Regional security chiefs meeting in Kampala have warned that the terrorist outfit the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has recruited up to 5,000 Africans, many of them East African, to fight in the middle east.
This is not an unusual development as Al Qaeda before it, called on Muslims from around the world to join it freeing the holy lands.
But ISIS is not Al Qaeda.
With victories over the Syrian and Iraqi armies, ISIS took control of major oil fields capable of producing up to 500,000 barrels of oil a day.
Whereas recent airstrikes have severely degraded this capacity – recent estimates put ISIS production at about 10,000 barrels a day, it makes ISIS all the more dangerous because it has resources that do not depend on the goodwill of supporters or the blackmail of “allies”.
"The issue of resources is key to explaining ISIS growing global influence. Every crackpot terrorist operation is keen to be in their good books, because owing allegiance to ISIS may result in a flow of resources to them...
In the 1990s New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman referred to the super-empowered individual, he even made specific reference to the Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden had not risen to his full notoriety by the time Friedman’s book “The Lexus and the fig tree” was published in 1999, though he had already made his mark on our collective conscience with his commissioning of the twin bombings of the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, US embassies in 1998.
Friedman explained that by leveraging new technologies these super empowered individuals could fight against nations.
ISIS is an extension of this phenomenon. With terrorist groups commandeering valuable resources to finance their terror campaigns they are able to project their will much wider than before.
Which is why the thought that ISIS is training east Africans is enough cause for shivers to run down our spines.
ISIS’ methods are so brutal that even Al Qaeda, to which it first paid its allegiance, criticised them for being too brutal. They have filmed and transmitted with maniacal glee, their execution methods, which have ranged from throwing victims from high rise buildings, to dousing a caged prisoner in fuel and setting him alight, to employing a bazooka to execute one victim. And we haven’t even talked about their beheadings of mostly western prisoners.
Beyond the obvious sense of terror they provoke, ISIS is even more dangerous because with the resources it commands it can strengthen all sort of organised criminals.
Al Shabaab it was once suspected, were financing their activities using the proceeds from poaching activities.
ISIS can’t sell their oil on the open market so they have linked up with smuggling rings to help them. Observers say that ISIS has sold a barrel for as little as $20 to smugglers who ghost it into Turkey and Iran. World fuel prices now hover at about $50 a barrel.
The huge profits that these smuggling rings make strengthens them, emboldens them and builds up their capacity to go about their other businesses.
So if ISIS manages a foothold in the region expect a rise in organised crime.
"Already coming out of the trial of suspects responsible of the 2010 bombings indicate cross border regional linkages not only been the terrorists but also with established organised crime rings.This is a different kind of war for which our security need to reorient themselves...
The battle lines are not fixed. The enemy is indistinguishable from members of the general public. And any response risks alienating governments from the very populations they are seeking to protect.
Good intelligence gathering is paramount. Greater transnational collaboration is critical. And increased personal vigilance by every citizen is imperative.
The war against ISIS rages on. To the extent that they can be pinned down, they will pose little threat to us. But we cannot take that for granted.