Defined by multiple dynamics of instability, the Lake Chad Basin represents a complex regional system. Over the last ten years, violent extremism has spread across the region as a result of Salafi-jihadi armed groups – Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, and Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP) – which gave impulse to regional security cooperation processes.
The Fulani are a large and internally diverse population spread across West and Central Africa, with their largest concentration in Nigeria. In very broad terms, they can be divided into two main categories: the (semi)-nomadic and transhumant pastoralists, who raise cattle and sheep and, contrary to popular belief, usually also cultivate crops on a subsistence basis; and settled Fulani, who are not pastoralists and live in urban areas and villages as traders, farmers, traditional rulers, educated professionals.
Cameroon is an example of an increasing number of countries confronting both separatist rebellions and jihadist-armed groups. Two characteristics are nevertheless remarkable in the Cameroonian case. First, the fact that unlike some countries facing similar crises, no confusion is possible between the two insurgent fronts (in terms of territory, social base, resources mobilization channels, tactical interests and even repertoire of violent action).
The Diffa region, in the southeastern part of Niger, has become a place for armed violence since February 2015, when it experienced the first attack by Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'Awati Wal-Jihad (JAS/Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram). Over the last two years, the patterns, nature and levels of violence in the region have transformed as a result of the humanitarian and security response and of the internal dynamics of the insurgency.
2017 and 2018 had confirmed the pre-eminence of Boko Haram’s splinter faction known as the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), which broke away from Boko Haram’s historic leader Abubakar Shekau around mid-2016.
Since the beginning of 2020, of the three countries bordering Nigeria in the Lake Chad Basin, Cameroon has suffered the majority of civilian casualties caused by armed attacks by violent extremist groups (VEG), with over 50 deaths. Meanwhile, approximately 20 and 10 civilian deaths have been recorded in Niger and Chad respectively. Of these, Chad is the only country to have registered casualties amongst security and defense forces, nine so far this year. Attacks recorded during the first two months of 2020 represent continuity in trends from 2019.
The Lake Chad Basin shows a complex regional system defined by multiple instabilities. Non-state Salafi-jihadi actors – namely Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) – confront state institutions and compete for power over local communities, fuelling regional political and economic insecurity. Furthermore, an increasingly harsh climate is having a serious impact on livelihood activities, feeding into social tensions – such as farmers-herders conflicts over access to natural resources – and prompting a severe humanitarian crisis.
The terrorist attack on London Bridge and the alleged terrorist attack at Pensacola, Florida (USA), late last year have once again demonstrated that jihadism is not dead. Indeed, despite the downscaling of al-Qaeda and the military defeats of the Islamic State, both groups are still active in waging wars on their “distant enemies” in the West.
The conflicts in Syria and Iraq (and in Libya) have attracted at least 5,000 jihadist foreign fighters from Europe.
The beginning of the Syrian armed conflict marked the start of an unprecedented outflow of foreign fighters from the Western Balkans to the Middle East. As of the end of 2019, about 1,070 nationals of Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro had traveled to Syria and Iraq. Although arguably motivated by a variety of reasons, most of them ended up joining jihadist militias and designated terrorist organizations like the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra.
In mid-November 2019 Turkey deported two women suspected of having supported the Islamic State (IS) in Syria to their country of origin: Germany. One of them, 21 year old Nasim A. was arrested immediately after her arrival at Frankfurt airport. According to media reports, she had left Germany in 2014 to join the terrorist organization. She reportedly married one of its fighters. In early 2019 she had been arrested by Kurdish security forces and had spent time in the now notorious prison camp al-Hawl.
That so-called foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) from Switzerland joined Jihadi insurgent groups abroad is a relatively new phenomenon as only a handful of individuals participated in conflicts such as in Afghanistan or Iraq prior to the outbreak of the Syrian War.