AQIM's Push Southward

Mar 14, 2016

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 16 in an Ivory Coast beach resort on March 13. This attack comes two months after the group killed 29 in another attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou. Both attacks focused on targeting Westerners, as part of AQIM's determined struggle to repel French intervention in Mali. Another striking similarity between the two attacks was that both were carried out far from the group's traditional stronghold in northern Mali.

A possible motivation for the expansion of AQIM's geographic outreach can be seen in the Islamic State's increasing efforts to penetrate the Sahel, Northeast Africa and West Africa. AQIM is clearly concerned about the growing competition with IS. In addition to the attacks mentioned above, AQIM has been scaling up its activity in Mali and started to imitate Islamic State propaganda, by threatening to attack Rome, Naples and Madrid in a video the group published in January.

AQIM's worries are not unfounded. In 2015, Nigeria-based Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, as did a number of prominent jihadi leaders connected to AQIM. While defections from AQIM to IS have thus far remained limited, the latter does not hide its ambitions to expand its influence in Africa. The Islamic State has established a firm grip in several strongholds in northern Libya, which it frequently refers to as "the Caliphate's gate to Africa."

Recent media reports and Islamic State announcements indicate that the group is expanding its activity in Libya's southern region of Fezzan. Consolidating its foothold in this region would bring IS one step closer to areas traditionally dominated by AQIM. IS has also been making a renewed push towards Tunisia in the past week. More countries may be affected as competition between the groups in Africa intensifies.