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Mapping the Terrorist Threat in the SoutH

Case Study: Rivalry and Confrontation among Sahelian Terrorist Groups

During the past decade, the central Sahel - a region encompassing Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – has become the scene of one of the most complex security crises on the African continent. In a complex environment where a plethora of armed groups operate at large, it is the terrorist organisations which continue to pose the most significant challenges to the regional security. Following a long series of defections, rebranding and changes in allegiances, the terrorist landscape has become more consolidated in the recent years with the merger of the AQ-affiliated groups into the JNIM coalition and the emergence of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, the first and only Daesh offshoot in the central Sahel to date.

While the activity of the two terrorist blocks has been closely monitored, the relationship between them has been largely overlooked, mainly due to the so-called "Sahel paradox", a time period between 2015 and 2019, when the neutral-to-friendly relationship between JNIM and ISGS was contrary to global trends. However, in 2019, the relationship between the Al-Qaeda and Daesh affiliates deteriorated rapidly, culminating in a series of violent clashes between the two throughout 2020. While the intensity of conflict between JNIM and ISGS has de-escalated significantly in 2021, the re-emergence of violence, potentially influencing the regional security dynamics, remains of great concern given the volatility of their relationship.

Developed by the NSD-S Hub, with instrumental support from the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT/CAERT), the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) and the African Union Mechanism for Police Cooperation (AFRIPOL), the current paper is a deep dive into the turbulent relationship between JNIM and ISGS, accounting not only for historical developments, but also attempting to anticipate how the potential changes in the rapport between the two entities may affect the overall regional security.

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