Although the intensity of terrorist incidents seems to be declining globally, there has been a surge of violent Islamist activity across West Africa, where both new and established armed groups are destabilising fragile states and creating a regional security threat. While the problem remains local for the moment, the international community is keen to avoid any regional safe havens from becoming springboards for terrorist activities further afield. But instead of intervening directly, it is focusing on supporting African forces on the ground, calculating that 'African solutions to African problems' should be the most effective and lasting.
The most recent statistics on global terrorist incidents, produced by the United States National Counterterrorism Center, paint a broadly encouraging picture. In 2011 the number of terrorist attacks across the globe fell to a five-year low. Osama bin Laden’s vision of global jihad has been rejected by mainstream Islamic opinion and al-Qaeda, which he led until his death in 2011, is in disarray. But these headline figures hide significant regional discrepancies: violent incidents in Africa and Latin America have reached a five-year high.
In Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria, Islamist militants have filled power vacuums created by ineffectual national governments, and have tapped into religious and socio-economic grievances. Militants' activities that begin in one country spill over into neighbouring states, destabilising the entire Sahel. Helping to foment regional violence has been the influx of weapons and mercenaries from Libya following the fall of Muammar Gadhafi's regime in 2011. There is an abundance of unemployed yet well-armed and military-trained men at risk of joining militias or turning to crime.