Islamists have a strong presence in Africa and recruit in huge refugee camps. And they use conflicts for their Internet propaganda, which reaches as far as Bavaria. Experts warn of a strengthening of IS, al-Qaeda and others.
From Sabina Wolf and Joseph Röhmel
“My way is the Quran, which is my sword, it is the same way the prophets went, it is the way of the martyrs.” This militant message was spread by a man convicted in Spain in a propaganda video. He has repeatedly shared such videos on social networks under the pseudonym Ismail.
In late May, the National Court of Justice in Madrid imposed a two-year prison sentence on the 38-year-old – plus five years’ probation – for “radicalization,” among other charges. Ismail is stateless and part of the nomadic Sahrawi people.
An online network was created around Ismail, which also deals with the fight of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Africa.
Example Western Sahara: Spain had withdrawn from the region in the mid-1970s. This led to a fight over territory between Morocco and the Sahrawis. The result: huge refugee camps in Algeria.
Expert warns of attacks
Terrorist groups such as IS and al-Qaeda have an easy time in these camps. Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of the international non-profit organization Counter Extremism Project, warns against this. This organization monitors and evaluates the propaganda of Islamist terrorist groups in Africa. A strengthening, Schindler says, will lead to “these groups precisely not focusing exclusively on gaining control over areas in the region, but they are all still part of this global strategy, which means attacks on the West are a priority.”
Many associate IS primarily with countries like Syria or Iraq. But experts like Schindler say Africa is increasingly becoming a hotspot for Islamist terrorism – and attacks could be called for from there: “It’s still possible to instrumentalize people in Europe from the conflict regions, radicalize them and then possibly even motivate them to carry out attacks.”
Former intelligence officers track network
The online network centered around Ismail promoted jihad, IS’s global fight. The propagandist glorified martyrdom. “I inform my friends that I am leaving, I am leaving the most beautiful thing in life,” he once wrote.
Analyzed the network were the Spanish authorities and an organization of former intelligence officers. The latter evaluates online traces for authorities in the EU in the field of counterterrorism and does not want to be named. According to this organization, Ismail’s network still exists.
IS supporter thousand
IS supporters exchange information. Traces lead to Syria, Spain and refugee camps of the nomadic Sahrawi people, in Algeria. As the organization of former intelligence officers tells BR24 on request, most of the Facebook accounts are not public: “Communication there is very limited. This indicates that they only use their Facebook accounts to connect with each other. Then they switch to the messenger service Telegram or other means of communication.”
Connections to Germany
During Ismail’s trial, it emerged that he also used a German phone number to mask his identity. In addition, one of his Facebook contacts was from Germany. It remains unclear whether German authorities are investigating the contact.
One thing is certain: The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution observes that Africa plays a central role in propaganda. “IS declared Africa an area of emigration and jihad in its online magazine `al-Naba’ of June 16, 2022,” for example, the agency’s recently published annual report states. In addition to the north, this also includes regions in West, East or Central Africa. On a website, German-speaking jihadists can regularly obtain information about the IS fight in the form of a newsletter.
“The current issues of the weekly IS newsletter al-Naba, contain majority of news and battle reports from the IS administrative provinces (Arab.: “wilayat”) on the African continent,” the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the Constitution informs upon request.
“By Allah’s success alone, the soldiers (…) attacked the infidel Christians with weapons of various calibers the day before yesterday. This resulted in the killing of a Christian,” the Islamists write in a July 1 newsletter entry about a success in central Africa.
Islamists in Africa: Sympathizers also in Bavaria
Jihadists worldwide feel connected to each other. BR research shows: German fighters in Syria also glorify the fight in Africa and post videos on the messenger service Telegram, for example. Groups such as the “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” (ISGS), “al-Shabab” in Somalia or “Boko Haram” in Nigeria are well-known. According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the Free State, sympathizers of al-Shabab and Boko Haram are also in Bavaria. In response to a request from BR24, the constitutional protectors count “a lower double-digit number.”
The Facebook page of the terror propagandist was deleted late
Can the triumphant march of the Islamists in Africa still be stopped? Experts like Schindler from the Counter Extremism Project see fighting poverty on the ground as a key to curbing the influence of IS and Co. “Wherever governments are weak, where there is economic hardship, where there is inequality, that is of course a recruitment potential for terrorist groups,” says the senior director of the Counter Extremism Project.
Psychologist Ahmad Mansour also has frequent contact with refugees. His job, on behalf of the Free State of Bavaria, is to prevent people from becoming radicalized. So he organizes various workshops. He goes to schools and prisons.
Mansour knows that these people always carry their biography with them. “There are breeding grounds because of instability, because of poverty and because of the understanding of Islam that is practiced there, which always leads to individuals becoming radicalized,” Mansour says.
Ismail, who was convicted in Spain, used images from North African refugee camps for his propaganda. In the end, he accepted the sentence. His lawyer did not respond to BR’s inquiry. Recently, his Facebook account is no longer accessible. The network around him is still online.