Terrorism Monitor: January-March 2021

No Key Points:

  • The overall number of terror attacks in Africa have reduced except in Mozambique, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.
  • Mozambique had the second highest frequency of terror attacks in Africa from Nigeria.
  • Nigeria and Niger combined account for just under 50% of persons killed on the continent from terror attacks.
  • The overall number of persons killed from terror attacks have increased particularly in Niger, Cameroon, Somalia and Mozambique.
  • Bandits reportedly perpetrated the deadliest attack in Nigeria in the first quarter and mainly responsible for kidnappings of hundreds of people including school children.


The total number of attacks reported in Africa in the first quarter of 2021 were 351* attacks

The overall trend between January and March revealed a reduction in attacks across all countries except Cameroon, Mozambique and Burkina Faso. This largely contributed to Mozambique and Cameroon forming part of the top 3 countries with the highest frequency of attacks in the first quarter of the year, with Nigeria in first place followed by Mozambique and Cameroon. The sharpest decline in attacks occurred in Somalia where Al-Shabaab began the year with 22* attacks in January and 7* in March. In Kenya, there were no reported attacks by Al-Shabaab in February although in March attacks commenced with 4* attacks which was still a slight drop from January with 5* attacks.

On the 29th of March, 3 members of Ivory Coast’s security forces were killed in two over night attacks in the villages of Kafolo and Tehini on the border with Burkina Faso. The incident marked the first attack in Ivory Coast this year and suspected to have been instigated by Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM). This followed an earlier incident on the 22nd of January when a missing Catholic priest was found dead in the Toumousseni Forest, south of Burkina Faso near the border of Ivory Coast.

Overall Monthly Totals: January (142); February (109); March (100)

Persons Killed

The total number of persons killed in Africa by terror attacks were 1 427*

Although the number of attacks on the continent has slightly decreased, the number of persons killed rose considerably. Both Nigeria and Niger combined account for just under 50% of persons killed on the continent with a total of 363* and 337* persons killed in each country respectively. The DRC follows with 235* attacks despite having one of the lowest rate of reported attacks. This trend continues with Somalia where attacks by Al-Shabaab led to considerably more casualties, particularly in March accumulating to 136* persons killed, despite it being the least active they have been since January. Oppositely, a steady rise in attacks in Mozambique has also contributed to an increase of persons killed with a reported total of 99* between January and March. This includes preliminary figures from its latest major attack in Palma on the 24th of March, which is expected to increase as media and research reports continue to uncover the full scale of the attack.

Overall Monthly Totals: January (506); February (309); March (530)

Regional Focus: Lake Chad

As with most major terrorist organisations on the continent, ISWAP/Boko Haram instigated most of its attacks in January, focusing on Nigeria in Borno and Yobe in particular. As the frequency of attacks reduced over the following months, ISWAP/Boko Haram maintained a sustained campaign against the Nigerian Army and civilians in Dikwa, especially in the first weeks of March after the group took over a military base in mid-February. These attacks occurred against the backdrop of at least 2 incidents in January and March when the power supply in Maiduguri was disconnected by ISWAP/Boko Haram. Furthermore, main roads out Maiduguri have been frequented by ambushes, most notably on the 28th of February when ISWAP/Boko Haram ambushed a convoy carrying Major Genral Farouq Yahaya, Commander of Nigeria’s counter-insurgency operation, Operation Lafiya Dole. 

ISWAP/Boko Haram Attack Totals Per Country: Nigeria (59); Cameroon (50); Niger (25); Chad (6)

Several attacks occurred in Niger with a similar heightened frequency in January compared to the months that followed which mainly involved attacks against Nigerien security forces in Diffa. Between January and February at least 13* people were kidnapped from Diffa of which 4 included women. In Cameroon, as early as the 7th of January, 14* people were killed in an attack by Boko Haram (JAS) after the the group raided the village of Mozogo in the Mayo Tsanaga area with a girl strapped with explosives. Since then, Boko Haram (JAS) has noticeably increased attacks in Cameroon, mainly involving cattle theft, armed robbery and looting. On the 28th of March, ISWAP/Boko Haram also crossed over into Cameroon, targeting the village of Dabanga, killing 6* including security forces.

Country Focus: Nigeria

25.4% of persons killed in Africa from terror attacks were from Nigeria

Nigeria experiences the highest frequency of attacks on the continent, with an average of 3-4 attacks per day between bandits in northwest and central Nigeria and ISWAP/Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. Between the two major perpetrators of attacks, ISWAP/Boko Haram is considerably more active, particularly in incidents involving explosives, looting and arson. ISWAP/Boko Haram has also been involved in kidnappings against civilians, security forces and aid workers. However, bandits remain a formidable threat in Nigeria, responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in the country such as the 24th of February when gunmen fired rocket propelled grenades at civilians killing 36 people in Kaduna and Katsina. Bandits are also mainly responsible for kidnappings, notably the abduction of 317 school girls from the Girls Science Secondary School in Zamfara on the 26th of February. This has seriously undermined the safety and security of children community leaders and civilians commuting to and from work, markets, schools and even in their own homes. Combined, both groups have contributed to a quarter of deaths on the continent occurring in Nigeria.

