Though Boko Haram has not yet carried out an attack in Senegal, several Senegalese nationals have joined the group’s ranks in Nigeria, and others have been arrested and prosecuted in Senegal for their links to the group. The first Boko Haram-linked individual active in Senegal was Khalid al-Barnawi, who conducted business activities in the country in 2011 that he used to fund major attacks in Nigeria, including the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Abuja that August. (Sources: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Jamestown Foundation)
In one of the largest terrorism cases in Senegal, authorities discovered a plot to create a Boko Haram cell in the country in 2015. That November, a Senegalese national named Mahktar Diokhané was arrested in Niger. Upon his arrest, he was found to be in possession of $20,000 that he had received from Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, to set up a cell in Senegal. Diokhané, who had previously spent time in a Boko Haram camp in Nigeria, reportedly intended to recruit new fighters to train in the Kedougou forest of southeastern Senegal. A total of 29 individuals––including three women––were ultimately arrested for their alleged involvement in the cell on charges of conspiracy related to financing an armed group, money-laundering, and acts of terrorism. Several were tried in 2018, and according to testimony given in their trial, many had also spent time in Nigeria training with Boko Haram, and others reportedly had links to militant groups in Mali and Libya. In July 2018, Senegal’s criminal court convicted and sentenced 13 of the individuals to prison, but acquitted 14 others. Diokhané received a 20-year prison term. (Sources: Jamestown Foundation, Al Jazeera, Jeune Afrique, Washington Post, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)
Boko Haram has been repeatedly been accused of attempting to recruit in Senegal, and of specifically targeting Senegalese youth for recruitment.
Boko Haram has been repeatedly been accused of attempting to recruit in Senegal, and of specifically targeting Senegalese youth for recruitment. The first such claim came in 2012, when the Grand Imam of the town of Bignona claimed that Boko Haram was attempting to recruit in the town. In 2016, four imams suspected of recruiting for the group were arrested in Kaolack. One of them, Imam Alioune Badara Ndao, was accused of radicalizing Mahktar Diokhané, though he was ultimately acquitted of terrorism-related charges in July 2018. (Sources: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Voice of America, Al Jazeera, Jeune Afrique, BBC News)
Senegal has continued to arrest Boko Haram-linked individuals in recent years, including former foreign fighters. In 2016, Senegalese authorities arrested a total of 11 individuals linked to the group, including one individual named Momodou Ndiaye (a.k.a. Abu Yusuf), who was tracked through his Facebook activity. Ndiaye had reportedly fought for Boko Haram in Nigeria from 2014 to 2015 alongside another Senegalese foreign fighter who was killed there. In April 2017, Senegalese authorities arrested a Nigerian individual exiting the Nigerian embassy in Dakar who was suspected of having links to Boko Haram. He had reportedly just arrived in Senegal after spending two months in Mauritania. In June 2017, three individuals arrested in Dakar confessed to authorities that they were three of 23 Senegalese nationals in Boko Haram. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Jamestown Foundation, Reuters, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)
Al-Qaeda and Affiliates
Although Senegal is located next to Mali, where al-Qaeda affiliates including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Mourabitoun have waged an insurgency over the last decade, Senegal has so far remained free from al-Qaeda-linked violence. However, Senegal has significantly stepped up its internal security measures out of concern that it could be a potential target for AQIM, given that Senegalese troops participate in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), a peacekeeping mission that works to counter AQIM and its affiliates there. As of 2012, there were reports of Senegalese nationals fighting for AQIM in Mali, and some Senegalese imams have also expressed support for jihadists there. (Sources: News24, Washington Post, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Jamestown Foundation)
Senegal has arrested numerous individuals in the country for their alleged ties to al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-linked groups. In 2013, the Senegalese imam Babacar Dianko was arrested in Kédougou. He was an alleged associate of the then-leader of the al-Qaeda-aligned Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), and was suspected of being a recruiter for the group. In 2015, Senegalese authorities raided the homes of several imams who were found to be in possession of literature indicating their support of al-Qaeda. Ibrahima Sèye, an imam and high school teacher, was arrested for his alleged links to AQIM and sentenced to two years in prison in October 2016. In February 2017, Senegalese authorities arrested two suspected jihadists in Dakar. The jihadists were from Mali and Mauritania and were en route to The Gambia. They were linked to Mohamed Ould Nouini, the mastermind of a deadly March 2016 attack on a hotel in Cote d’Ivoire that killed 19 people, and was perpetrated by AQIM and the affiliated group al-Mourabitoun. (Sources: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Le Journal de Dakar, Jamestown Foundation, BBC News, eNCA, Reuters, SMBC Gambia, SMBC Gambia)
Senegalese individuals have both traveled abroad to fight for ISIS and been arrested in Senegal for their links to the group. Senegalese authorities have arrested some ISIS-linked individuals after tracking their Facebook activity. One such individual, Momodou Ndiaye (a.k.a Abu Yusuf), reportedly fought for ISIS in Libya sometime in 2015 or 2016 after spending time in Nigeria fighting for Boko Haram. He was one of an estimated 10 to 30 Senegalese nationals who reportedly traveled to Syria, Libya, or Iraq to fight on behalf of ISIS. In 2016, Senegalese authorities also arrested Moustapha Diatta, who ran a Facebook page called “Proselytize Senegal.” Diatta reportedly helped Senegalese individuals––including three of his children––travel to Libya to fight for ISIS, though he denied those allegations. In March 2017, Senegalese authorities also arrested two Moroccans in Dakar suspected of having links to ISIS. (Sources: Reuters, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, National Interest, Jamestown Foundation)
The Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) is a separatist group that has waged a low-intensity violent separatist campaign against Senegal’s government that has claimed thousands of lives since 1982. The MFDC seeks independence for Senegal’s southern Casamance province, which is geographically separated from the rest of the country by The Gambia and is home to the Diola ethnic group. The Diola tribe is ethnically and religiously distinct from the Wolof, Senegal’s dominant ethnic group. Although the MFDC has since signed several peace agreements with the Senegalese government, none has served to resolve the conflict. For example, after a major peace agreement was signed in 2004, opposing factions simply split off from the group and continued to fight. (Sources: American Federation of Scientists, Reuters, U.S. Department of Justice, BBC News)
Violence peaked in the 1990s, when the MFDC received support from João Bernardo Vieira, the former president of Guinea-Bissau.
Violence peaked in the 1990s, when the MFDC received support from João Bernardo Vieira, the former president of Guinea-Bissau. The MFDC was accused by human rights groups of serious human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, and torture of civilians. The militant group reportedly targeted civilians from other ethnic groups outside of the Diola, and was known for its widespread and indiscriminate use of landmines. At the same time, Senegalese military forces fighting the MFDC were also accused of similar human rights violations. Amnesty International claims that several mass graves for victims of extrajudicial killings in the 1990s exist in the Casamance province. (Source: American Federation of Scientists)
In recent years, the conflict in Casamance has remained in a suspended state, described as neither “war nor peace.” According to analysts, an illegal trade economy in the conflict zone has provided an incentive for both sides to prolong the conflict. Though one of the principal leaders of a major MFDC faction declared a ceasefire in August 2014, low-level violence has continued. For example, in January 2018, 14 civilians were shot and seven were wounded in a gun assault attributed to the MFDC. (Sources: BBC News, BBC News, Reuters, Reuters)