Motives varied in flare-up of African terrorism | Africa | DW | 30.04.2012

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Motives varied in flare-up of African terrorism

Recent attacks in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria suggest a rise in Islamic terrorism across Africa. But motivations behind the attacks are varied. Long-term problems, and not religion, could explain some of the attacks.

Terrorism was a grimly recurrent theme throughout Africa over the weekend and through Monday. Five people were shot dead at a farm in Ethiopia, a grenade attack killed one person and injured 15 others in a church in Kenya, and gunmen killed up to 20 Christian worshippers during a church service in Nigeria.

Ethiopia has seen conflicts between Christians and Muslims before. Authorities have arrested suspects in the farm shooting, but it remains unclear whether they were acting alone or on behalf of a political group.

No one has claimed responsibility for the Nigerian attack. However, radical Islamist sect Boko Haram is a leading suspect. The group has been linked to al-Qaeda and held responsible for similar attacks.

Meanwhile in Kenya, authorities have blamed Somalia-based al Shebab Islamist militants for the church bombing. The group has a publicly claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda.

Unsolved case

People drawing water from Afar well. Dallol, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

In water-poor Ethiopia, issues such as land usage are often responsible for conflict

The shooting in Ethiopia remains a mystery to the authorities. The country has seen conflicts between Christians and Muslims before. But it appears the attack, which occurred on a private farm, was due to a local issue such as land grabbing.

The attack marked the second deadly shooting in the region in recent weeks. In March, an attack on a public bus resulted in 19 deaths. The government said "anti-peace" elements were responsible for the killings.

Kenyan authorities have announced a more specific suspect. They believe al Shebab militants perpetrated Sunday's attack in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The group opposes Kenyan troops' deployment to Somalia.

However, Brian Singoro Wanyama, a political scientist at Kenya's Muliro University, says the attack could just as easily have been carried out by a local crime group called the Mungiki. The group traditionally has opposed Christianity, too.

Kenyan paramilitary personnel control the crowd after a grenade attack on a church in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, April 29, 2012

One person died and more than a dozen were injured in the attack in downtown Nairobi

Escalation on the way?

"The Mungiki is a banned group from central Kenya. Maybe they want to cause fear amongst the people," Wanyama told DW. "Another factor could be the coming elections. Maybe people just want to take advantage and raise the temperature."

John Campbell, an Africa expert with the Council on Foreign Relations organization, said it would be wrong to view the Kenya attack as the start of a major terrorism trend in the country.

"I would be very cautious about that," he told DW. "The origins of this attack in Kenya remain to be seen."

Spreading unrest

Ahmed Mohamed is a journalist based in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, one of Boko Haram's strongholds. He said Monday's attack during a church service at a university was part of the group's efforts to destabilize the nation. Before the incident, attacks were concentrated on government institutions and media organizations.

Local officials remove the body of a victim from the back of a bus, in front of Aminu Kano teaching hospital in Nigeria's northern city of Kano April 29, 2012. Gunmen killed at least 15 people and wounded many more on Sunday in an attack on a university theatre being used by Christian worshippers in Kano, a northern Nigerian city where hundreds have died in Islamist attacks this year. REUTERS/Stringer(NIGERIA - Tags: CRIME LAW RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Up to 20 were killed in the attack during a Nigerian church service

"Now, if Christians return fire, the whole country will be in chaos," Mohamed said. "It would be a return to Muslims killing Christians and Christians killing Muslims. Without intervention by leaders in the Christian community, there will probably be retaliatory actions in many parts of the country."

Ransome Bello, the chairman of an association of churches in the region, described the attacks as "barbaric and condemnable." He called on Christians not to retaliate, saying the best answer is prayer.

"Many people are losing confidence in the government's ability to protect them," Mohamed told DW.

Campbell, however, said he does not see religious motives behind the attacks in Kenya and Nigeria.

"Boko Haram is focused on interior Nigerian issues," he explained. "If it has any contact with other Islamic groups outside of Nigeria, they are small and not particularly significant."

Author: André Leslie (with information from AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Shant Shahrigian

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