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Terrorism in Africa: An Untold Story

Although Africa has faced terrorism for years, it is an issue sometimes unknown to those outside of the continent.

Hover your cursor over the areas shaded in red below to learn more about the four main terrorist groups in Africa.

When a jet engine flies overhead, the people of Sudan’s Nuba Mountains flee to cobra-infested caves in a desperate bid for shelter. The only reminders of the modern world in this region are the bombs that shake Earth on a daily basis and rattle the foundation of Sudan’s once-peaceful homeland.

In many parts of Sudan, no one is safe. For millions of civilians, the struggle to stay alive is constant.

Sudan is not the only African country facing terrorist threats.

From Nigeria to Somalia, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Sudan, and the Central African Republic, the outbreak of terrorism in Africa is becoming a threatening issue.

According to Jessica Reuther, a visiting assistant professor of history at Ball State University, there are four prominent terrorist networks spread across Africa that pose significant threats to the continent. These networks are Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Al Qaeda.

Reuther said most of the networks were established in the 1990s and have recently become more active as international networks fund Islamic fundamentalism. This, according to Reuther, opens up opportunities for larger-scale attacks.


Al-Shabaab is an Islamic group based in Somalia and Kenya. Its several thousand members practice a form of Sunni Islamist extremism. Al-Shabaab aims to destabilize and potentially overthrow the government of Somalia to replace it with a fundamentalist Islamic state.

Somalia is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. It has seen several radical Islamic groups rise and fall during its decades-long political revolution.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Al-Shabaab enforces its own interpretation of sharia law in areas under its control. These laws prohibit various types of entertainment, smoking, the shaving of facial hair, and other activities they consider “un-Islamic.” They might perform stonings and amputations to punish suspected thieves or adulterers. International rights groups report that Al-Shabaab members have kidnapped young boys and forced them to fight for the group.

Ahmed Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah, is the current leader of Al-Shabaab, which controls most of southern and central Somalia.

In June 2010, Al-Shabaab coordinated suicide bombings that killed seventy-four people who had gathered to watch the World Cup in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. It was the group’s first attack outside of Somalia.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram is based on Sunni Islamist extremism and has an estimated membership between 7,000 and 10,000. The group aims to overthrow the Nigerian government and establish an Islamic state. According to the United States Institute of Peace, Boko Haram is a sect of Islam that believes politics in northern Nigeria have been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. Boko Haram has attacked government offices, churches, schools, and public buildings.

Boko Haram violence has killed more than 10,000 people since March 2015, and another 1.5 million have been displaced.

The group attacked a United Nations building in Abuja in 2011. They’ve killed dozens of students and kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls in April 2014, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The kidnapping sparked the international online campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

According to the campaign, approximately 230 of the girls are still missing.

Boko Haram is also responsible for chainsaw beheadings of truck drivers and the deaths of hundreds on the roads of northern Nigeria, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Since November 2016, a total of 26,195 media-documented deaths have occurred involving Boko Haram violence.

Lord’s Resistance Army

According to Global Security, the Lord’s Resistance Army had roughly 800 combatants just a few years ago. But through Ugandan military operations and help from U.S. forces, the LRA is now estimated to have only 200 combatants left.

The LRA is based on fundamentalist Christian extremism. Its members want to overthrow the Ugandan government and install a system based on leader Joseph Kony’s interpretation of the Ten Commandments.

By the end of 2013, the LRA moved from Uganda to the border regions of Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, according to Global Security.

The group has abducted a significant number of civilians for training as guerrillas. Most of these victims were children and young adults. They also abducted young girls and used them as sex and labor slaves. According to Global Security, other children have been sold, traded, or given as gifts by the LRA to arms dealers in Sudan. While some later escaped or were rescued, the locations of many are still unknown.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) presence in East Africa has varied in extent over the past 20 years, according to the Congressional Research Service. It has an estimated membership of less than 1,000 and is an affiliate of the core group, al Qaeda.

According to West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, AQIM’s objectives include eliminating Western influence, overthrowing governments they consider traitorous, and implementing fundamentalist regimes based on sharia principles.They’re aiming to establish an islamic kingdom in northern Africa, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.

AQIM’s leaders praised the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and have threatened to stage their own attacks in France, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

The group’s tactics include guerilla-style raids, suicide bombings, and assassinations. Members of AQIM have periodically kidnapped and executed aid workers, diplomats, tourists, and employees of global corporations.

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