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Key signs that Al Qaeda's Islamic extremism is moving into southern Africa

A surge of sectarian strife and Al Qaeda-linked terrorism in Tanzania signals that Africa's jihadist wave is expanding south. The failure of the international community to assist Tanzania in tackling the roots of Islamic extremism will likely allow it to grow. 

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A student recites the Koran at Al-Nour Islamic school in Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar during the holy month of Ramadan, July 21, 2012. Op-ed contributors Jay Radzinski and Daniel Nisman say 'it could only be a matter of time before Al Qaeda’s veteran terrorists...take note of Tanzania’s revitalized extremist potential....It remains the responsibility of stability-seeking nations to uproot those elements before it’s too late.'

Thomas Mukoya/Reuters/file

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“I pointed out to you the stars, and all you saw was the tip of my finger.” This Tanzanian proverb should resonate deeply with anyone who fears the spread of Islamic extremism in Africa. On Tanzania's island paradise of Zanzibar, the killing of a Catholic Priest by Muslim extremists last month points to a series of mounting and long-ignored signals that the continent’s jihadist wave is expanding south.

As witnessed in Somalia and Mali, the failure of the international community to assist Tanzania in tackling the roots of Islamic extremism will likely allow it to grow.

Located in southern Africa on the Indian Ocean, this traditionally tranquil tourism hub has been awash with sectarian strife since October 2012. It began when a dispute between two local school children resulted in the defilement of a Koran, sparking outrage by Tanzania’s large Muslim community. At least four churches across the country were attacked in the aftermath in what may just prove to be a watershed moment in Tanzania’s modern history.

In February 2013, religious tensions in Zanzibar continued to simmer from a dispute over butchering rights, sparking tit-for-tat attacks between Christians and Muslims, ultimately resulting in the beheading of one priest and the fatal shooting of another inside his own church. A self-proclaimed local Al Qaeda branch calling itself “Muslim Renewal” took credit for the shooting as its inaugural attack.

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