Al Shabaab overtook Boko Haram as Africa’s most deadly terror group in 2016

Somali government security forces hunt for al-Shabaab suspects.
Somali government security forces hunt for al-Shabaab suspects.
Image: Reuters/Feisal Omar
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Waging war from a corner in the Horn of Africa, Al Shabaab has grown to become the most deadly terror group on the continent.

Last year, the group killed more people than any other terrorist sect on the continent, including the deadly Boko Haram. Data collected by Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED) and analyzed by Africa Center for Strategic Studies shows Al Shabaab attacks resulted in over 4,00o deaths in 2016.

The Somali terrorist group has become deadly in its operations, relentlessly attacking both civilian and military outposts. In its attempt to topple the weak Somali government, Al Shabaab has specifically carried out deadly attacks in the capital Mogadishu, targeting the presidential palace, the parliament, and supreme court offices. And as the country revives from a two-decade war, the group has staged numerous attacks on hotels, parks, and beachside restaurants—symbols of hope in a country bedeviled by scars of its civil war.

The militant group has also attacked African Union military bases, in one instance overrunning the El Adde camp near the border with Kenya and killing more than 100 Kenyan soldiers. Beyond Somalia, Al Shabaab has also carried out a string of brutal attacks in neighboring Kenya and has set up a recruiting network around the port city of Mombasa, which has a large Muslim population.

Al Shabaab’s rise is directly linked to Boko Haram’s fall. Under the president Buhari-led administration, over the past 18 months, Nigeria’s military has recorded gains in the fight against Boko Haram, recovering swathes of territory, rescuing abductees and pushing the sect out of its strongholds. Weakened, Boko Haram has resorted to sporadic suicide bombings rather than its previous preferred mode of attack: raiding and destroying villages. In fact, Boko Haram is no longer Nigeria’s biggest internal security threat.

Elsewhere, a rivalry between groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS resulted in attacks across West and North Africa. In March 2016, a prominent attack by AQIM at an Ivory Coast resort left 22 dead and more than 30 injured. An earlier attack at a Bamako hotel in November 2015, also by AQIM, left 21 dead. In total, AQIM  and ISIS have been responsible for over 7,000 deaths since 2010.

Yet that figure pales in comparison to Boko Haram’s fatality count. Despite being upstaged as the continent’s most deadly group last year, Boko Haram has accounted for nearly half of the total fatalities by terror groups in Africa since 2010

As homegrown terror groups have sprung up across the continent, governments have struggled with protecting their citizens. High-profile attacks like Al Shabaab’s on Nairobi’s Westgate mall and at Garissa University highlighted the inability of local security agents to stamp out and respond effectively to the threats. In West and Central Africa, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria have teamed up to curb the treat of Boko Haram with a joint task force, pooling military and financial resources.