Perpetrator Totals: ISWAP/Boko Haram (85); Bandits (66)

Country Focus: Niger

23.6% of persons killed in Africa from terror attacks were from Niger

From as early as the 2nd of January, Islamist militants suspected to be part of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), attacked civilians in Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye in Tillabéri. Media reports state militants coordinated the attack simultaneously, arriving in no less than 100 motorbikes, splitting in smaller groups to indiscriminately attack and kill civilians in every direction. The incident was considered one of the deadliest attacks in recent times with over 100 civilians killed. 

However, another deadly attack took place in Tahoua, in the villages of Intazayene, Bakoarate and Wistane on the 21st of March. Media reports detail similar attack methods as the 2nd of January attack, with militants arriving in motorbikes to instigate a highly coordinated simultaneous attack across 3 locations which led to approximately 137 deaths. Prior to this attack on the 15th of March, militants targeted market shoppers in the town of Banibangou before raiding the village of Chinedogar and Darey-Dayem killing approximately 66 civilians. 

These attacks came amidst ongoing elections during which 7 poll workers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine in Dargol on the 21st of February. These 3 attacks alone have contributed significantly to Niger forming nearly a quarter of deaths recorded on the continent as a result of terror attacks between January and March. This is concerning for a country which suffers a lower frequency of attacks compared to Nigeria and Cameroon while also appearing to have a slight reduction in attacks from 14 attacks in January to 5 attacks in March. 

Totals: Attacks (25); Persons Killed (377)

Regional Focus: Central and East Africa

On the 10th of March, the United States State Department designated the Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ansar al-Sunna wa-Jammah (ASwJ) in Mozambique as Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTO) affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as the Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP). In light of this designation, attacks by ISCAP in both DRC and Mozambique were collated and compared to attacks by Al-Shabaab, considering the nature of ASwJ as both a central and south east African group hosting foreign and local fighters from across the region including Tanzanians, Kenyans, Somalis and Congolese fighters.

In Somalia concerns as to whether the withdrawal of US troops would embolden the Al-Shabaab to instigate more attacks and expand their areas of control in the midst of an election season were prevalent. This was further heightened after the Biden administration ordered all airstrikes be approved by the White House which then saw USAFRICOM cease airstrikes after launching only 7 in January. However, attacks by Al-Shabaab significantly reduced in both Somalia and Kenya between January and March while ASwJ emerged for its fighting season following relative inactivity between November and January before picking up in February and March. Meanwhile, ISCAP in DRC maintained a steady pace of an average of at least 4* reported attacks per month. Both groups combined have surpassed the frequency of attacks by Al-Shabaab which is mainly attributed to ASwJ as they continue to escalate attacks in Mozambique.

Regional Perpetrator Attack Totals: Al-Shabaab (52); ISCAP (67)

Country Focus: Mozambique

For a relatively new insurgency, recent events and attack patterns have demonstrated the extent to which ASwJ poses a considerable threat to the south east African region. With attack frequencies second to Nigeria against the backdrop of regional indecision as to the appropriate steps to take against the insurgent group, ongoing attacks are likely to escalate considerably. Although the Palma attack continues to garner widespread media attention, it remains worth noting that the attack had been anticipated in light of movements and activities of the insurgents several weeks preceding the attack and communicated to relevant stakeholders. This demonstrates a key contributing factor to the escalation of the insurgency defined by a lack of preventative, coordinated intervention.

Totals: Attacks (58); Persons Killed (99)

Between January and February, just under 80% of attacks by ASwJ occurred between the Nangade and Palma along the Tanzanian border while other attacks took place further south in key towns such as Macomia, Mocimboa da Praia, Muidumbe and the Quirimbas Islands of Ilha do Ibo and Matemo. While most incidents involved armed assaults including violent clashes with security forces and local militia, ambushes, looting and other violent attacks against civilians, at least 5* incidents of kidnapping were reported between January and March in which 24* people were kidnapped by ASwJ, 6* of which included women and children. It is highly likely some civilians were also kidnapped during the March attack in Palma although the figures remain unknown in addition to a vast number of casualties.


*All figures in this report were sourced from various (social and) news media reports, as well as the Armed Conflict Location & Event Database (ACLED) for Mozambique only. All figures remain conservative estimates and subject to change in light of updated reports.*

For a visual representation of where attacks have taken place and various sources used, refer to this Google Map.

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