan’s National Islamic Front government, President Omar el-Bashir, who provided a safe haven to Osama bin Laden between 1991 and 1996, condemned the terrorist attacks and expressed his government’s readiness to cooperate in fighting terrorism. However, some celebrations were reported among Muslim militants in northern Nigeria in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, thousands of people took to the streets in support of Osama bin Laden and burned American and Israeli flags. Somalia’s transitional national government condemned the terrorist bombings in New York and Washington but did not prevent the demonstrations from taking place. An estimated 25 Africans from 13 different African countries died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.2 Subsequently, some African governments reportedly cooperated with the United States in its anti-terrorism efforts.
According to press reports, the governments of Djibouti and Kenya offered their sea and airport facilities for use by the United States military. The United States has a military access agreement with Kenya, and the U.S. military has used the sea and airports of Djibouti for refueling and other purposes. The government of Sudan is also helping the United States, according to State Department officials. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustapha Ismail several days after the terrorist attacks, the first high level contact between U.S. and Sudanese officials in many years. Secretary Powell stated that Sudanese officials offered to cooperate with the United States and appeared eager to join the coalition. According to press reports, U.S. officials confirmed that the Sudanese government had given U.S. officials unrestricted access to files of suspected terrorists and suggested that they might be willing to hand over some of these individuals to U.S. authorities. South Africa evidently played a role as well. According to the September 25 South African Daily Mail, U.S. officials “forwarded a list of names with possible links to suspects in the attacks on New York.
In October, South Africa and the United States signed an extradition treaty. Kenyan security officials also acknowledged receiving a list of names from U.S. officials. Africa may not be as important to the United States in this phase of war against terrorism as European allies or Pakistan. Nonetheless, observers note that Africa has an important part to play in assisting the United States. The proximity of some African countries to the Persian Gulf region could prove useful to the U.S. military in some contingencies. Eritrea has ports at Massawa and Assab on the Red Sea and in the past several years, Djibouti has emerged as an important refueling station for U.S. military planes. A more immediate role for African governments is fighting terrorism and terrorist groups in Africa itself. Africa has emerged as a safehaven for a number of terrorist groups from the Middle East and extremist groups from Africa. For over a decade, Sudan has been a safehaven for a number of terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, Islamic Group, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Some of the most destructive terrorist attacks in the 1990s took place on the African continent.
Terror groups from the Middle East have established a presence in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. In 1997, Ethiopian security forces killed a number of terrorists inside Somalia after several terrorist attacks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. A senior Ethiopian official recently stated that the government has “documents and pictures of dead bodies of Afghans and Arabs” captured during the Ethiopian operations against Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, an extremist group, inside Somalia. Al-Ittihad is one of many groups designated for seizure of assets by the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration was pleased with the level of support it had and continued to receive from African governments. In late October 2001, President Bush told more than 30 African ministers who were attending the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act Economic Forum that “America won’t forget the many messages of sympathy and solidarity sent by African heads of state.” President Bush also acknowledged the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) political support for the anti-terror campaign.
Bush Administration officials asserted that Africa, with its large Muslim population, can play a pivotal role in solidifying support in Muslim and Arab countries. In late October, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice urged “African nations, particularly with large Muslim populations, to speak out at every opportunity to make clear that this is not a war of civilizations, that this is a war of civilization against those who would be uncivilized in their approach to us.”
The View From Africa: Some African officials are concerned that, despite the strong support African governments have provided to the anti-terror campaign, they are not seen as valued coalition partners in the fight against terrorism. Some observers are critical that the Bush Administration did not extend invitations to African heads of state to visit Washington for discussions on the crisis, as has been the case with many European and other leaders. The Nigerian President was the only head of state who has been officially received by the Bush Administration since September 11. Bush Administration officials dismiss this concern, saying what is important is the level of cooperation on the ground, and not a visit to Washington. African ambassadors in Washington are also worried that sub-Saharan Africa may become a lower priority and that U.S. financial support may be reduced because of the new focus on terrorism. African officials assert that the United States has an obligation to assist them financially because they have suffered economically due to terrorism.
In October 2001, the Tanzanian ambassador to the United States told a congressional gathering that his country’s tourism sector has been hit hard and has not been able to recover since the U.S. embassy attack in Dar es Salaam, the capital, in 1998. Kenya’s tourism sector is also suffering since the terror attack against the U.S. embassy in 1998, according to Kenyan officials. In October 2001, the Ambassador of South Africa told a congressional gathering that the South African airline industry has been harmed due to flight cancellations and reductions in flights. African officials maintain that they need U.S. assistance in fighting international terrorism in their countries. More specifically, they would like to build African security capacity to detect, and deter terrorist acts, but this would require extensive training and capacity building.
