Africa Defense Forum
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‘They Just Kill’: Fatalities from Extremist Violence Rose Nearly 50% in 2022


Swarming, indiscriminate attacks in the Sahel region. Suicide car bombings in Somalia. Villages burned in Mozambique.

Islamic violence killed more than 19,100 people in Africa in 2022, a 48% increase over the previous year.

That is according to a new report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), which showed that violent extremist groups committed 6,859 attacks in Africa last year, a 22% increase over 2021. The increase in militant Islamist-linked fatalities was marked by a 68% increase in fatalities involving civilians.

Last year’s death toll eclipses the previous peak of 18,850 fatalities linked to militant Islamists in 2015, the report said.

A majority of the violence was in the Sahel region — mainly in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger — and Somalia. Those areas accounted for 77% of all reported violent incidents on the continent in 2022.

The extremist groups in the Sahel and Somalia — including al-Shabaab, Ansaroul Islam, Islamic State Sahel Province (IS Sahel), Islamic State in Somalia and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) — are notoriously violent.

A teacher who witnessed an attack on a Malian village in March 2022 told Human Rights Watch that the gunmen “shot at everything.”

“They just kill, they do not try to interrogate, they do not talk except ‘God is great’ and it’s over,” the teacher said.

A 75-year-old man from a different Malian village described an unprovoked slaughter during which he was shot.

“I was at the well watering my animals around 9 a.m.,” the man told Human Rights Watch. “The attackers first captured five people among us, made them kneel and shot them. Then they came back to us, and one started shooting at me at close range. Luckily for me the bullet went past my head, but he shot me in the leg.”

The greatest escalation in violent militant Islamist attacks was in the Sahel, where 2,737 violent events were recorded, a 36% increase. Fatalities in the Sahel involving militant Islamist groups rose to 7,899, a 63% increase over 2021. Burkina Faso and Mali accounted for 90% of all violent events in the Sahel.

The presence of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries exacerbated violence against civilians in the region, as the group was linked to 726 civilian fatalities last year, according to the ACSS.

“The Sahel now accounts for 40 percent of all violent activity by militant Islamist groups in Africa, more than any other region in Africa,” the report said.

The region saw 978 militant Islamist attacks against civilians last year, a 49% increase. The Sahel now accounts for 60% of all civilian-targeted fatalities linked to violent extremism on the continent, according to the ACSS.

JNIM was responsible for a majority of the attacks and deaths in the Sahel while IS Sahel, which has recently gained traction, was responsible for the rest.

In Somalia, al-Shabaab was responsible for a whopping 133% increase in fatalities linked to militant Islamist group violence. There were 6,225 reported deaths tied to the group in 2022, exceeding the total from 2020 and 2021 combined. The increased fatalities coincided with a 34% increase in attacks involving improvised explosive devices.

There was a 23% increase in violence linked to al-Shabaab in Somalia in 2022. The group’s 2,553 violent acts in Somalia represent 37% of all extremist events in Africa.

Al-Shabaab’s battles against the Somali National Army, Federal Member State forces, clan militias and the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia increased in 2022 after President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called for an all-out offensive against the group in May. Thereafter, al-Shabaab increasingly attacked civilians.

In October 2022, al-Shabaab was blamed for twin car bomb explosions in Mogadishu that killed at least 100 people and wounded 300. The attacks targeted the Somali education ministry and a school.

“Our people who were massacred … included mothers with their children in their arms, fathers who had medical conditions, students who were sent to study, businessmen who were struggling with the lives of their families,” Mohamud said in an Al Jazeera report.

While violence in the Sahel and Somalia dramatically increased last year, extremist-linked deaths in the Lake Chad Basin, Mozambique and North Africa either plateaued or declined since 2021, the ACSS report showed.

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