Sudanese authorities are facing a new problem following revelations that terrorist cells linked to ISIS are emerging in the country.
In the past week, Sudanese security forces have had confrontations with groups believed to be linked to terrorist activities in the country and thought to be affiliated with the Daesh or ISIS. Several security officers were killed as forces raided separate hideouts in the capital Khartoum’s southern suburbs of Jabra and Al-Azhari.
For years, Sudan was seen as incubator for extremist groups during the previous regime of Omar al-Bashir. His regime was sanctioned heavily by the US for hosting Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. The transitional government came in to portray a new image, and led to the lifting of sanctions last December. Yet the country appears vulnerable still.
The danger of terrorist groups in Sudan has remained as extremist groups roam its neighbourhoods in the Horn of Africa. In 2019, the US Department of State warned that ISIS had spread into Sudan, after losing its control areas in Syria and Iraq. In the same year, the Sudanese authorities announced the arrest of six members of the terrorist Boko Haram organisation. Last year, officials said they had arrested nine people belonging to Al-Qaeda from different nationalities, and that they were planning to carry out bombings in the Gulf countries.
Prof Ahmed Sabah Al-Khair, a Sudanese expert on violent extremism told The EastAfrican that Sudan’s neighbourhood makes it probable that such groups could gain entry here.
“Sudan is surrounded by a mass of flames,” he said.
“And there is a flare-up in Libya, in Chad as well as in Egypt, due to the presence of the Sinai group, and in western Ethiopia, via the Tigray region which is in conflict. This is besides its open borders which have made Sudan attractive to terrorist groups.”
Sudan though had little history of terrorist operations inside Sudan, except for some minor events, which occurred in Sudan, such as the killing of the American diplomat John Granville, or the stabbing incident that occurred on the police officer guarding the American embassy. There had been also the participation of some Sudanese students in ISIS, he said.
“Sudan’s association with terrorist groups in the past makes it friendly to these movements. The previous regime brought these groups as evidenced by the presence of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the godfather of terrorist movements. Bin Laden stayed in Sudan for about five years or more in the 1990s and he used to describe Sudan as the home of the migration. He later fled to Afghanistan.
“At this time, such groups were described as sleeper cells using Sudan as a crossing and a safe haven to escape from their home authorities and to gather their strength before returning to the battlefield,” added Sudanese political analyst Mohamed Abdulaziz.
“Therefore, it is very important to deal with terrorism seriously and as a real challenge in Sudan, especially after the fall of the Bashir regime,” he told The EastAfrican.
“There is a need to accelerate the enactment of a law to combat terrorism, and this is a law in which human rights standards and the rule of law must be observed. It is very important that this law is not used in the political system or to stone a political group or against a political or civil organisation and this also requires the presence of a specialised anti-terrorism apparatus that includes an elite of the best Army, police, security, and other regular forces, in addition to civilian elements, that carry out planning and organising operations to face challenges related to terrorism or to tackle the phenomenon of terrorism.”
Sudan, which is fighting other challenges like a sick economy and unsettled security forces must now form an entity to counter terrorism, Abdulaziz recommended.
“It is very important to speed up the process of creating this body to coordinate efforts and mobilise resources based on the law that will be established, and this will be a good step for Sudan in confronting terrorism and responding to the current challenges.”
Four suspected members of ISIS group were killed in a raid by security forces in the capital Khartoum, Sudan’s General Intelligence Service said.
The incident, that took place on Monday in the southern district of Jabra, also left one military officer dead. Witnesses in the Jabra neighbourhood told the Reuters news agency they saw security forces exchanging gunfire with a group inside a residential building and close the main road in the area.
The Monday’s raid took place in the same district where, last Tuesday, five members of the General Intelligence Service were killed, while six others were injured as security forces went after “a cell linked to the Islamic States group. ”
The presence of armed group cells represents one of the challenges the country is facing as it is going through a rocky transition towards a civilian-led democratic government following the removal in 2019 of former President Omar al-Bashir. Tensions between the military and civilian groups, which are engaged in a power-sharing agreement until the election in 2023, reached a low point last month following an attempted coup which officials blamed on soldiers loyal to the previous government.
After the failed power grab, civilian officials accused military leaders of overstepping their boundaries, while generals criticised civilian management of the economy and political process, saying that their forces were neglected and disrespected