African governments also would like U.S. support in effectively tackling money laundering by extremist and terrorist groups in their country. Expanding intelligence sharing is another area where African governments would like to see some improvement. U.S. security officials were appreciative of the support they received from Kenyan and Tanzanian officials during and after the embassy bombings, but African officials contend that they lack the resources needed to provide such support routinely. Some African governments are concerned that they might become the next target for U.S. military action after Afghanistan. Sudanese officials are reportedly concerned that the United States may target their country despite recent cooperation with U.S. officials. While U.S. officials have said they will fight terrorism wherever it is found, they have not given any indication Sudan could become a target. The Bush Administration abstained in late September 2001 on a U.N. Security Council vote, permitting the lifting of sanctions against Sudan. In late October, however, the Bush Administration extended U.S. bilateral sanctions against Sudan, citing continued terrorism concerns. In a letter to Congress, President Bush stated that “because the actions and policies of the government of Sudan continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.
Somalis are also concerned that their country could become a target because of the activities of Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya and its alleged relationship with Al-Qaeda. President Bush added Al-Ittihad to the list of organizations that support terrorism and ordered the freezing of its assets, in accordance with Executive Order 13224. In early November 2001, the Bush Administration added a Somali business, Al-Barakaat, and froze its assets in the United States, because of Al-Barakaat’s alleged links with Al- Qaeda. According to U.N. officials, the freezing of the assets has had serious impact on Somalia’s fragile economy, because many Somalis depended on the services of Al- Barakaat and it employed many Somalis.
Some African government officials are eager to see the coalition against terrorism led by the United Nations rather than the United States. These officials believe that a truly international coalition led by the United Nations is more acceptable to African opinion than a coalition consisting of mainly western powers.8 They propose to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations to fight terrorism, partly through the establishment of a new United Nations agency under the General Assembly dedicated to fighting and coordinating terrorism efforts. Some African ambassadors are concerned about pressures from the public at home concerning African citizens detained in the United States. These ambassadors assert that they have not had access to their citizens in detention and have been unable to learn their identity or nationality. Citizens of several African countries, including South Africa and Somalia, have been detained, according to African officials. Cooperation between the United States and Africa in the fight against terrorism should include extraditing and apprehending members of African terrorist and extremist groups active in Europe and the United States, according to African officials.
African officials assert that they have not been able to get the cooperation of western officials in extraditing individuals engaged in terrorism. They argue that these groups are raising funds and organizing in the west, unhindered by western governments. In October, the Algerian ambassador told a congressional audience that his country lost an estimated 20,000 people to terrorism, but received little support from the west. While some of these concerns are being expressed by a handful of African officials, many Africans maintain that the United States must address the terrorism problem in a more comprehensive way. Officials, especially in countries with large Muslim populations, see the need for a fair and quick resolution of the Palestinian problem. Some observers are concerned that the anti-terror campaign could change U.S.- Africa relations significantly.
Democracy and human rights advocates fear that governments with poor human rights records will be embraced by Washington as long as they cooperate in the anti-terrorism campaign. Others express concern that conflict resolution and development issues could become marginal for policy makers in Washington. Bush Administration officials have stated that while the fight against terrorism is a priority, other issues, such as trade, the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe recently accused members of the opposition of being terrorists. Since September 11, the government of Zimbabwe has used existing and new laws to harass and intimidate members of the opposition and independent journalists. In Kenya, members of the Muslim community complain of harassment by government security forces. In Somalia, the Mogadishu-based transitional national government is a target of attacks by other political groups, arguing that the transitional national government supports terrorism. In several other African countries, governments are enacting new security laws, allegedly to combat terrorism. Some analysts believe that the United States must significantly expand its intelligence presence in Africa in order to effectively counter the threat of terrorism. They argue that the United States should also help build the security and intelligence capabilities of African governments. These observers contend that while it is desirable to secure and win the support of all African countries, only a handful are going to be capable and suitable to join an effective partnership with the United States.
Experts note that Washington should identify relevant African actors and establish a special security relationship with these governments. In dealing with terrorist threats in Somalia, for example, Kenya and Ethiopia could provide key support to the United States, some analysts maintain. Others are wary, fearing that close U.S. support for some African governments would be interpreted as a reduction in pressure for democratization and economic reform. From their perspective, encouraging good governance, rule of law, and respect for human rights together with poverty alleviation measures are all pivotal in building a strong and terrorist-free Africa.
