Times are rough in the Sahel, the African region that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east. It includes nations such as Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Eritrea, and Nigeria—the latter of which has been rocked by terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist terrorist group with a professed aim of removing western cultural influences from the region.
“The whole Sahel region has become an attractive foothold for insurgents. That is the truth of it,” said Dr. Ona Ekhomu, CPP, who presented a session on terrorism in the Sahel at the ASIS International 59th Annual Seminar and Exhibits in September.
Ekhomu, the president of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operations of Nigeria, chairman of Trans-World Security, and the first chair of the ASIS Nigeria Chapter, told listeners, “The reality is that we live in dangerous times. Bombs are going off faster than we can count and terrorism is a truly global enterprise” with complex asymmetrical threats, small arms and light-weapons proliferation, expert bomb-making knowledge, and sophisticated communication and information technology. “Terrorists used to have to wait to see the effect of their actions. Now they make videos of it—they no longer want to wait. They make videos and put them on YouTube.”
Other things have changed as well, Ekhomu said. “You used to know where the front lines were. Now they can be anywhere: a school, church, an industrial facility. The threats pop up everywhere. You have so many conflicts in the area already, and the result of these conflicts is leftover arms that the terrorists can now use to kill people. And because the borders of the nations are so porous, the weapons are easy to smuggle.”
According to Ekhomu, the most frightening aspect of the Sahel’s burgeoning terrorist threat is that the extremist Islamists appear to have expanded their goals in the region. “My fear, from what I have seen, is that they have gone beyond killing people and scaring people and governments,” he explains. Boko Haram, Islamist militants in Mali, and other West African violent extremists now want to take a page from the Afghan Taliban and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. “They want to rule; they want to have their own territory to rule over,” Ekhomu states. “It is a paradigm shift. That is my contention.”