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Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab: Islamists Tighten Grip on Africa

Boko Haram – one of 34 ISIS affiliates and among the world’s deadliest terror groups – in 2014 notoriously kidnapped more than 200 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria.

The administration responded with a memorable Twitter campaign featuring First Lady Michelle Obama holding a placard with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Somebody should have mentioned that her husband is the leader of the free world and as such has access to resources other than social media. It’s too bad nobody did. Those girls are still missing, along with thousands of other innocent men, women and children since then.

Radical Islamist violence is increasing exponentially in lethality and geography in Africa and shows no signs of slowing, according to a new statistical analysis of recent trends in Islamist terror by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).

With the notable exception of Algeria, the continent barely registered on the map of significant Islamist terror in 2001. Today, half of the 18 countries with the highest level of activity in the world are in Africa, with Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leading the killings.

Boko Haram by itself has destroyed large areas in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It first appeared on the scene in 2009, when it launched its military campaign for Islamist rule in attacks that killed hundreds. It has since grown into Africa’s most lethal terrorist organization. In 2014, it propagated 272 attacks that killed 7,112 people.

President Obama eventually responded by deploying Armed Services personnel into the region last year, but the campaign of Islamist terror continues to grow.

Somalia’s al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaab – which grabbed the world’s attention in 2013 when it killed 67 people in a siege on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya – carried out three attacks that killed 135 people in 2007, rising to 440 attacks that killed 1,782 people in 2014.

AQIM – whose beginnings trace back to the Algerian civil war of the 1990s – remains the least lethal of the three, but it continues to present a persistent threat.

The radical Islamist march continues to gather strength across Africa. With nothing changing in U.S. foreign policy, the IPT forecasts that it will advance unabated in the next 18 to 24 months.

So far in 2016, Boko Haram killed 65 people during a raid on a Nigerian village, al-Shabaab killed 20 people while firing on a restaurant and detonating car bombs in Mogadishu, and AQIM murdered 28 people in an attack on a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso, among other violent incidents.

No effective broad-based strategies for containment or defeating terrorist groups on the continent have been implemented and demonstrated any level of sustained success.

Where the West has intervened in African domestic affairs, such as it did in Libya 2011, the country became a cradle of extremism that exports weapons, jihadists and ideology to the rest of Africa, the Middle East and Europe. ISIS recently created a new caliphate along the Mediterranean in Libya with an estimated 6,000 fighters and a murderous new leader.

The U.S. tried “leading from behind” in Libya and supported “moderate” Islamists with weapons and training who created bloody chaos as soon as NATO abandoned the country. The U.S. has since returned to the failed state, conducting fighter jet and drone strikes against ISIS.

Egypt – where the U.S. allowed for the overthrow of long-time ally Hosni Mubarak – risked becoming a base for radical Islam under the Muslim Brotherhood government of former President Mohamed Morsi. It has recovered, but it is still fighting to wrest control of the Sinai Peninsula from jihadists.

American foreign policy is not working in confronting, containing or defeating the threat, as the IPT’s research clearly demonstrates.

The current and incoming president, whoever he or she might be, needs to develop policies that will finally #BringBackOurGirls. Not to be overly proscriptive, but at a minimum the new commander in chief should commit more resources than a hashtag.

Steven Emerson is the Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism and former Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.

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