Major Terrorist Incidents in Africa: Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania On August 7, 1998, mid-morning explosions killed 213 people, 12 of whom were U.S. citizens, at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and eleven people (none American) at the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. As many as 5,000 people were injured in Nairobi, and 86 in Dar es Salaam. On August 20, 1998, President Clinton directed U.S. military forces to attack a terrorist training complex in Afghanistan and pharmaceutical factory in Sudan believed to be manufacturing precursors for chemical weapons. U.S. Navy surface ships and submarines, operating in the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, fired 75 or more Tomahawk cruise missiles at the two targets. The government of Sudan condemned the attack, accusing the Clinton Administration of aggression. The government argued that the strike was designed to divert attention from President Clinton’s personal and political problems at home. Government officials took reporters on a tour of the destroyed site to support their claim that the facility only produced legal drugs. Thousands of Sudanese, reportedly encouraged by government officials, took to the streets of Khartoum to protest the U.S. strike. Critics in the United States also accused the Clinton Administration of hitting the wrong target. Clinton Administration officials backed off from their initial claim that Osama bin Laden was associated with the bombed facility, but maintained that the facility was manufacturing precursors for chemical weapons.
Secretary of Defense William Cohen wrote that the Afghan-Sudan strikes not only were retaliation for the embassy bombings but were also part of a long-term plan to fight terrorism.11 In a letter to Congress, President Clinton wrote that “United States acted in exercise of our inherent right of self defense consistent with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.” On October 7, 1998, U.S. prosecutors indicted four suspects in federal court on charges related to the Nairobi bombing. Two of the men were arrested in Kenya and extradited to the United States, and another was arrested in Texas. On November 4, 1998, a federal grand jury in New York returned a 238-count indictment against Osama bin Laden. Authorities charged bin Laden with the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in August and offered a $5 million award for information leading to his arrest or conviction. In late May 2001, a federal grand jury in New York convicted four men for the embassy bombings. In October 2001, four more convicted terrorists were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.12 In addition, eighteen more persons have been indicted, twelve are still at large, and six are in custody awaiting trial. Assassination Attempt Against Egyptian President Mubarak.
In June 1995, members of the Islamic Group, an Egyptian extremist group, tried to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The eleven-man assassination team had been given safehaven in Sudan where they prepared for the assassination. The team was divided into two groups: nine were sent to Ethiopia to carry out the assassination; and two, according to a statement issued by the Ethiopian government, remained in Sudan to plan and direct the killing of Mubarak. The weapons used in the assassination attempt were flown into Ethiopia by Sudan Airways, according to U.S. and Ethiopian officials. The attempt on Mubarak’s life was foiled when Ethiopian security forces killed five of the assassins and captured three several days later. One of the accused assassins escaped to Sudan on Sudan Airways, where he joined the two alleged conspirators who had remained in Sudan. The government of Sudan did not deny or confirm the presence of the three suspects when confronted by Ethiopian officials in late 1995. In an effort to close the case without acknowledging complicity, the Sudan government dismissed its Minister of Interior and reassigned some in the security services. Ethiopia’s effort to settle the matter bilaterally failed after Khartoum refused to extradite the three suspects.
Ethiopia brought the case to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in an effort to resolve the matter regionally. Then, with Sudan’s continued intransigence, Ethiopia turned to the United Nations Security Council. Although the three suspects were by then believed to have left Sudan, Ethiopia, the OAU, and the U.N. insisted that it was the responsibility of the government of Sudan to hand over the suspects. Meanwhile, the other three suspects, who had been in detention since June 1995 in Ethiopia, were sentenced to death in September 1996. In late March 1997, Ethiopia’s Federal High Court upheld the sentence. The United Nations Security Council passed three resolutions demanding the extradition of the three suspects to Ethiopia. In January 1996, the Security Council passed Resolution 1044 calling on the government of Sudan to “undertake immediate action to extradite to Ethiopia for prosecution the three suspects sheltering in Sudan.” The same resolution called on the government to “desist from engaging in activities of assisting, supporting and facilitating terrorist activities and from giving shelter and sanctuaries to terrorist elements.”
