Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State Rise in Benin
Threats to West Africa from Jihad Spike
Atacora, Benin (Associated Press) — The insurgents' relentless pursuit of power in West Africa has left communities in Benin on edge and fearing for their safety. Zackari, a 33-year-old resident, has been living in constant fear for over a year after refusing to join the jihadi fighters who sought to recruit him. Now, they haunt him with threatening phone calls, reminding him that their vengeance is still on the horizon.
For years, extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have been expanding their influence from the vast Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert into wealthier coastal nations like Benin. Initially, these militants were believed to be eyeing these countries as potential bases for launching attacks on Sahel governments. However, their presence has now taken root, posing a significant threat to stability in the region.
Among the coastal nations, Benin has emerged as the hardest hit. According to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, the country witnessed more than ten times the number of violent incidents involving jihadis compared to its neighboring country, Togo.
The frequency of attacks against civilians in Benin has nearly tripled in the past year, with the number of incidents rising by more than 70 percent. The jihadi groups have been actively recruiting and establishing cells, leading to an expansion of their influence and a growing sense of insecurity among local populations.
Kars de Bruijne, senior research fellow and head of the Sahel program at the Clingendael Institute, warns of the increasing presence and influence of these extremist groups.
"There's full expansion, regular preaching. They're establishing cells, they have a lot of presence," Brujine told media.
The epicenter of jihadi activity in Benin is concentrated in the northern regions, where they aggressively recruit individuals or coerce them into becoming informants. This strategy not only amplifies divisions within local communities but also instills a sense of fear and vulnerability among residents.
As the insurgency continues to escalate, Benin and its neighboring countries face the urgent task of addressing this growing security threat. The government must prioritize intelligence gathering and coordination with regional partners to counter the spread of extremism. Enhanced security measures, coupled with targeted efforts to counter radicalization and promote community cohesion, are vital in curbing the influence of these jihadi groups.
The international community also has a role to play in supporting regional efforts to combat extremism in West Africa. Increased cooperation, capacity-building assistance, and intelligence sharing can bolster the collective response to this shared security challenge.
While the struggle against jihadi insurgency persists, the resilience and determination of the people of Benin remain steadfast. Their resolve to protect their communities and reclaim their sense of security will serve as a powerful force in countering the growing threat posed by extremist groups in the region.