U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday announced that the Department of State added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) five terrorist leaders operating in Africa. The five are Bonomade Machude Omar, senior commander for Islamic State affiliate in Mozambique; Sidanag Hitta and Salem ould Breihmatt, leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked group based in Mali; and Ali Mohamed Rage and Abdikadir Mahomad Abdikadir, members of al-Shabab’s senior leadership.
Designation freezes any assets SDGTs have in the United States and makes it a crime to assist them: it prohibits the transfer of “funds, goods, or services” to them and requires any institute that holds SDGT assets to report those holdings to American authorities. Designation also seeks to cut off terrorists from the international financial system—foreign individuals or institutions that engage in certain transactions expose themselves to certain U.S. sanctions.
The practical consequences of designating these five individuals is limited. They and their organizations are unlikely to have any assets in the United States. The U.S. designation structure was initially designed primarily to address terrorist movements in the Middle East rather than in Africa. Moreover, the extraterritorial provisions regarding foreign individuals or institutions are difficult to enforce. Critics of designation suggest that it inhibits the political dialogue necessary to address the drivers of terrorism. Nevertheless, designation is a significant political statement by the Biden administration. The selection of individuals designated highlights the spread of jihadi terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa. Islamist group violence on the continent is on pace to reach record highs this year, driven by increasing violence in Somalia and the Sahel compared to 2020.