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Expansion of Sahel militant threat exposes coastal West Africa to growing risk of enduring violence

Since the beginning of 2019 there has been a series of attacks, planned assaults, and the discovery of Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in coastal West Africa. In Benin, a country that had hitherto been untouched by extremist violence, unidentified assailants kidnapped two French tourists on 1 May. The victims were visiting the Pendjari National Park on the border with Burkina Faso when they were abducted and their guide was murdered. The hostages were later released in a French special forces operation in Burkina Faso in which two French soldiers were killed. French security personnel said the identity of the kidnappers was not certain but they suspected Ansarul Islam, a group that operates mainly in northern Burkina Faso and has links to the militant Islamist group Front de Libération du Macina (FLM) in central Mali. The involvement of the Islamic State’s Sahel faction also cannot be discounted.

Benin was not the only country to experience an uptick in terrorist activity during this period. Local media reports on 12 June stated that Ivorian authorities and French intelligence services had foiled a series of attacks planned in the commercial capital Abidjan. The assaults were allegedly intended to hit the Novotel hotel in the financial district of Plateau, as well as Camp Gallieni, the headquarters of the Ivorian armed forces. Ivorian security services said the assaults had been planned by the FLM, which had already conducted several reconnaissance missions around the targets. Authorities said special forces had arrested a dozen suspected Islamist militants from Burkina Faso and Mali in Abidjan. Ivorian security personnel also reported that they had located a militant Islamist cell, suspected to be affiliated to the FLM in Comoé forest in northeastern Côte d’Ivoire, bordering Ghana and Burkina Faso.

West Africa & Sahel attacks July 2018-June 2019 (IHS Markit)

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