Counterterrorism Requires a Multidimensional Approach

Counterterrorism Requires a Multidimensional Approach

In November 2014, a horrific attack was carried out against a mosque in Kano in northern Nigeria, killing more than 100 innocent civilians. It bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram.


Smaïl Chergui, commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union, spoke at the eighth annual focal points meeting of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism in Algiers, Algeria, on December 7, 2014. His speech has been edited to fit this format.

In northern Kenya, al-Shabaab carried out two horrendous attacks. On December 2, elements of the group descended upon a quarry near the town of Mandera, beheading and shooting 36 workers. A week before that, and in the same area, the group killed 28 travelers after forcing their bus off the road.

In Mali, terrorist groups continue to ambush and kill peacekeepers. Since the United Nations first deployed in July 2013, and until early October 2014, 31 peacekeepers have been killed and 91 wounded.

The Sahel region has long suffered the menace of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Once more, we witness the destabilizing impact of the events taking place in the Middle East, which have affected not only that region, but also provided inspiration to terrorist groups in Africa and further seduced, with their twisted ideology and false promises, many of our youth to leave home and join their ranks.

In September 2014, a group referring to itself as Jund al-Khalifa, and which had pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS), abducted and beheaded a French citizen in Algeria. Other groups in Libya and Tunisia have also pledged allegiance to ISIS. It is believed that more than 4,000 Africans are among the ranks of ISIS. They will pose a serious threat should they return to Africa and should we fail to put in place the necessary mechanisms to deal with them according to the law.

It is against this background that the Peace and Security Council held its summit in September 2014. The summit stressed that dealing with terrorism is a multidimensional and multileveled effort that requires serious and continued efforts by member states, regional economic communities and the international community. In this regard the summit expressed concern that, despite the progress made in developing a comprehensive and operational counterterrorism framework, serious implementation gaps continue to exist that undermine the effectiveness of Africa’s response to terrorism and violent extremism.

First, we must strengthen the criminal justice response to terrorism and the rule of law. The African Union and the international community have developed a number of legal instruments that deal with terrorism and related crimes. However, the ratification and implementation rates of these instruments remain low, and our courts, police and intelligence services are poorly equipped and skilled to pursue, punish and deter terrorists.

Second, without addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, we will continue to deal with the symptoms instead of the underlying causes. We may not agree on what drives a young man or woman to commit a terrorist act or join a terrorist group, but we can address the conditions that alienate our youth, lead them to lose faith in democratic values and social justice, and confine them to poverty and disenfranchisement.

Progress has been made, and I commend your commitment to this collaborative effort, but this platform is yet to achieve its full potential. There is still room for improvement, room to strengthen our coordination roles at the national and regional levels, to effectively share information, and to take a more active role in mobilizing national authorities on the implementation of the different aspects of counterterrorism.