by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
Ethiopia of great interest to Al-Qaeda, which sees it as the gateway to the whole African Continent.
Al-Qaeda is expanding its presence in Africa. The Islamist terrorist group hopes to find in the African continent new safe havens from which to attack Western interests and build logistical bases. Al-Qaeda is already present in the North Africa and in Somalia. However, Al-Qaeda is looking for new countries in which to establish its own rule. It is now looking at Ethiopia, a country ruled by a cruel dictatorship, and situated in the Horn of Africa. Although Ethiopia has a Christian majority, a third of the population is Muslim. Ethiopia is, the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa and where the Prophet Mohammed found refuge when he was persecuted by the Meccans. It is also the country where the jihadist Abu Musab Zarqawi may be following in the Prophet's footsteps, and to which he is thought to have to relocated before being killed in Iraq.
Al-Qaeda Cell Uncovered
The Ethiopian government recently confirmed having arrested eight suspected Al-Qaeda members as they were attempting to launch an attack in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian state-run news agency, ENA, citing a statement by Ethiopia's Federal Police, reported that the National Intelligence and Security Service Taskforce of the Federal Police said the eight suspects had been arrested after they were found organizing, providing training to, and educating recruits, with the assistance of the Somali terror group, Al-Shabab. According to the same report, the suspects also had links with al-Qaeda cells in other parts of the world, including Kenya, Sudan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
Ethiopia became one of Al-Qaeda's targets after intervening in the Somalia war in 2006, when the Ethiopian government sent in its army to counter another Islamist movement that ruled much of southern Somalia. Last November, media reported that Ethiopian troops again entered Somalia, this time to support, Kenya's offensive against the Al-Qaeda linked group Al-Shabab, which is fighting to overthrow the Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government and impose Islamic law there. Reuters reported that "scores of Ethiopian military vehicles, ferrying troops and weapons, pushed at least 80 km into Somalia [...], according to local residents and elders." In response, Al-Shabab militants released a statement warning Ethiopia against military intervention in Somalia: "Let them come and sniff the kind of gunpowder we have here," the statement read. Despite the warning, media reported in December that Ethiopian troops in Somalia killed a member of a notorious Yemeni Al-Qaeda-linked family, Abu Al-Baraa Abdul Aziz bin Attash. In January, Al-Shabab, in return, killed 33 Ethiopian soldiers, during a suicide attack on a Somali army base.
Last December, The Ethiopian Times, among other media outlets, reported that the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, responsible for recent terrorist attacks against the Nigerian Christian community, opened training camps in Ethiopia. "A source revealed that the Boko Haram, in conjunction with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Magreb opened training camps in Ethiopia, besides the usual training grounds of Al-Qaeda in Sudan and Somalia."
The Sudan Tribune also mentions that "Africa's porous borders, poor security at sea and airports as well as luck of coordinated counter-terrorist task forces, conflict and political instability among others have created [a] conducive environment to terrorist groups."
In 2010, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article mentioning that the Yemen-based arm of Al-Qaida was examining the possibility of infiltrating terrorists into Israel, coming from training camps in Somalia under the guise of new Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia or as Somali refugees.
Al-Qaeda's support for Somali jihadists has ensured the Islamist movement a base from which to expand its activities in Eastern Africa and West Africa, and from which to develop and stage attacks against local and U.S. interests in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Because of its geographical position, Ethiopia in particular is of great interest and importance for Al-Qaeda, which sees the country as an opening gateway to the whole African continent.
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