GULF nations, including Bahrain, can help prevent the Islamic State (IS) militant group from establishing a stronghold in Africa, according to an expert.
Africa is rapidly becoming the focus as IS fighters and sympathisers seek to regroup on a larger scale.
Research and analysis institute Jamestown Foundation’s Fellow of African and Eurasian Affairs Jacob Zenn said the Gulf countries can share their intelligence and help track down foreign militants.
Groups such as the Islamic State West Africa Province, commonly known as Boko Haram until 2015, were working on new strategies to continue promoting the IS ideology, he said.
“From an intelligence perspective, Gulf countries can help track members of the IS who have gone to Africa,” said Mr Zenn.
“We have seen this in Iraq and Syria which have Gulf citizens.”
He was speaking during a public lecture, Divided We Thrive? Boko Haram and the Islamic State, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
It was held at the IISS-Middle East headquarters located at GBCorp Tower, Bahrain Financial Harbour, and moderated by the think tank’s Senior Fellow for Political Islamism Dr Nelly Lahoud.
“A number of African countries are looking to develop counter-terrorism programmes; they need financial support and religious experts to combat the IS ideology – which are available in the Gulf countries.”
The year 2018 will see resurgence in insurgency in Iraq and Syria, as well as ideology-based attacks on the Western countries using social media.
“IS is no longer a territorial entity as it can still inspire attacks via social media.
“We have seen the IS active in the Philippines, Egypt, Afghanistan and now in the African countries in the form of Boko Haram.”
Mr Zenn said following the Arab Spring, Al Qaeda operatives moved their base to Tunisia and when the IS announced its caliphate in 2014, they were inspired to follow IS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.
He said this was unique as members of a group (Al Qaeda) were now pledging support to another outfit (IS).
“There are many factions within the IS, ranging from moderate to extreme.
“IS may have lost its territories in Iraq and Syria, but what we are seeing now is the re- radicalisation of their fighters by Al Qaeda.”
In December (2017), African Union’s commissioner for peace and security said that up to 6,000 Africans who fought for the IS in Iraq and Syria could return home, calling on countries to brace for attacks.
Mr Zenn said the threat of foreign fighters returning home will pose a further challenge for world governments.
Some 40,000 fighters from more than 120 countries poured into the battles in Syria and Iraq over the past four years, according to reports.
In 2014, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told Al Arabiya news channel that Bahrainis in Daesh (IS) were fewer than 100.
Bahrain is also part of Operation Inherent Resolve, a US-led international coalition conducting air strikes against the IS since 2014.