North Africa Braces for Impact as Islamic State Fighters Return

FILE - Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government patrol to prevent Islamic State resurgence on the outskirts of Sirte, Libya, Aug. 4, 2017.
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North African officials say a large number of foreign recruits who joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have returned to their countries and remain loyal to the extremist organization. They fear the returnees are planning to unleash terrorist attacks in the coming months, adding to a jihadist menace that includes well-entrenched al-Qaida affiliates.

African Union officials estimate about 6,000 Africans who fought for IS either have returned home already or are en route.

Not all will continue with their militancy or engage in the insurgency — a large number may have become disillusioned or exhausted by conflict, say analysts. Nonetheless, many will re-engage, adding to alarm over a burgeoning security challenge that was underlined last month in Egypt with a mass bomb-and-gun attack on a mosque in North Sinai that left more than 300 people dead.

Analysts say North African governments have had some success in containing extremist threats. Without better coordination between them, however, they risk merely shifting the danger and allowing militants, who view their insurgency as regional rather than country-specific, to use national borders, over which there are weak state controls, to their advantage.

The states whose territory jihadists operate in need “to become more formidable in governing their vast swaths of land and securing their borders,” an analysis by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, argued this month.

But securing coordination between governments that are suspicious of each other and frequently feud is another matter.
– Jamie Dettmer I VOA