By: Kerry Patton 10/09/2012 (11:54am)
Anyone who researches terrorism has likely come across a place in South America known as the Tri-border region, a remote area where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina border one another that is often mentioned as a safe haven for Islamic radicals. But as more and more intelligence officers begin to understand this very old South American safe haven, they also need to start paying attention to another hotspot: The Quint-border region in Africa.
South America’s Tri-border region is certainly unique. Very few travel inside the region. And for good reason; it is a remote, semi-lawless and often times extremely dangerous place. But imagine that there’s a new place in the world that’s very similar to the Tri-border territory — that includes an additional two nation states. That’s the Quint-border expanse, and it’s just as remote and lawless, but also far more dangerous.
The Quint-border region is thousands of miles from South America situated in the west-southwest region of Africa. It’s called the “Quint” region because it consists of five different borders — Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. It’s the location counterterrorists need to begin paying close attention to in order to stay on top of our enemy’s initiatives.
The Tri-border region in South America may never have become what it is today if it weren’t for the treacherous terrain in the region. It is comprised of heavy jungle with thick canopies making it difficult even for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) air platforms to monitor.
But with all things considered, a lot of hard evidence is missing from much of the continuing claims about this region being South America’s terror “hot spot.” While there’s little question that the Tri-border region is filled with illegal activity that ranges from black markets to organized crime, the extent of Islamist terrorist groups operating in the region remains questionable.
Terror groups such as Hezbollah, Al-Jihad (Islamic Jihad), Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group), Hamas and Al-Qaeda probably had a presence in the Tri-border region – evidence points to this – but most of this evidence is historical; there’s little proof that these groups have a significant presence in the region today. Multiple nation states’ have worked to weed out some of the bad guys from the region.
Today, there is absolutely no definitive evidence of any largescale terrorist operations in the region. Yes, some active terror supporters have been captured in the region as of late, but that does not mean the region should still be considered a terror hot bed.
When it comes to definitive evidence about terror hot spots, though, there is substantiation that one such area location exists, and it’s the Quint-border region. Africa is unique. Over the years, it has shifted multiple times from a heavily influenced Islamic region to a Christian zone. Today, it is shifting back to a very influential Islamic continent. Geospatial mapping shows a rapid movement of Islamic infiltration throughout Africa, starting in the north and moving southward. Unfortunately, this Islamic shift is filled with extreme radicalization.
We rarely hear about such terror safe havens because they aren’t all that sexy. Most safe havens lack physical violence. Terrorists are smart and they don’t necessarily enjoy “defecating where they eat.” But violence has imploded inside Africa’s Quint-border region.
Northern Nigeria has been ravaged by Islamist violence in recent years. Boko Haram, an Al Qaeda-linked Islamic terror group, has consistently been on the offensive, committing mass genocide against Christian communities living in the northern half of the country.
Hezbollah also has a relatively heavy presence in the Niger Delta. The official website of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria quoted an African security expert explaining why Hezbollah has a relatively large presence in the region: “One reason is the large population of Lebanese Shi’ites who left their country during the civil war in the 1970s. They deal in trade, communications, minerals and other fields. Ironically, so do many of the Israelis in the region, which means people from both groups may meet up in the business world … the warning must be taken seriously by business people in the area, at least for the time being.”
That “warning” comes from multiple threats related to kidnappings — a terror tactic frequently used by terrorist groups in the region.
Mali recently experienced a coup that was heavily influenced and led by Islamists closely aligned with Al Qaeda. As mentioned in my May, 2012 Homeland Security Today commentary, West Africa: Al Qaeda’s New Home, “Today, the nation of Mali has been seized by Al Qaeda elements. This once democratic nation has been toppled by a military coup, and those who arguably now control the nation in the aftermath of its instability have allied themselves with Al Qaeda. And there have been talks between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) Tuareg rebels and Al Qaeda.”
I further noted that the “Tuareg rebellion of 2012 is an independence war against the Malian government in the Sahara desert region of the Azawad led by the MNLA, which is composed of former insurgents and a significant number of returning and heavily armed Tuareg fighters who fought for either the National Transitional Council or the Libyan army during the Libyan civil war.”
Niger, the landlocked country bordering Mali, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Libya and Chad, is located in the heart of Africa’s hell. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) saturates its north, Boko Haram is to the south, and Mali unrest is to its west. It also sets in the middle of a major illegal goods trafficking route. Since the French left Niger in 1960, the country witnessed approximately two dozen coups making it incredibly unstable … and prone to radicalization and a safe haven for terrorist activities.
Not every nation within the Quint-border region is filled with violence. Burkina Faso is relatively peaceful with a relatively strong government that so far has been willing to fight crime and corruption even though crime remains high. However, Burkina Faso is an African nation involved in a multi-million dollar a year cigarette smuggling adventure that contributes to multiple financial advancements for terror groups. What other illegal activities exist in Burkina Faso that contribute to an ongoing global terror dilemma?
The small African country of Burkina Faso is also a known drug and weapon smuggling hot zone. According to the US Department of State, “The organized crime that exists in Burkina Faso mostly revolves around the smuggling of weapons, commercial goods, illegal drugs and, to a lesser extent, human trafficking. Burkina Faso is known as a transit country for these activities although a small portion of these weapons, goods, drugs, and trafficked humans do remain in the country.”
According to a 2005 US Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs report, “Benin is a source, destination and transit country for the trafficking of children. Children from Benin are trafficked into Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, the Gulf States and Lebanon; children from Burkina Faso, Niger and Togo are sold into servitude in Benin.”
Make no mistake; those involved in human trafficking around the world often have ties to terror networks. They are identified as transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs. These TCO’s are major players in the Quint-border region responsible for financing terror.
There are serious locations in the world that are prone to mass terror activities. The identified Quint-border region could easily be construed as the world’s most dangerous hot spot with significant terror connections. A book could be written about the region’s activities, but we’ll leave that endeavor to intelligence officials.
There is enough data to support the foundation of a good working intelligence report. And this material comes at a critical time — the war on terror continues, Africa has imploded with violence, and the US continues to run amok searching high and low for the snake’s head of terrorism to be cut off. Unfortunately, that head does not come in the form of a person; look at Al Qaeda’s capabilities even after the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
To effectively target terrorists, you must go to the location where they receive the most active and passive support, because without this support, they have nothing. There is no question that when it comes to Islamic terrorists, a great amount of their support comes from a key region, and that’s the Quint-border region.
Kerry Patton is a combat service disabled veteran who has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe focusing on intelligence and security, and has interviewed current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban. Author of, Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies, you can follow Kerry on Facebook or at www.kerry-patton.com.