Jihadist Economic Warfare Targeting Communication Towers in Africa
One interesting trend observed during the Global War on Terror is how jihadist organizations often adopt and use similar tactics to those employed by other groups that are active in the cause.
The Swiss organization Jihad Analytics has conducted research that yielded some notable results. Their analysis has documented that over the last five years 529 economic targets were attacked by the Islamic State around the world. This number seems small considering the group has been linked to over 26,000 attacks during the timeframe, but what is a concern is that, according to their data, the trend is increasing in various nations where their militants are currently operating. The Islamic State’s official media outlets, pro-IS groups, and IS supporters have explicitly encouraged a strategic campaign of “economic war” targeting infrastructure.
There are emerging concerns in Mali regarding attacks against communication towers in areas outside of the capital Bamako. The main area of concern currently is the Timbuktu region. This issue, which began in July 2021, has disrupted not only cell phone service but also internet access and money transfers across large parts of the country. Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), or GISM as it’s known in French, are accused of being responsible for the attacks.
In addition, the operations targeting the towers, which are owned by the two major telecommunication providers Orange and Moov Africa, prevent local residents from providing information regarding the movement of jihadist forces and other criminal elements. The attacks also have become an additional burden on civilians in Northern Mali who have struggled since the chaos of 2012.
However, Mali has not been the only location where these tactics have been employed, and jihadis are not the exclusive perpetrators. They have also been used in an effort to raise tensions between two African neighbours.
In late 2019 when tensions between Somalia and Kenya were running hot over a myriad of issues, a series of incidents started to occur that were of great interest. An investigation by the UN found that the Kenyan Army had destroyed cell towers inside Somalia. It was revealed that a total of 12 towers owned by Hormuud Telecoms were targeted over a two-year period. One of the reasons for the Kenyan Actions was the suspicion that the Somali militants were actually using cell phones to detonate explosive devices. An interesting point was that the owner of the company was sanctioned by the United States after the attacks on 9/11. Although, he would later have the sanctions lifted.
As recently as May of this year Al-Shabaab has launched operations inside Kenya itself, particularly in Lamu County that also targeted telecom towers. These attacks have led the Kenya Government to renew allegations that the owner of Hormuud Telecoms was in fact supporting Al-Shabaab and that these raids were conducted by the Somali Jihadists to show their appreciation for their support.
It has been noted that in the past that Nigerian Islamist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) have also attacked telecom towers. However, in recent months the authorities in several states have shut down cell phone traffic in an effort to deter criminal activity and disrupt potential terrorist attacks as well.
In the future, we can expect similar attacks in other countries as this particular tactic grows more popular among insurgent groups but possibly among competing businesses as well. Disputed border areas would provide the most viable locations but areas where governance is weak will also present opportunities where attacks like this may take place.
Photo Source: Jihadology.net