With the recent terrorist-related events occurring out of Africa, from the Commando raids in Somalia and Libya on October 4, to the recent four-day attack at a mall in Narobi, Kenya, U.S. government officials have began to refer to a swath of Northern Africa as the ‘Arc of Instability.’

Recent History of Terrorist Groups in Africa

Authorities cite the region’s political instability as one of the prominent reasons for the growth of terrorism.  The State Department reported that recent revolutions, ethnic rebellions, and military coups have allowed for new opportunities for terrorists to grow and proliferate.

In Libya, terrorists took advantage of the instability following Moammar Gadhafi’s ill departure when they attacked a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.  Al-Qauida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has also increased its kidnappings for ransom, and evidence suggests the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram may be developing transnational capabilities.  The United States is paying particular attention to al-Shabaab, a group that serves as East Africa’s “primary terrorist threat.”

Al-Shabaab first emerged in 2003 as a militant wing of an extremist group in Somalia, and rose in prominence throughout the next decade. In 2008, they claimed responsibility for suicide attacks targeting U.S. government officials.  In 2010, they organized and enacted their first transnational attack in Ethiopia, killing 76 by suicide bombers.  Yet the recent four-day attack on the Kenyan shopping mall, which al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for, demonstrated a new level of coordination and power.  USA Today called the Mall a “house of horrors,” and reported stories of victim hanging by hooks and mutilated bodies.

Current Threat

Large regions of Africa continue to experience crippling instability, and thus the threat of terrorist proliferation will only grow.  Terrorists are taking advantage of the instability to freely move weapons and fighters across borders. On October 4, 2013, a U.S. Commando easily captured Abu Anas al Libi off the street, who allegedly assisted in the U.S. embassy bombings in 1998.  Al Libi had been living freely in Tripoli for the past five years, despite a 5 million dollar reward for his capture.  CNN’s Nic Robertson, long-time reporter on Al-Queda, stated it was a “huge deal to get him” in “one of the key target areas.” Al Libi’s capture may be particularly helpful for intelligence purposes, in light of Al-Queda’s growing strength in the region.

Navy Seals also attempted to capture an al-Shabab leader in Somalia that same weekend, yet were unsuccessful.  In light of al-Shabab’s recent actions, the U.S. is increasing its scrutiny.  On October 5, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said that the Obama administration must deal with the extremist groups growth and encroachment on U.S. borders. Reports indicate that al-Shaba has focused recruiting efforts on young Minnesotan men, where the largest population of Somalis in the United States resides.  The fear among U.S. authorities is that American citizens will become radicalized in training camps abroad, and then return home to engage in terrorism.

With political instability continuing for the indefinite future in much of Northern Africa, U.S. scrutiny on African terrorist groups and raids similar to those carried out in Somalia and Libya, might become a staple of the present times. The raids raise legal and political questions rooted in international law, and issues of sovereignty, but the evidence of the groups’ growing strength suggest the need for immediate action.


By Stephanie Olsen – Grey Cell Staff Writer