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Miles Armitage: Africa new axis of global terrorism

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 25/05/2014 David Wroe
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. © REUTERS TV Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.

Australia's new counter-terrorism ambassador has singled out the growth of jihadist groups in Africa as a key concern in the post-bin Laden era of global terror.

His comments came as Australia led a successful move in the United Nations Security Council to choke off funding to Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist army that sparked global outrage with its recent kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls.

Miles Armitage, named recently as Australia's ambassador for counter-terrorism,said that while al-Qaeda had been battered in the past decade, attacks on Westerners were still a goal of some thriving jihadist organisations.

''The nature of the threat is evolving, and whilst the capability of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has definitely been degraded by a concerted effort by the international community, the threat of particularly Islamist terrorism has become more dispersed, less predictable, and now we're dealing geographically with a number of other areas - eastern Africa, western Africa and the Maghreb,'' he said.

Mr Armitage, who was previously ambassador to East Timor, said the Middle East remained a key area, as did Australia's own region in Asia. He said that while the fragmented nature of Islamist groups today meant attacks were now usually on a smaller scale, plots such as the murder of more than 60 people in Kenya's West Gate shopping centre were ''a pretty awful reminder to us all that the big attacks are not behind us''.

Major groups in Africa include Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the continent's north, and al-Shabab in Somalia, which carried out the Kenyan attack.

Mr Armitage said that as well as its work in the UN Security Council, Australia was taking urgent steps to declare Boko Haram a terrorist organisation, which would help strip it of financial backing.

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