In April 1996, in the face of non-compliance by the government of Sudan, the Council imposed a series of sanctions, including the reduction of embassy staff of Sudan and the banning of senior officials from visiting member countries. In August 1996, the Council imposed additional sanctions. Resolution 1070 banned Sudan Airways from flying outside Sudan, but called for a 90 day waiting period before implementation. The Council postponed imposition of the ban again in December 1996. The ban did not go into effect because of disagreement in the Council. In late 2000, the governments of Egypt and Ethiopia expressed support for the lifting of sanctions, but the Clinton Administration rejected such a move. In late September 2001, the Bush Administration abstained, paving the way for the lifting of the sanctions.
Sudan and Terrorism: Sudan has long been considered a rogue state by many because of its support for international terrorism. The State Department’s 1999 Patterns of Global Terrorism report said that Sudan “continued to serve as a central hub for several terrorist groups, including Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda organization. The Sudanese government also condoned Iran’s assistance to terrorist and radical Islamist groups operating in and transiting through Sudan.” According to the report, “Khartoum served as a meeting place, safehaven, and training hub for members of the Lebanese Hizballah, Egyptian Islamic Group, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, and the Abu Nidal organization.” The Department’s 2000 report credited the NIF government with taking positive steps in the fight against terrorism. According to the report, by the end of 2000, “Sudan had signed all 12 international conventions for combating terrorism and had taken several other positive counter terrorism steps, including closing down the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, which served as a forum for terrorists.” The same report stated, however, that Sudan “continued to be used as a safehaven by members of various groups, including associates of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda organization, Egyptian Islamic Group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.”
The United States placed Sudan on the list of states that sponsor terrorism in August 1993 after an interagency review and congressional pressure. In announcing the decision, the Clinton Administration said that Sudan “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism and allows the use of its territory for terrorist groups.” Both the first Bush and Clinton Administrations had repeatedly warned the government of Sudan about the activities of groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Abu Nidal, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Khartoum does not deny the presence of some of these groups on its territory but rejects Washington’s description of them as terrorist organizations. Sudan has also been a safehaven for major terrorist figures. A particularly noteworthy example is the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden. He used Sudan as a base of operations until he went to Afghanistan in mid 1996, where he had previously been a major financier of Arab volunteers in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The government of Sudan claims that it expelled Bin Laden from Sudan due to pressures from the Middle East and the United States.
After September 11 Sudan’s reactions to the September 11 terrorist attacks and U.S. military actions against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have been mixed. President Omar el-Bashir condemned the terrorist attacks and expressed his government’s readiness to cooperate in fighting terrorism. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustapha Ismail several days after the terrorist attacks; Secretary Powell stated that Sudanese officials offered to cooperate with the United States and appear eager to join the coalition. According to press reports, U.S. officials confirmed that the government of Sudan has given U.S. officials unrestricted access to files of suspected terrorists and suggested that they might be willing to hand over some of these individuals to U.S. authorities. Sudanese officials are sending mixed signals about their level of cooperation with the United States. According to Secretary of State Powell, the NIF government has been “rather forthcoming in giving us access to certain individuals within the country and in taking other actions which demonstrate to us a change in attitude.” The Foreign Minister of Sudan, on the other hand, downplayed the extent of the cooperation described by U.S. officials. He stated that “Washington has not so far presented Sudan with any list of wanted people … and we have not turned over any suspects.”
Somalia: Safehaven for Terrorist Groups? Since the ouster of the government of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has been without a central government. Efforts to bring stability to the Horn of Africa country have failed repeatedly. Warlords and political factions control territories, and factional fighting continues unabated. In 1991, the Somali National Movement (SNM) declared the north-west region independent and renamed it Somaliland. In the northeast, in Puntland, another group is in charge. In the south, a number of political actors and warlords claim legitimacy but no single group is in firm control of the region. In 2000, after several months of talks in neighboring Djibouti, a number of Somali political figures formed the transitional national government. The transitional national government appointed Abdulqassim Salad Hassan president and Ali Khalif Galaydh prime minister.
The Somaliland government is also not recognized by the international community, despite the relative stability in that part of the country. Several Somali groups, as well as the government in Somaliland, are concerned about the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in Somalia. In the mid-1990s, Islamic courts began to emerge in parts of the country, especially in the capital, Mogadishu. These courts functioned as a government and often enforced decisions by using their own Islamic militia. Members of the Al-Ittihad militia reportedly provided the bulk of the security forces for these courts. A number of Somali groups and outside observers believe that the transitional national government is dominated by Islamic fundamentalist groups and that members of the Al-Ittihad security forces, who previously served as the Islamic courts police, are being integrated into the new government’s security forces.