Terrorism in the Horn of Africa

Published: 
January 13, 2004
By: 
Tim Docking

Summary

For over a decade, the United States has considered the Horn of Africa—Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan—a major source of terrorism. Following the 9-11 attacks against the United States, the Horn has come under increased scrutiny as a strategic focal point in the war against terrorism.

  • In May 2003, the Kenyan government admitted that a key member of the al Qaeda terror network was plotting an attack on western targets, confirming al Qaeda's firm local presence.
  • Ethiopian Muslims have not been receptive to Islamic fundamentalism and they lack centralized power. They tend to identify first with their ethnic kin. Muslims and Christians are geographically intermixed throughout most of the country. Islam in Ethiopia has been benign during the past century. But the potential for conflict is present.
  • Djibouti's importance to terrorists derives from its transit capabilities rather than its potential as a base for international terrorist organizations. Events since 1999, however, may have increased Djibouti's attractiveness to international terrorists.
  • Somalia has played a role in Islamist terrorism, albeit a specialized one. It has served primarily as a short-term transit point for movement of men and materiel through the porous and corrupt border between Somalia into Kenya, which has been a preferred site of terrorist attacks.
  • Eritrea's inclusion in the "coalition of the willing" threatens to widen the gap between moderate and radical Eritrean Muslims due to the regime's use of the "war against terrorism" to eliminate all dissent.
  • The government of Sudan stands at a crossroads. It is attempting to move in a new direction through serious peace negotiations with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and improved relations with the United States, but those efforts are being hindered by high-ranking officials who remain committed to the radical Islamist agenda.
  • An effective U.S. response to terrorist threats in the Horn of Africa must include increased and targeted foreign aid, improved regional intelligence capabilities, and increased pressure on exogenous forces (especially Saudi Arabia) that stoke the flames of radicalism through Muslim "charities" and religious training programs.

About the Report

This report presents the views shared by six regional experts at a U.S. Institute of Peace workshop, "Assessing Terrorism in the Horn of Africa: Threats and Responses," held on May 28. The meeting was organized by the Institute's Research and Studies Program as a half-day forum for leading specialists on terrorism, the Horn of Africa, and American foreign policy toward Africa. This Special Report presents case studies on Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan.

The workshop was organized and chaired by Tim Docking, African affairs specialist in the Research and Studies Program at the Institute, with the help of Ken Menkhaus.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policies.

January 13, 2004