November 20, 2015 By: Winstanley R. Bankole Johnson
Mr. Maurice King’s casual statement that with the mass migration of Middle-Easterners the ISIS “Eagle” has finally landed in Continental Europe was discountenanced more out of our trepidations – with the kind of “God forbid” mentality – than out of our strong convictions. And perhaps the only set of people who entertained a contrary conviction was the very Europeans themselves. How wrong we’ve all been proved to be!
“Couer de France”
Early this year, January 7th to be precise, the 10 Rue Nicolas-Appert offices of the French satirical magazine publishers Charlie Hebdo were attacked by unidentified gunmen, leaving twelve dead in its wake. The manhunt for the main perpetrators and their accomplices is still on. Barely a week ago, a more carefully planned and synchronized bombs and gunfire explosions rocked strategic entertainment hubs like the Stade de France; plush Restaurant Terraces and the Bataclan Concert Halls claiming 129 lives, and leaving over 300 seriously injured “a le couer de France” (the heart of France) – Paris.
Between the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the latest Paris carnage, a Russian A320 passenger jet flying from the leisurely lands of Sharam-al Sheik in Egypt had exploded mid-air at an altitude of 31000 feet killing all 224 passengers and crew on board. The extensive spread of the debris has finally convinced experts that the indeed, the accident bore the fingerprints of one of several fundamentalist Jihadist group operatives suspected to have planted an explosive device that was timed to go off within hours after the plane’s takeoff.
Their reasons for selectively targeting Russian and other Western interests is no doubt predicated on their aversions to what they perceive as a direct attempt to Russia and the European nations checkmate their jihadist campaigns of terror being waged globally. And it is on account of the potential impacts such jihadist influences might have on far less prepared and ill equipped territories like ours that this piece is informed, given the fact that Sierra Leone in particular is also now being looked upon as a peace-keeping operations contributor nation. The fact that at a point in time one of our citizens fell prey to a fundamentalists group in Pakistan some time last year and was only released by divine intervention should lend credence to the concerns being raised here, and the need for government to be permanently on high alert for pro-actively respond appropriately if need be.
What is key in all international news coverage on the potency of fundamentalist groups like the ISIS particularly is their unlimited largess of hard US Dollars currencies (deemed to be in excess $2billion) to splash out amongst vulnerable and disenchanted groups of unemployed and unemployable youths across all religious faiths. Even those not belonging to their faiths are now being brainwashed and conscripted. And from the UK and Europe right unto the United States of America, the power of money has been their credo. Those who recently managed to escape from their fold back to mainland Kenya have confessed to having been bankrolled of up to US$3000 monthly to support their causes, either as direct combatants or as espionage agents.
Our situation is all the more precarious especially following the crippling effects of the Ebola Virus Disease on our economy and the dwindling global prices for our raw materials, both of which have ultimately collapsed extractive industries sectors. Against that backdrop, the effects of mass urban migration from the war years, an exposure to social media influences and the insatiable appetite of youths for the acquisition of western consumables which they cannot afford have shrunk their tolerance levels, leaving them easily irritated and prone to violence at the slightest of misunderstandings (not provocation). Their disgust for authority and or age is almost palpable and it might not be out of place to attribute such volatile dispositions to untoward influences of either substance abuse or money. From observation of our youths of today, it would appear that the era of the “patiently waiting game” is over. As far as many are concerned the future is “now”, failing which chaos must reign.
Regrettably, it is on such economic and political volatilities and the fickle mindedness of disgruntled youths that the predatory instincts of fundamentalist groups are best manifested, as they attempt to propagate terror globally. In terms of preparedness, we have to admit that Sierra Leone undeniably has a soft underbelly, but for the Ebola virus. So whether the frequent acts of violence and barbarism perpetrated amongst “klick” groups or by the “klick” groups upon peaceful citizens are spontaneous or based on orchestrated dress rehearsals to test the capacity of our Police for a great “D-Day”, “Internal Security” must as a rule constitute a key pillar both in our Ebola Recovery Strategy (ERS) and our Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agendas.
Special attention must be given to the establishment of dedicated elite and highly equipped Rapid Response Counter-Terrorism Squads (RRCTS) in the same way Nigeria and Ghana in the sub-region and Russia, the USA and continental countries have prioritized their internal security apparatuses. This squad must be able to network with various other local and international institutions and security agencies, particularly Financial Intelligence Units and those non-bank financial intermediaries (money transfer outfits) so as to be able to closely monitor their operations for any concealed breaches and violations supportive of terrorist financing.
In recent time we have witnessed a sudden influx of various sects of peculiar religious groupings, all suspiciously attired and living relatively affluent lifestyles without evidence of legitimate sources of incomes. Most of them have chosen to settle in the far east of the capital (possibly to evade regular police scrutiny) and also in the Southern Regional environs of the country. They are not registered as charitable organizations, yet they would invite and offer free food and cash to many hungry youths in their localities almost daily. At a time when our traditional partners are also constrained with their own economic and security concerns, the last thing we should entertain is complacency. The Office of National Security (ONS) must take a keen interest in all of them – irrespective of their religious persuasions or denominations – as most of these new groups now only teach the Gospel of prosperity, and not of salvation.
As the late President SiakaProbyn Stevens (RIP) would say and I quote-: “Eternal vigilance is the price we have to pay for our liberty.”